Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose, Professor of Humanities at Birbeck Institute for the Humanities, examines expectations and representations of motherhood in life and in art. 

From viewing motherhood as the root of all evil to treating it as the eternal font of selfless love, she explores the dichotomies and double binds that women experience. Writer and journalist Sinead Gleeson read the book and reported back to Sean Rocks on Arena.

"What she kind of wants to do in this book is to interrogate, to ask questions, so the framing of the book is often done in quite rhetorical ways and asking about the ways in which mothers are perceived to be cruel, can be cruel, are treated cruelly. She says at the start of the book, why are mothers so hated, why are mothers often held accountable for the ills of the world, why are mothers seen as the cause of everything that doesn’t work in who you are, so then, she sets out to try and answer those questions."

Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty - author Jacqueline Rose. 

Sean was curious to know if Jacqueline believes these perceptions come from women themselves or from society in general.

"A bit of both, I think. The idea that there’s so much pressure as we know, we hear it all that time that women have to have it all, to work, to have the job you want, to have the career you like, to do the juggle to be perfect, to have a lovely home, to make excellent lunches for your children, all this sort of stuff, all these things that women feel they’re constantly competing or putting pressure on themselves to do in a way that as she points, isn’t put onto men who are parents."

Jacqueline’s book also looks at the pace of the workplace in terms of how pregnant women or new mothers are treated and how they are viewed if they decide to stay home with their child.

"54,000 women a year in the UK she reckons lose their jobs due to pregnancy and that 77% of women in a survey she quotes of new mothers in work say they experience some sort of negative treatment, whether that’s snide remarks or bullying or put-downs or even being made to be uncomfortable for taking up space as a new mother who may have to leave early so it’s difficult stuff she’s tackling and uncomfortable reading."

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