"We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood. In the division of labor according to gender, the makers and sayers of culture, the namers, have been the sons of the mothers."
No other great human experience is as systematically diminished as motherhood. Though we are all, to draw from Rich, “of woman born,” motherhood has long been shoved out of the domain of critical inquiry and artistic relevance in patriarchal societies. This is in keeping with a greater tradition: The experiences of women have historically been ignored, suppressed, and trivialized into clichés or branded as taboo. The depths of female experience are belittled as precisely that: female, not fundamentally human. And yet every single human has spent his or her first months gestating in the belly of a woman.
The universality of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood offers enormous potential for women to speak to one another across culture, class, ethnicity, and race, and yet also tends to mire complex discussions in truisms. The depths of individual women's experiences are too often blurred into received wisdom and, shushed and sidelined, women have not been encouraged or allowed to challenge this by plumbing the complexities of their lives. As Tillie Olson details in Silences
, women–and mothers in particular–have also simply been too absorbed in sustaining life to take aim at the brittle and antiquated stereotypes.
Thus there has been and continues to be a dearth of literary writing about motherhood by women, although this trend is being challenged by a new generation of writers, including Maggie Nelson, Sarah Manguso, Jenny Offill, and Eula Biss. This column wants to encourage more women to explore the depths and possibilities of this fundamental subject, exploring motherhood as milestone; as consciousness; as daily routine; as radical or gradual shift; as feminist awakening; as voyage; as challenge; as corporeal and spiritual and intellectual condition. Milestones is a space for women who are interested in both the inhibitions and potential of motherhood, its quotidian and epic elements, the way it restricts and frustrates, and also the way it liberates and enlightens. It examines motherhood as the human experience writ small in the belly, and huge in the scope of families, societies, and generations.
Curated by Sarah Menkedick, Milestones will publish essays between 1000 and 3000 words, as well as occasional interviews and reviews. Please see Vela's submission guidelines for more information on how to submit.