FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter

by

The women who mobilized the January global protest against Trump are upping the ante with plans for a one-day women’s general strike .    They focus on many appalling injustices and on the violence ignored by “lean-in feminism”:   “women in the formal labor market, women working in the sphere of social reproduction and care, and unemployed and precarious working women. …the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”  There are plans for further women’s actions as part of broad coalitions in the next few months.

Motherhood perhaps fits into the above category “sphere of social reproduction and care”. In these times, motherhood is very contentious.  Every single human was born of a mother, and all infants need a mothering person or they will fail to thrive and might even die.    In a collection of essays by women of color in Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines [1], Malkia A. Cyril writes that  mothers in particular are projected  “as spokespeople  for a conservative vision of family, labor relations, and wages, and were often the most virulent opponents of immigrant rights or restorative justice policies….   anti-feminist female leaders (the Ann Coulters, the Sarah Palins) who continue to re-define feminism and the vision of motherhood in its most destructive and hierarchical forms.”[p 34]   At the opposite pole, the feminist movement has largely focused on women being able to work outside the home, to earn comparable pay as men, and to have access to contraception, abortions, and to daycare.   Contributors to the book write that their responsibilities as mothers are often ignored on the progressive and activism sides.

“Equal attention must be paid to the human right to become a mother, and the concomitant and enabling right to parent our children in safe and healthy environments….in the face of sub rosa race- and class-based policies of revolutionarymotherpopulation control and manipulation.”  For centuries, under slavery and colonialism, women of color have had an entirely different motherhood history than white women.  Harriet Washington and Andrea Smith document more recent “medical apartheid”:  how Black and Indigenous women were used for obstetric/gynecological medical experiments, and they continue to be the focus of eugenics and populationist programs [2].

In Canada the residential programs and the “60’s scoop” stole tens of thousands of First Nations children from their families – and the Liberal government still vacillates about reparation.  Women in power participate in horrendous cruelty against mothers and children.    In the U.S., former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright infamously said that “The price [of 500,000 Iraqi child deaths] is worth it.”  Israeli Member of the Knesset Ayelet Shaked has called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers as they give birth to “little snakes.”   The words of former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”  Under India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, millions of men and women were forcefully sterilized.

Mothers as a group have organized successfully on behalf of their children.  American mothers in racialized and poor communities have opposed austerity cutbacks by protesting school and library closings.     Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, assassinated in 2006, wrote that The Party of Soldiers’ Mothers in Russia saved the lives of thousands of conscripts and new recruits.  They persuaded Gorbachev to release 176,000 soldiers, and Yeltsin to pardon 500 soldiers, and they forced an amnesty for all who had participated on either side in the First Chechen War. [3]  In Argentina Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo persisted in protesting their children’s disappearance under the military junta.   During the Cold War, mothers played a key role in stopping atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.    Elizabeth Penashue and Innu people have long taken the lead in protesting NATO low overflights in the Arctic that terrify their children.

Wars are now fought  mainly against civilians.  Corporate personhood is protected, but real people are  gratuitously slaughtered and known only as a statistic.   In a report just released by the UN, Afghan child casualties rose 24% since 2015.  The illegal US military raid on Yemen last week resulted in as many as 20 women and children being killed.   It is not possible to obtain reliable information about the effect of depleted uranium on women’s fertility and birth defects  in war zones like Iraq and Gaza. In War and Peace, Tolstoy wrote of the profound suffering caused by war,  about a young woman’s grief upon losing her husband  and of a mother’s despair at the loss of her son.  “The mother’s wounded spirit could not heal.  Petya’s death had torn from her half her life.  When the news of Petya’s death had come she had been a fresh and vigorous woman of fifty, but a month later she left her room a listless old woman taking no interest in life.”

 Militarism is broadly the practices, institutions, political economy, and ideology of organized political violence.    Nurit Peled-Elhanan is an Israeli mother who lost her daughter to suicide terrorism.   Her father was General-become-peace activist Matti Peled, and her mother refused to occupy the home confiscated from a Palestinian family during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.  She is an educator and works indefatigably against militarism.  As a parent in a Jewish/Palestinian bereavement group, she was stunned when several Israeli-Jewish mothers suddenly turned from reconciliation to blind nationalism when they heard the seductive drumbeat of war.  One mother gushed about “how handsome he [her son] was in uniform ….to serve Ehud  Olmert and Amir Peretz’s display of masculinity”.  She writes that in Israel, “children are educated to fear, most of all, the fruits of the Muslim womb.  Therefore when they become soldiers they see nothing wrong in killing Palestinian children….  This is not a maternal voice, but of a distorted, lost, confused, and sick motherhood.  A good mother cannot find consolation or comfort in the death of children of another mother…”     She writes of minds infected by parents, teachers and leaders, who convince them that the others are not as human as we are, and therefore killing them is not real killing; it has other legitimating names such as “cleansing” “purifying”, “punishment”, “operation”, “mission”, “campaign” and “war.”

A  Black Rosie the Riveter was featured on the cover of the New Yorker magazine.  The original picture of white Rosie frequently appears as an image of women’s equality as a laborer.   The real Rosie worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant which produced over 8,600 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers during World War II.  The plant at that time was owned and run by Henry Ford  who was known to be anti-Semitic, anti-union, and who hired women only under duress.  There is currently a campaign to renovate the plant for the “NEW home of the Yankee Air Museum.”  The website extols the women who filled “the many roles left behind by men who went to fight overseas.  These women riveted, welded, kept the railroads running, conducted street cars, typed and filed, sewed parachutes, and even played pro baseball!”  All this is presumably  more productive and challenging than bringing up children.   With the advent of a large class of American women earning money and becoming consumers, the representations of motherhood  shifted.  Being a mother meant being “tied down”, and innumerable products came on the market to “free” women – ready made meals, baby formulas, and a range of appliances and baby equipment.   The large upsurge in car sales was not due to population growth but to white women from suburbs entering the work force and needing cars to get to work [4].

The revolutionary mothers write that mothering and revolution are messy – there are no pat formulas or management regimes.  The focus is more on needs than rights.   “Against the rallying cry for freedom, I propose to embed revolutionary struggle in a politics of necessity and responsibility….  There will be no liberation without us knowing how to depend on each other, how to be encumbered with and responsible for each other.” (p 57).     In this un-capitalistic book, there is no mention of costs, because people’s lives and relationships cannot be quantified and priced.  How does one cost the killing of a human being, as if military budgets can compare with the cost of providing food and water, homes, toilets, health care?

This brief exploration suggests that among the salient regressive individual and group pulls are  militarism and nationalism.  Violence is preventable and is not hard-wired in human nature [5]   At issue is survival, necessitating responsible human relationships as articulated by revolutionary mothers.

Notes. 

[1] Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, Mai’a Williams (2016). Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. PM Press and BTL.

[2] Harriet A. Washington (2006). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Harlem Moon Press.    And Andrea Smith (2005). Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. South End Press.

[3] Anna Politkovskaya (2007). A Russian Diary. Harvill Seeker Press.

[4] Ian Angus and Simon Butler (2011).  Too Man People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. Haymarket.

[5] James Gilligan (1996).  Violence:  Reflections on a National Epidemic.  Vintage.

Judith Deutsch is a columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, former president of Science for Peace, and a psychoanalyst by profession. She can be reached at judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

Judith Deutsch is a columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, former president of Science for Peace, and a psychoanalyst by profession. She can be reached at judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
Paul J. Ramsey
What Trump’s Travel Ban Reveals About His Long-Term Educational Policy
Norman Pollack
Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago
Michael Brenner
The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
Sam Gordon
Falling Rate of Profit, What about Some Alienation?
Jack Random
Sidetracked: Trump Diaries, Week 8
Julian Vigo
The Limits of Citizenship
James Graham
French Elections: a Guide for the Perplexed
Jeff Mackler
The Extraordinary Lynne Stewart
Lee Ballinger
Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”
Binoy Kampmark
Romancing Coal: The Adani Obsession
Nyla Ali Khan
Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir
Chad Nelson
The Politics of Animal Liberation: I Can’t Quit You Gary Francione
Weekend Edition
March 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Reynolds
Israel and the A-Word
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail