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May 10, 2021

Pandemic Moms. Trans Moms. Marxist Moms. Robot Moms.

—and those who wish they could be mothers. Our annual Mother’s Day reading list.

In 2020 many families were stretched to the brink. Parents scrambled to continue working their jobs under rapidly changing and often dangerous conditions, all while having to care for their children as schools and daycares shuttered practically overnight. As Anne L. Alstott wrote in our pages a year ago, the heaviest burden fell on mothers—especially the eight million single ones raising children alone. These mothers had to face a near-impossible choice between caring for their children and staying afloat financially.

But the conditions that led to such decisions were set long before the pandemic arrived in the United States. “The seeming impossibility of the situation is not an unfortunate byproduct of an unforeseen global health crisis,” wrote Julie Kohler in 2020. “It is the inevitable result of an economic worldview that has methodically shifted more and more costs onto families’ shoulders under a façade of ‘family values.’ Neoliberalism has caused the family structure to become, along with race and gender, one of the prime sources of inequality in the United States.”

Today’s Mother’s Day reading list thus doles out a dose of realism, outlining the ways families have been given short shrift this past year. But it’s not without hope and imagination too—especially our interview with Silvia Federici. “Every woman is a working women,” the famed feminist activist argues, making the case that even stay-at-home moms are part of capitalist production and thus should receive wages. Elsewhere, three short stories provide some escapism, while archival essays on a range of topics round off the list. From mail-order robot moms to trans moms to poet moms, the picks below put the varied lives of mothers front and center.

We also recognize those women who wish they could be mothers but who have reproductive health issues that prevent them from conceiving. In the lead essay from our Summer 2018 book Once and Future Feminist, Merve Emre traces the history of assisted reproduction from the first artificial womb to contemporary IVF treatments, asking whether everyone with a uterus could be emancipated by such technologies and critiquing our obsession with the “natural.”

Anne L. Alstott
Society relies on the unpaid, invisible work of parents—mostly mothers—to care for children and to buffer kids from trauma and stress. Supporting that work during COVID-19 requires direct cash support to families.
Julie Kohler
Neoliberalism rests on the myth that “good” families can provide for their own without public support.
Michael McColly
Indifference toward the most vulnerable has driven the death toll of COVID-19, just as it did during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Against this backdrop, even small acts of kindness can make a difference.
Gina Schouten

Balancing work-life pressures is often considered the holy grail, but men can still opt out of these policies. To move the needle on gender inequality, the state needs to take more coercive action. 

JR Fenn

When bees around the world exhibit a frightening new behavior, a researcher takes comfort in a familiar hive. Short Story

JR Fenn

Once I learned of the existence of mothers, I decided to order one for myself.

Silvia Federici, Jill Richards

Silvia Federici interviewed by Jill Richards.

Sarah Bruni

A mother is a mother, regardless of the latest information regarding her children.

Sabrina Helen Li
Winner of the Fall 2019 Aura Estrada Short Story Contest.
Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow

Elisabether Badinter blames "naturalism" for all-consuming motherhood, but she leaves the real culprits off the hook.

Domenica Ruta

Motherhood can be a crushing disappointment.

Stephanie Burt
Judith Levine

When your father is trans, memoir is both personal and political.

Merve Emre
Feminism needs better reproductive strategies.
Nancy J. Hirschmann

Stay-at-home mothering is bad for mothers, their kids, and women’s equality.

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