Mothers and Others: Alloparents and Commoning
For the Old Mole Variety Hour May 10, 2010.
So, we've noted before, on the Old Mole, that Mother's Day, which began in the 19th century as a grassroots call for peace and collective action, was quickly co-opted as a celebration of nationalism and militarism, and became a hook for capitalist marketing.
Things look particularly difficult for mothers this year.
And not just those mothers who fear that Arizona's new immigration law might separate them from their children.
In March, Amnesty International released its report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, urging action to change the fact that every day in this country, two or three women die because of pregnancy or childbirth—because of hemorrhaging, or infection, or other health conditions caused or made worse by pregnancy. Most at risk, of course, are poor women, and disproportionately, women of color.
Those are also the groups most likely to terminate a pregnancy, when they can gain access to the procedure. A report from the Guttmacher institute reveals that “The proportion of abortion patients who were poor increased by almost 60%—from 27% in 2000 to 42% in 2008.” The explanation for that is not , as some right wing pundits would have it, a genocidal conspiracy, but instead includes some of the same things that put poor women and women of color at disproportionate risk when they carry pregnancies to term— Things like "lack of access to high-quality, affordable health care; too few educational and [employment] opportunities; unequal access to safe, clean neighborhoods."
Physician Melissa Gilliam notes that "the abortion decisions of many women (of all races) are influenced… by their desire to be good parents. [Over 60% of women who have abortions have had at least one child already] Too many women … are stretched so thin that they feel unable to take care of their existing children, not to mention an additional child."
Dani McLain notes on feministing, in a critique of media panic about unmarried black women, and as mole listeners have heard on past shows, radical queer activists have "long been arguing that rather than making marriage the be all end all, we should be supporting each other in creating custom-made families that work for us. They've pointed out the folly of fighting to mimic and reproduce the patriarchal, nuclear families that continue to be held up as the only legitimate model in this country. … we should be de-linking human rights from marriage and creating space for a broader acceptance of the cobbled together, nontraditional families that many of us came up in." McLain writes, "I know I'm not the only one who was raised by a thoroughly capable single parent and the family members she kept close to make sure I was surrounded by love and good care at all times. My family has never been illegitimate."
Those Other-Mothers or Play-Relatives are what anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy calls alloparents, that is, anyone who contributes caregiving or sustenance to the upbringing of someone else’s biological offspring. In Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding , Hrdy argues that the development of cooperative childrearing among our hominid ancestors helps account for the evolution of human hypersociality --our capacity for empathy, cooperation, and sharing.
Those common human qualities emerge not just in caring for infants and children, but in times of fire, flood, and earthquake, as we've heard from Clayton that Rebecca Solnit argues in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
As Kevin Young notes in his review of Solnit's book , it's important to distinguish her critique of bureaucratic responses to disaster from the neoliberal arguments for "less government."
Similarly, it's important for a society to provide healthcare and education, paid leave and childcare, even as we acknowledge the autonomous caregiving of mothers and alloparents.
As historian Peter Linebaugh notes in his reflections on the commons or 'commoning,' "Commoning begins in the family. The kitchen where production and reproduction meet, and the energies of the day between genders and between generations are negotiated. The momentous decisions in the sharing of tasks, in the distribution of product, in the creation of desire, and in sustaining health are first made here…. "
The foundation of commoning is human solidarity as expressed in the slogan “all for one and one for all.”