Mamá desobediente: una mirada feminista a la maternidad by Esther Vivas

Mamá desobediente (2019) (Disobedient Mom, in English) is a book that acts as a manual, advising moms to live a conscious and comfortable motherhood, and encouraging other people to live out their motherhoods as well. Esther Vivas Esteve, Spanish mother and journalist, expresses in its pages how this topic is not far off from feminism; rather, she rejects some common misconceptions surrounding women’s rights and motherhood. 

Vivas Esteve, who has worked on more books and articles that surround themes not only of motherhood but also the food industry, frequently emphasizes a key aspect of ​​feminism that is often ignored: the importance of respecting each person’s individual life choices, including choosing to live one’s life as a feminist. Thus, divided in three parts, her text highlights important data that motivates change from governments and societies that promote a patriarchal regime which, along with capitalism, seeks to tell women how to be mothers. It is all about asking ourselves, as she explains in the introduction: “¿Por qué tenemos que escoger entre una ‘maternidad patriarcal’, sacrificada, o una ‘maternidad neoliberal’, subordinada al mercado?”. In other words, why can't women live their motherhood free from patriarchal expectations and capitalist impositions?

pregnant woman Photo by freestocks from Unsplash In a first analysis, titled "Maternidades en disputa" (Disputed Maternities, in English), the author describes motherhood, its history, and its challenges. In addition, she brings up the possibility of simultaneously being a mother and a feminist and the two main emerging trends: the societal expectation of women acting exclusively as mothers, and capitalism’s influence on this social role. The first view visibilizes how patriarchy has allowed men to evolve in many fields, while women have only served as mothers. The second implies how the capitalist system does not allow women to develop other identities beyond the maternal one, which it even tries to control through the market. So Vivas questions: “Entonces, ¿nos imponen tener criaturas o no tenerlas? He aquí la dicotomía”. She points out the dichotomy that exists in the system, where women are caught between opposing options that are socially imposed: whether or not to have children. 

Additionally, in "Mi parto es mío" (My Labor Is Mine, in English) she explores the practice of obstetric violence, which she comments that, “... no es resultado de una negligencia facultativa, sino de un conjunto de malas prácticas institucionalizadas”, which means that this type of gender-based violence is rooted in institutionalized neglect and irresponsibility by medical staff. This section presents the stories of mothers who suffered before, during, and after pregnancy. Vivas states that some unrecognized forms of gender violence are causing many mothers to hold onto fear, and they are subjected to medical procedures under the guise that they’re “necessary” when in reality, eventually both mother and child face devastating consequences. Meanwhile, the health industry and private companies profit greatly from these procedures and treatments. Throughout this section, as well as in other parts of her book, there is a vast use of medical terminology explained in detail, which clearly demonstrates the author's arduous study on the subject.

Vivas ends her text with a section titled "La teta es leche" (Breast Is Milk, in English). She discusses how breastfeeding has become yet another industry stolen from women by capitalism, trying to replace the practice with artificial milk that multimillionaire companies profit from. She also describes breast milk’s nutritional value and how breasts are not just a source of nourishment, but also necessary for both the child’s and mother's survival. The author also criticizes the hypersexualization of breasts, and how much public outcry there was in Spain by mothers who demanded they be allowed to feed their daughters and sons in public. She explains, “Reivindicar el dar la teta con placer ofende e incomoda, porque aúna dos facetas de la mujer que son consideradas antagónicas: la maternal y la sexual”, exposing how the reason why public breastfeeding is a controversial topic is because society only perceives women as sexual beings or maternal figures, but never those two identities joined together in a single individual.

sunset with mom and baby in background Jude Black The misconceptions and stereotypical ideas that non-mothers may have (whether they want to become moms in the future or not) should not consume their curiosity about this piece. The book has innumerable accessible resources, many of these actually stemming from the same Spanish government, to illustrate the failed execution of its practices. In addition, Vivas's constant reminder to not judge those who choose other paths different to what she defends—since sexuality is a very individual aspect of life—adds credibility and motivates the reader to feel responsible for educating ourselves and to unlearn daily behaviors that harm ourselves in the long run. You’d be surprised. 

Perhaps the author repeats herself too much, but it seems to me that this drives the reader to comprehend and evaluate the practices that they also unconsciously repeat in many situations, be it with friends, neighbors, or even colleagues. The storytelling within the book provides audiences with more than basic knowledge about motherhood, since we do not know who in our close circle of friends and family will become a mother.

It is essential to learn about the variables and complexities of what it means to be a mother and how difficult the system has made it for them. The author summarizes the idea of feminist motherhood by saying, “Para mí, una mamá feminista es una mamá desobediente, sumisa rebelde, una mamá que no es objeto pasivo, sino sujeto activo, que se rebela tanto contra la maternidad patriarcal como contra la maternidad neoliberal, pero no renuncia a vivir la experiencia materna”, encouraging women not to reject motherhood just because of the patriarchal and capitalist connotations that surround this role. On the contrary, she invites women to reinvent motherhood and make it their own, to stand up for the protection of their bodies, their lives, and their babies, and to not let the system benefit from what women are capable of. Indeed, becoming a mother does not imply you must stop being a feminist, and identifying as a feminist does not mean you need to abandon the idea of wanting children. Our society’s activism has to weave both practices together, with the same needle, to achieve a complete piece. The goal is to not leave gaps or loopholes through which intolerance and injustice can get in.