Electric Mommyland

This Project: This is a paper for Hester Eisenstein’s Sociology of Gender class at CUNY, The Graduate Center, for my MALS degree in Mother Studies (Individualized Studies at the intersection of Digital Humanities & Women’s & Gender Studies).

I will be editing this essay based on your feedback and comments. Portions of it will be highlighted in my thesis (2015).

Why I’m a digital humanist: I believe in open access, free, peer revel viewed work in the academy (and beyond).Thank you so much for helping to make this a collaborative project. Send any feedback, corrections, notations, or additions to me here in the comments section at the bottom of this page, or at my e-mail: MarthaJoyRose@gmail.com

Electric Mommyland: Writing a Sociological History Through Auto-Ethnographical Art and Music Performance Towards a Deeper Understanding of Everything Mom

DOWNLOAD PDF HERE: Electric Mommyland by M.J. Rose


The purpose of my thesis, Electric Mommyland is to write a sociological history through auto-ethnographical art and music performance towards a deeper understanding of everything mom. “Electric Mommyland” represents a period in time well documented through music, video and photographs, as well as through media interviews, featuring a number of artists who were also mothers. Just as Dorothy Smith invited women to “grasp their own authority to speak” within a feminist sociology in the 1980s (1987, p. 34), we were staking claim to the relatively uninhabited space of mother articulations within an area of the performing arts in the 1990s. The energy of this initiative was a spirited revolution against the tyranny of subsumed identity within the role of the mother/housewife. The movement formed organically as a source of empowerment and connection. But, within a few years an assimilation process began. By 2006 motherhood was being used to sell everything from sex, to diapers, and dishwashers. The “mom rock”/Mamapalooza initiative coincided with an academic feminist mother configuration in Canada, which continues to make headway. Mom rock was ultimately assimilated into a consumer society that translates terms like “action” and “agency” into the economic imperatives within a mainstream ideology. It is within that ideology a new “mommy identity” continues to thrive. By exploring this sociological history I aim to facilitate a better understanding of current evolutions (or de-evolutions) of a modern American mother’s movement as well as create a backdrop for those wishing to do future research on this topic.


In 2011 Sage Publishing released The Encyclopedia of Motherhood, a collection of texts sourced internationally across interdisciplinary practices. The three-volume work included arts organizations, activist agencies, and academics spearheading new production in the area of “Mother Studies.” It’s online proclamation states that in the last decade “the topic of motherhood has emerged as a distinct and established field of scholarly inquiry.” But, before a concept like this could be assembled, much groundwork was laid. In the middle 1990’s a mother discourse began slowly in two continents within the academic and artistic realm. The artistic sphere was pioneered through an identification of “mom rock” in the United States. The mom rock movement envisioned itself as a legitimizing art form created to amplify the experiences of women who were mothers. It flourished through mid-2007. American mothers were putting songs together with performance groups like Housewives on Prozac, Merry and the Mood Swings, the Mydols, and Placenta, and getting a lot of media attention for it. The Mom Rock/Mamapalooza movement was driving discourse in the public sphere, while academic motherhood spawned new theorizing about feminist mothers within the Women’s and Gender Studies Department of Canada’s York University. In my thesis I trace the efforts of Mom Rockers, as they played instruments, wrote songs, and created community. I argue this community contributed to a metamorphosis of “everything mom” recognized today in the context of  “mommy bloggers,” The Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Rita Rocks, among other things. The movement formed organically as a source of empowerment and connection. But, within a few years an assimilation process began. By 2006 motherhood was being used to sell everything from sex, to diapers, and dishwashers. By exploring this sociological history I aim to facilitate a better understanding of current evolutions (or de-evolutions) of a modern American mother’s movement as well as help to create a backdrop for those wishing to do future research on this topic. This mom rock/Mamapalooza initiative was ultimately subsumed by a consumer society that translates terms like “action” and “agency” into the economic imperatives within a mainstream ideology. It was within that ideology a new “mommy identity” thrived.

The purpose of my thesis, Electric Mommyland is to write a sociological history through auto-ethnographical art and music performance towards a deeper understanding of everything mom– marking a time in history, when HER-story was on the rise. This significant period is well documented through video, and photographs featuring a number of artists who are also mothers, as well as recorded interviews in the mainstream media. Just as Dorothy Smith invited women to “grasp their own authority to speak” (1987, p. 34) within a feminist sociology in the 1980s, we were staking claim to the relatively uninhabited space of mother articulations within an area of the performing arts in the 1990s. The energy of this initiative was a spirited revolution against the tyranny of vanquished identity within the role of the mother/housewife. Much of the music and poetry articulated a desire to dispel stereotypes, announce agency, and separate out a located woman/individual within the dual role of wife/mother. Claims to this identity were conducted outside a mainstream discourse; hence “moms rock” or I am a “mom who rocks.” Articulations of this the lived experience within a framework “motherness” was being storied for the first time by the artists who were experiencing it, musically from the inside out. The mandate did not translate into a political or social agenda. In fact it specifically avoided them. The movement was intended as unique form of artistic expression, sourced from a she-muse, open to all those expressing ideas about motherhood, within a realm normally prohibitive to females, namely women, past thirty, performing domestic labor, engaged in rock music for pleasure and provocation. This original “mother rocker” did her best to draw up a rallying cry against the hard labor and banality of raising children, the constraints of the physical body, and the imperatives of hegemony. I chose this platform because performance-art framed my life, and I hoped this conversation would benefit a great number of others who were also searching for a voice amidst the calamity of life. In its various incarnations there were friendships made, inter-continental connections formed, music careers launched, and much activity. Some were emancipated. If you count media imprints– millions were touched. Ideas emerged, and we searched our hearts and minds for a solid platform to stand on. But I had no theoretical background, or did my compatriots. We were very much unlike other organized social justice movements. For example, A New Queer Agenda at Barnard College clearly determined there was an agenda and made the decisions that were necessary to support that agenda. In the case of LGBQT rights, “The Scholar and Feminist Journal” picked (for example) gay marriage as the big issue and aligned itself within an institution for long-term success and survival. This is a good example of a meaningful social engagement project. Not that our project was unworthy, but who cares about artists? Who wants to liberate the housewife? No one! Rather, we want them in their place, doing what they do as Johanna Brenner asserts; managing a family-household system “in which the class-structured capitalist system of production incorporates the biological facts of reproduction” (2000, p. 25). This leaves women either working the second shift, or the whole shift as a virtual “slave”[1] to economics or sometimes abuse. If such liberation were possible, Michele Barrett asserts much would need to change everything. This would include a “re-division of childcare responsibilities,” and an end to the “dependence of women on a male wage,” as well as “a transformation in the ideology of gender” (p. 15). This is no small task to be sure.

In the long view our rallying cry, while noisy, was defenseless against what I have come to recognize is a unified American ideology. Good mothers take care of their kids, and are not too unpleasant to each other, their husbands, or their communities. We adhered to this, even if we were willing to take it out of the box, put lyrics, and music to it, and gaze upon the thing from time to time. The following obstacles presented themselves: 1) we were much too connected to our children to demand real liberation from the job, despite the reality that some of us harbored a great deal of ambivalence about our roles, 2) we continually vacillated between caregiving imperatives and a desire to actualize the lived experiences of the woman at the center of the caregiving responsibility, 3) many of us had a history of volunteerism, so equitable pay for performance or the idea of monetizing our project proved to be challenging. Where professional musicians were mercenary, many of us just wanted to “do good things.” With no pay structure in the home, how were women accustomed to working for nothing going to suddenly transform themselves into artists and businesswomen demanding payment for talent rendered? Then the fourth and largest problem was, that whatever progress we did make was so rapidly assimilated into consumer culture that it became impossible to identify how exactly the “lifestyle” and music were separated throughout the mom rock timeline. This was despite the fact that the economics of those participating in the project varied greatly. Branding was employed at the project’s inception, albeit somewhat haphazardly, but quickly co-opted by more powerful corporate structures. Patricia Hill Collins argued in her book Black Feminist Thought, that a “highly effective system of social control [was] designed to keep African-American women in an assigned, subordinate place.” (2000, p.5)I would add that this was true for both black and white women involved in the original mother arts movement.[2] For the most part we struggled against some invisible force that we could not put our fingers on. This force kept us in our place except for the nights we donned guitars. Like peasants at the medieval festival allowed participation in the excellent revelry of the season, we believed we were actual queens breaking ground on some reimagined vision of motherhood. Alas, in the morning we returned to our kitchens, cubicles, and carpools buoyed up, but with the world around us relatively unchanged. The songs, reviews, and films that ensued remind me now that we were saying something, and that it was amplified, and it did get a lot of attention, and that there were interesting things happening, even if it was not an epic revolution. Scholars, it turns out, have written about that “thing,” which has no name. However, I was not privy to such clarity. The preamble was interminable. I traveled from the hills of Hollywood to the halls of the academy, first in a limousine, and then on a subway, blindly groping my way like a madwoman through a subject that has animated much of my intellectual and material labor for the last 15 years without being able to precisely put my finger on “the thing.” This thing– called motherhood; and its theory, practice, and the “art of.” This year perhaps brings me closer than ever. Through this text I hope to begin the task of making an accounting of some portion of the epic. To do so I will construct this paper by enlisting those authors who, in no small way, have made progress on the subject of gender, music, motherhood, and, the economics of American culture.

This paper has five sections. The brevity of this treatise will demand cursory introductions to the subjects employed. They will however, serve as a repository for thoughts on a matter that has not had much speculation particular to the area of motherhood, music, and activism. I have just spent the last four pages on the first of these sections. It constitutes the “Introduction.” Next I will explore “Women’s Marginalization and an Argument for Electric Music as a Medium for Expression.” The marginalization of women is not an original idea, nor is an argument for music as a medium for expression. Its newness is the manner in which it will be employed, specifically within the realm of motherhood and activism. This first section will precede the two remaining sections: “Creating a Mother Culture” and “Activism and Art in a Consumer Society,” followed by a “Conclusion.” Throughout this paper I embrace an interdisciplinary approach, pulling from sociology of gender, anthropology, American Studies, feminist texts, and consumer culture. Both hegemony and the ideology to which I refer in the text represent patriarchal constructions of power in which maleness, or men themselves have held primary positions. Because this is an auto-ethnography I will also draw on some of my experiences and memories, though not heavily. This is not a memoir, but a scholarly attempt to demonstrate a position of legitimacy for the art and culture of mom rock within the great body of work that constitutes Women’s and Gender Studies, and more specifically, Mother Studies.

Women’s Marginalization and an Argument for Electric Music as a Medium for Expression

The authors of The Women Founders question why women’s contributions have been obliterated from the history of sociological thought. On each count, the first being social control and the second being legitimacy within the social order, women have been marginalized from positions of authority. The authors contend that women’s voices were systematically erased from the canons. They give examples of female sociologists, theorizing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century who, unlike their male counterparts, were purposefully omitted. This was because of at least two major factors: “the politics of gender” and “the politics of knowledge” (1998, p. 11& 14). According to these authors the accounting is situated within a patriarchal framework; women were not considered as important as men. Sociology’s contributions to humankind’s understanding of the nature and causes of our complicated interpersonal interactions in the 1800/1900s led to the legitimization of the field and to the scientization of sociology as a practice. Finally, the emergence of the university as a stable source of income was a “move that was part of a quest for professional authority, social status, and job and salary security” (p. 15). These power arrangements proliferated for those practicing sociology. The Women Founders focuses on women who lived a hundred years ago. Since that time the first and second wave of feminism have come and gone. Many of the legal and political problems that were associated with those movements have resolved themselves. Issues such as the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, reproductive justice, equality in the workplace and much more have seen progress made. These changes are real and good. But feminist concerns do not appear so aggressively to reach deeply into a) the minds of women performing motherhood, b) the domestic sphere where motherhood is enacted. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is America eschews social justice platforms for our home lives and most mothering work in America is enacted within a domestic sphere. (Read Flat Broke with Children, by Sharon Hays for more on this). If “mother” were a real job, in the real world then you’d have to apply, you could get fired, you would get paid, you would be accountable, and it would require education and training,[3] at least within a capitalist society. But, because motherhood is privatized, it is not generally considered a social issue. Amber Kinser, author of Motherhood and Feminism describes yet another reason for this divide. She argues that the “Cartesian Divide” as early as the 17th Century began to assign the role of the body to women, and the role of the mind to men. This divide was enacted philosophically making women intellectually inferior, and also left them materially in the “private world,” while men claimed the “public world” (2008, p. 11). This sentiment is echoed in Ann Crittendon’s The Price of Motherhood and was a bestseller in 2001 (2001, p. 113). I make note of this because many of the texts instrumental to “our” liberation do not find their way into the mainstream. They remain relegated to the privilege of the very few who embark on an a rigorous academic journey and I can tell you most certainly from the front lines of the kiddie parks of New York City to the playgrounds of suburbia, that these women; myself, my friends, do not even know such things exist. If they did know it, then I would have heard of it by now.

In this portion of the paper I discuss women’s marginalization, or more specifically their “silencing.” The phenomenon of silencing according to Dorothy E. Smith is a two way street, enacted by both men and women. In the book The Everyday World as Problematic, Dorothy E. Smith directs the reader to look at the idea of silencing in the following ways: male authority is not a conspiracy among men simply imposed on women; it is a complimentary social process between women and men– one in which women are complicit in their silencing. Because of the authority of the male voice, “men have authority in the world as members of a social category” (p. 29), and this category of authority serves as a form of power that allows men to get things done. Likewise women, and I argue, especially women who have children, are not only susceptible to the general social ideology of the “good and obedient mother” but also, those in partnerships are likewise bound by their husband’s or partner’s compliance. Such was the case with me. Though I was financially protected from the harshness of a lack of food, or shelter, and though I admittedly lived well, I was a full-time mother of four children. Even with help, of which I had much, the task of domesticity was real and tangible. As I described in the introduction to this paper, our little mom rock movement was hampered on several counts, not the least of which was; mothers do what needs to be done. If the children’s tiny upturned noses were runny, we wiped them. I offer up a lyric from one of Housewives On Prozac’s most well quoted songs called “Fuzzy Slippers.” The opening of which goes as follows, “I wipe my baby’s chin with my college diploma and wonder how did I ever get here? I take the gold record off the wall, from 1983. Crack open the plexiglass and declare an emergency.” Had I known of Smith’s writing, and been educated in the idea of “grasping our own authority to speak” by recognizing a deprivation of authority and my own training to facilitate male-controlled topics, I might have written an academic paper instead of a song. But, then the question arises, would that have been better? In fact, I think not. Just as I was scribbling on napkins and recipe cards, Andrea O’Reilly was hard at work in Canada editing Re-defining Motherhood; Changing Identities and Patterns, which was published the year after I started the “Housewives” project. She writes of her goals in the introduction:

“These authors move beyond myths and stereotypes of mothering to explore differences among women and within individual women in order to challenge the existence of a universal meaning of motherhood…. Mothers are never only mothers. Simultaneously they are lovers, workers, activists, daughters, partners, sisters, neighbors, aunts, friends, and so on” (1998, p. 14).

I am fairly certain that as a feminist scholar Dr. O’Reilly had read Dorothy E. Smith, and was addressing directly the following issues cited in the opening chapter of The Everyday as Problematic. Those issues posit that as of the 1980s: a) we are deprived of developing among ourselves the thoughts and images that express the situations we share, b) it is only when women treat one another as those who count that we can break free of silence, c) we have learned to set aside, deny, and obliterate our own subjectivity and experience. Ten years later, in November of 1997 my singing partner and I were interviewed for a New York Times article called, “Band Sings What It’s Like To Raise A Family in the Nineties.” Part of that interview reads, “The two women, whose stage banter is part of their performances, regard themselves as foot soldiers for meaningful lives within the family. When such women have fierce creative energy and a tendency to break the mold, that plight becomes even more complex.”[4] The song “I Am Not A Barbie Doll” released on “Housewives” first album chants, “Just because I’m beautiful, just because I’m sweet. Just because my eyes are blue, doesn’t mean – I am not a Barbie doll.” What was I saying when I wrote that? Was I not “grasping my own authority to speak?” And where were all the women of the seventies in the 1990s? Why did I not know these things? Why did I have to go deep into the cave of my own subconscious to draw out these truths at great peril to my own survival? Those songs were written on the heels of days, weeks, and months in beds and hospitals. The condition of my condition worked to undermine my entire life. Therefore I am here writing this. Because I had no other choice if I wanted to survive. “I am not a Barbie doll” was one of many anthems set to music, intended to save my life. What of the “violence done to women?” “…and there is violence done” as Smith says. (p. 25) The lyrics demonstrate “the ideological practices of our society provide us with forms of thought and knowledge that constrain us to treat ourselves as objects” (p. 36). I conclude this portion of the paper by acknowledging that marginalization of women is established (and continues today in our culture) through the evidence presented in feminist texts, gender studies classes, statistical evidence on equity between men and women in America, and the general atmosphere of which anyone with a sensitive nature can palpably intuit. In this final portion, I discuss music and voice as a method of amplification, if not an antidote to this condition.

Mother, writer, sociologist, and activist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman used music and poetry to awaken women to their position in society in 1911. “Suffrage Songs and Verses”[5] admonishes women to seek their place in the world in the song “Women of To-day.”

And still the wailing babies come and go,
And homes are waste, and husband’s hearts fly far;
There is no hope until you dare to know
The thing you are!

Standpoint theorists like Dorothy Smith and Patricia Hill Collins call out for feminists to develop knowledge based on women’s experiences and then do what feminists do: write, form coalitions, march, and sing out. Using one’s voice to speak truth, whether about theory, or a call to action, or uprising against violence, or calls for emancipation is a primal act. For those not suffering from a physical condition that prevents them from moving their mouth or blowing through a voice box it is one of the most essential features of the human expression. When my daughter was three, I taught her to roar. Literally to throw back her head and “roar.” (Thank you Helen Reddy). Music as a form of worship, celebration, and activism, has a long history. I am very much with Gillman on many counts. Her view on the core causes of inequality stemming from the patriarchal properties of acquisition and possession, her interest in “promoting progress and fairness” (1998, p. 125), and her theories about the sexuo-economic relation resonate (p. 117). The latter theory in which sex is leveraged (often unknowingly) as an economic stabilizer deserves more mention but must be left for another time. This feature is something very much at work in relationships even today, yet many layers of things passing as socially acceptable disguise it. The fact that Gillman was as lucid as she was, and an artist on top of that, serves as an inspiration. Music it seems can be a notable appendage to any endeavor and need not be practiced as a sole source of meaning or money, but as a way in which to promote an agenda, which is a good thing, since being an artist in America is a nearly impossible way to survive unless the ascension to the elite realm of stardom has been established. In America elite music stars are inducted into The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But, its mandate may serve the message of this paper with regard to music being employed as an activist platform. Located in Cleveland, Ohio the museum “exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music.”[6] The museum does this through exhibits, and classes, as well as teaching plans it offers to those who wish to use music education in their classroom. The lesson plan on “music’s role in civic and cultural upheaval” invites users to learn about “rock artists [who] have used their music as a forum to address various social and political conditions surrounding them.” They focus particularly on “protest” or “message” songs. Their emphasis is on civil rights, served with a large helping of Bob Dylan (there are no mom rock songs in this collection) are presented for the purposes of demonstrating the power of music in inspiring social change. Sheila Whiteley, in her book Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity devotes much text to examining “sexuality, gender, freedom, and repression constructed and rooted in the lived experience and then related to ways in which art, music, and popular culture provide a focus for challenging established representations of femininity” (p. 11). She confirms that the employment of music for self-identification purposes is substantiated, something I will elaborate on in the next section of this paper. The use of amplification, necessary in the making of electric music, is a tool that requires only brief mention for the point of this essay. Its purposes and practicalities are self-evident. Amplification makes things louder. Instruments, and songs plugged into equipment can result in a clamoring dispatch of messaging and music that are more resounding than those levied from acoustic accompaniments.

Creating a Mother Culture

A cross-pollination of literature, popular culture, and identity politics shaped by the Feminist movement(s) of the sixties, seventies, and eighties have informed subsequent generation of procreators just as the music of the time reverberated from Woodstock to Wall Street. In this section I review a very brief history of some of the cross-cultural identification of a category known as “mother-identity-labeling” in business, politics, scholarship, art, and literature to better lay a general framework for understanding this emergent area of investigation. The sweep must be broad, necessitated by the brevity of this text. Largely without fanfare, “mother” labeling transpired organically. Academics wrote about it, journalists labeled it, much like “radical feminism,” “Marxist feminism,” “queer feminism,” etc. But, let us note that before there could be a concept of a woman, who was a mother specifically, acting out her motherhood within the public sphere, there needed to be an identification of this state of being. This could be conceived from multiple perspectives and through many lenses. The capitalist explanation for the rise of mother identity could be called branding. The philosophical point of view could include a desire towards a particular political bent, such as is the case of Sara Ruddick’s, Maternal Thinking; Towards a Politics of Peace. Within the academy a “feminist mother” might find him/herself examining ways to elaborate on theoretical questions. Music has been used to break down boundaries and create dissent. Identities such as those of “mom rockers” could assist in creating conversations about “good mom” and “bad mom” stereotypes. Popular literature brings the message to the masses, and while it might not solve a problem it certainly can capture the essence of what is wrong with a thing – this could be true about any of previously mentioned categories. Solutions are not necessarily the subject we are concerned with. We are looking to take the thing out of the box (or in this case the house, or uterus, or consciousness) and examine it. While this topic alone could comprise an entire body of work, I suggest a brief overview to better demonstrate the way in which the concept of mother, specifically “working mother,” “maternal philosopher,” “maternal theorist,” and “mom-rocker,” are embodied in the public sphere. These concepts of mother have paved the way to coursework found in today’s universities, and art exhibits like “New Maternalisms”[7] as well as interdisciplinary forums like Mother Studies.

Perhaps one of the clearest attempts at forming a mother identity emerged immediately following the mainstream Second Wave Feminist movement. Working Mother Magazine was founded in 1979, incorporating the concept of mother as a worker, outside the home. The “Working Mother missive focused on issues such as equal pay, flexible work schedules, and childcare. Primarily a “how to” advocacy magazine for corporations and their female employees, WMM’s website says it has grown to readership of 2.2 million, and is part of a Bonnier Publishing, a company with more than $200 million in revenue. The “working mother” identity helps to prioritize women’s labor in the American workforce helping to balance the Feminist agenda of followers of Betty Friedan in the sense that the “housewife” has left her home. The magazine makes an appeal on issues of diversity, best work practices, and “The Multicultural Women’s National Conference,” (if you are to believe their PR and I largely do). They continue to perpetuate themselves through books like President, Carol Evan’s, This Is How We Do It, and corporatized movements like Lean In (2013).  It makes sense, given American’s proclivity towards capitalism that the idea of the working mother, as a purely economic construct is perhaps the most widespread, marketable concept among the manifold identities. Two year’s prior to WMM’s founding, Adrienne Rich leveraged feminist theory to examine the institution of motherhood, and ten years after WMM got it’s start, Beacon Press published Sara Ruddick’s groundbreaking Maternal Thinking. Ruddick introduced the concept of mothering itself as a form of labor (and thought) able to be performed by men as well as women. Largely philosophical in its approach, Ruddick also argues for a “Politics of Peace,” from those engaged in the raising of the next generation of human beings. Rich and Ruddick’s inspiration lead to the self-identification of “feminist others.” Spearheading the charge in Canada (1998) Andrea O’Reilly pioneered the concept of “feminist mothers” in her classes at the academy and went on to found organizations like ARM at York University (now renamed MIRCI). Meanwhile, American mothers were articulating motherhood in rock bands like Housewives on Prozac (1997), the Mydols, (2002), FRUMP (2003). By the year 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported on the burgeoning mom “movement” and by 2005, over 250 bands, comics, poets, actors, and singer-songwriters were playing on national Mamapalooza stages at 22 different locations, and the festival had spread to four different countries. At the same time, Demeter Press launched its first feminist book focused specifically on the topic of motherhood/mothering (2004). The nature of both activities lent themselves to identifying a collective of mom rockers, and mother feminist/academics. The purpose here is to demonstrate the inter-connectedness of these economic, philosophical/political, academic, artistic and popular creations that were forming themselves, as mothers engaged in the shaping of their identities.

A recognition of the failure of much of the second wave feminist movement to address LGBQT, non-White, Black, Latina, Arab and other(s) emerged throughout the 1990s and continues in some way through the thread of women’s discussions today– these women who are in the continual process of making, and unmaking themselves, and their concepts about themselves, as well as their children. This is the forefront of what any feminist motherhood movement is—the constant expanding, and microscoping of identity, action, theory, and its ongoing creations. I had been speaking, singing, writing, and talking gender, class, power, and motherhood since 1989, but for the person engaged in mothering, with only a general reference to feminist theory, who was living outside of the academy and exposure to its methods for research and discourse, looking for concepts and connectivity was implausible. Translation, I was in the position of most American mothers who are lacking in the rarified position of illuminated connection. In tandem to many general issues being explored within the culturally dominant forces of 2003 America, The Bitch in the House was released as a collection of mother authors. They recognized the “successes born out of the various waves of feminist politics from the late 1960s,”[8] however lingering frustrations remained. These frustrations had no real name. They emulated a general outcry regarding the competing burdens of career and motherhood and they hit big with dominant popular culture, registering an impact on conversations about motherhood. The book itself represented the writings of 26 authors, thus enforcing the collective nature of the articulation.

While feminists diversified into more and more specialized manifestations of themselves, women who thought of themselves as feminists were continuing the process of interpreting their feminism within the context of motherhood. Amber Kinser explored how feminist mothers were envisioning themselves in her book Mothering in the Third Wave (2008). “In the personal essays collected in this volume, mostly young feminist mothers recount their confusion and ambivalence about motherhood.”[9] So, while feminists expressed uncertainty about how to claim a place in the mothersphere one breakthrough attempt was a collection edited by Dr. Andrea O’Reilly called Maternal Theory. In this text O’Reilly consolidates a maternal feminist theory into one place, promoting a scholarly approach that was both inclusive and far-reaching in its discipline. Native American, Hispanic, and Black authors weighed in on the theorizing. The book precedes Amber Kinser’s, Motherhood and Feminism (2010), which tied together the history of the first, second, and third wave feminist movements. General theorizing (or attempts to theorize) continued to arise on a national level, with multiple activist, arts-based, and intellectual groups springing up. A more complete list of these organizations can be found within the three-volume, Encyclopedia of Motherhood (published in 2011), and The 21st Century Motherhood Movement (2011). Through the interwoven, inter-connectedness of corporate culture, high literature, academia, popular fads, and literary text, feminist motherhood, or mothers who had once been feminists (but now weren’t sure what they were), began the attempt to identify themselves in the private and public sphere. They looked to form their identity about themselves and their children within their new roles as wife (sometimes), birther (adopter, fosterer, surrogate, etc.), and caregiver (just as feminist identities continue to split, expand, reform, and rename).

Why mother identities emerge, and include the popular, and the theoretical at this exact point in herstory is unclear? But, as I said before, the original inspiration was organic, and appears to have come from several different sectors simultaneously (within a 10 year period). It could be argued motherhood is the original daughter of feminism’s insistence for equal pay, and equal rights, except this has not been the theme of much of mother-theory. It has more likely that many motherists in the mainstream did not want to make trouble, and even denied their feminist tendencies. In popular culture the theme seems to be focused on an unnamed problem, but the problem can’t be precisely articulated. In the working mother identity, the information/struggle is perhaps the most obviously feminist, but they certainly would not call themselves that. This is a specific brand of corporatized feminism that Hester Eisenstein would label “Feminism Seduced,” (as her book suggests). It situates itself firmly within the corporate capitalist framework. With conferences, awards, and tangible financial gains, the working mother, (at least the working mother identified by Working Mother Magazine) is concerned with “leave policies, workforce representation, benefits, child care, advancement programs, flexibility policies and more.”[10] All of these concerns are within the corporatized framework, whose institutional pull cannot be ignored as being pivotal in American consciousness. It is also worth mentioning that any of the previously mentioned shifts from 2000 on have been largely empowered by the internet. Likewise, “maternal philosophers,” “maternal theorists,” and “mom-rockers,” as well as contemporary “mom-authors,” float though the national consciousness and across our computer screens. Ephemera.com carries buttons and magnets that say “Moms Rock” (I know because I sold them the design), while the “Housewives of Beverly Hills” make trouble on TV (I turned down offers to do a reality show) and sip martinis, and the “Mom Bloggers,” who are arguably the newest members of society manifest categories as far reaching as “Mormon Moms,” to “The Feminist Breeder.” Motherhood is here, as identity and theory. Unfortunately, while there is growth, we are making and unmaking ourselves at the same time.

Activism and Art in a Consumer Society

It was not far into my scholarly investigations when I realized that in order to exhume a feminist maternal perspective it was paramount to examine notions of economics, class, and consumerism. One simply cannot understand feminism in America without becoming versed in its economic imperatives. Bethany Moreton opens her book To Serve God and Walmart; “the making of Christian free enterprise” with a nod to Walmart Moms, who according to Moreton represented a demographic of one in five mothers in 1995. [11] Two years later in 1997, I was oblivious to the secret report referencing the “Wal-Mart Mom,” but irrefutably cognizant of being buoyed up by my financially stable marriage. I pursed music with zeal and passion. Here I again give a node to privilege, because this marriage allowed for me to have the means to pursue my art. But, in this tenuous melding of material culture there is an ever-present consumer capitalist hierarchy that hungrily devours everything in its path, and it eventually devoured my marriage too. I echo the sentiment of Charlotte Perkins Gillman. Much progress has been made since she lived and wrote, with regard to “compulsory heterosexuality” there have been advances. The third wave has brought LGBQT issues to the fore, and changed legislation in ways that potentially tilt in the direction of more equal standing. Where legislation lags, there is vigilance with an eye towards change, even as I acknowledge there is still much work to be done. But, what of the mothers? Is this true for them? What legislative action can we take that will end domestic violence, the severe poverty of older; divorced mothers, and the psychological shame of women who do not “conform” to the American motherhood ideal? Gillman’s position on an “androcentric culture” resonates despite her inadequate treatment of “difference” which I believe can stand theoretically in alliance with Patricia Hill Collins and Smith if we simply expand our theory to include them. In very personal terms, (and I remind the reader that this is an auto-ethnographical account) I was “socialized as a servant” to the household (1998, p. 120). Despite very visual, prominent, and “loud” performance outside the home, my experience within the home was one of service for sexuo-economic relation In very modern terms, I was compromised for my lifestyle. This is the only way I can account for the gross imbalance of power relations within my family and the lack of equitable ownership I had within my own partnership. But, let me not stand alone in this. In my experience, Westchester is littered with women who have left their mansions behind for tiny apartments and the serenity that comes with not being subjected to domination or violence, and the prosperity that accompanies the vague notion of one’s own integrity. Now that I have reminded the reader of some forms of social imbalance still at work in the domestic sphere, let us move beyond to the larger economic picture, and how music, motherhood, and feminism fit in.

Music and money go way back. According to David Suisman, in his book Selling Sounds; The Commercial Revolution in American Music, the ephemeral nature of the parlor piano was tidily replaced in the late 1800’s and transformed into a commodification by the wily likes of the early sheet music tradesman of Tin Pan Alley. Ironically this period from 1880 to 1930 coincides with the first wave of American feminism, and the Hollywood star system (p. 128). It is not a stretch to observe the ways in which the artist becomes much less important than his or her ability to sell and promote the product. He acknowledges, “the contours of American consumer society became clear in the early twentieth century” and “that access to goods could be equated with the expansion of American democracy” (p. 123). Suisman’s treatment of the chapter on Black Swan Records closely parallels my own experience with the music industry. Black Swan engaged in a “radical attempt to confront, challenge, and disrupt the invisibility of the modern music industry” (p. 205). The label was the first label formed by Blacks, making Black music, and selling to Black audiences. It was a political statement as much as an artistic one focused on calling on Americans to think about their consumerism. Harry Pace, the founder of Black Swan understood “social relations and the distribution of power in society” (p. 238). Suisman points to Pace’s use of branding, music, and activism in the following way, “the meaning of music depended not just on what was recorded but also which messages were associated with those recordings.” Pace was experimenting with complex interdependencies that constitute our human economy, not just our financial economy. He was unsuccessful. The story of Black Swan Records is one of a small company, with a vision, getting swallowed by its own attempts at integrity. The bigger labels won the business, and Black Swan folded. I saw music as a vehicle for questioning the status quo and like Pace I believed that by establishing mother-made, mother-organized, mother-branded music, women would find ownership and empowerment outside an industry that marginalized them. They would make the product. They would produce the venues. They would buy the product from each other. They would claim empowerment. What I didn’t understand was how quickly appearances on TV, and meetings in Hollywood that enticed me to become the next “reality star” (I refused), would become co-opted into the existing entertainment system. A book by A.M. Collins and Chad Henry called “The Angry Housewives” was produced at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York City on September 7, 1986. So the theme of “Housewives” was not revolutionary, but the concept of women self-identifying as mom-rocker was. The meetings in Hollywood that ensued with Freemantle Media, Spielberg Offices, and Nickelodeon to name a few and the countless lunches with independent producers, and writers resulted in what we all recognize now as “The Real Housewives” (franchise) and “Rita Rocks” (The ill-fated, ill-conceived TV Show). Next was Motherhood the movie, starring Uma Thurman (2009). The film leveraged my “Mamapalooza” festival brand. Uma participates in the Mamapalooza contest to become a writer. The producers did not contact me, consult me, or pay me. Corporate capitalism won. It swallowed my mom-movement whole, and is still putting it to use today to make money using the mom-brand to sell everything from diapers to sex (just google “sexy mommies” if you dare).

Profound work by Hester Eisenstein in her book Feminism Seduced, and Barbara Katz Rothman further substantiates the capitalist consumer narrative in two primary ways: 1) Eisenstein identifies the permeating qualities of Neo Liberal capitalism, and illustrates the ways in which the feminist movement has more or less be duped into adopting lifestyles within the same system they fought against, b) Rothman connects patriarchy and capitalism to a universal view of women as disposable producers within a society that fundamentally commodifies life (p. 20). In both these scenarios, some truly new and revolutionary advocacy is required. As Eisenstein asks in her conclusion, “is there a way to decouple modernity from capitalism (p. 201)? The democratizing features of capitalism, at least as it was first presented in the discussions of “Westernizing” the world (p. 20 Eisenstein) and the “modernization of women, linked to having economic independence, getting married later, and changing attitudes about sex,” still leaves open the question of how are women, who are mothers, engaged in performing motherhood affected, moved, and ultimately changed by these developments? I posit, that perhaps through a slow shift? But the deep and abiding connection of the woman to her role, and to her child complexifies all of these issues in ways that remain largely outside (or more accurately “inside”), a larger worldview. From a sociological perspective, we simply don’t give a [bleep] about mothers. But, from a consumer perspective, we care a great deal. They are importance as shoppers. Within the third wave, mothers, and the ways in which notions of activism and agency have been co-opted by brands to confuse people into the symbiotic inter-play of “shopping for a cause.” How can it be that a “Gap Mom” finds agency by wearing “rock star” jeans, or how are “Wal-Mart employees and customers attain[ing] an experience of national belonging simply by shopping and working in the store” (p. 3)? The Marketing to Moms Coalition is a “dedicated to supporting and understanding of mothers as the most powerful consumer group in the U.S.”[12] It is a $2.4 trillion dollar market that makes 85% of the buying decisions in their households. These demonstrations of the insidiousness with which our new realities are bonded with a consumer culture and lead this author to believe that we must all want less, shop less, and truly change the way in which we collaborate with the planet. Do I have an answer for this? Yup. We do it one person at a time. Please see my video interpretation of this paper, intended as an additional resource, available online at my blog.[13]


Throughout this paper I have searched for ways to position Mom-Rockers within the cultural landscape to interpret their contributions. My arguments pose their legacy as instrumental. They were a visible presence in the national consciousness, paving the way towards new constructions of mother-identities. These mother-identities opened the door to an exploration that led in the direction of matri-theory as a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the human motherhood experience. This still stands, but the metamorphosis in ongoing. In this paper I traced the co-option of the mother identity in corporate, capitalist terms, using books like Hester Eisenstein’s Feminism Seduced, to tease out an explanation for what happened to Mom Rock. I also highlight germane aspects of mother identity today, either situated in the academy, or in its position within the greater landscape of our consumer society. Some mother-identified groups continue the good work of a non-corporatized ideology making inroads in the academy and beyond (Moms Rising is an activist group at work in Washington D.C investing in political legislation that includes paid parental leave, family health care, and equal pay). What is important to emphasize is the notion of how unaware many of us are to the forces acting upon us. The social forces in particular (as emphasized in standpoint theory) rule our destinies with regard to much of our lives. Every person, especially every woman, and certainly every mother should have access to tools that open her eyes to the issues of class, race, and gender so she can raise her children accordingly. My original attraction to music and its ephemeral qualities are longstanding. In larger philosophical terms, and as a survivor of serious illness at a young age I understand that everything is ephemeral. Therefore, I am comfortable with the choices I have made. Now, buoyed up by the academy, its resources, and my forthcoming degree, I look forward to archiving some of my past mom rock adventures just as I look forward to making contributions to a “better” future in which agency and knowledge are employed as everyday tools for living.



Brenner, J. (2000). Women and the Politics of Class. New York, NY, USA: Monthly Review Press.

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black Feminist Thoughts: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY, USA: Routledge.

Crittendon, A. (2001). The Price of Motherhood. New York, New York: Picador.

Dieckmann, Katherine. (2009). Motherhood: New York, New York: John Wells Productions, Killer Films, iDeal Partners Film Fund.

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Eisenstein, H. Feminism Seduced. (2009). Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Fabisch, S. (2007). Walmart Woman. (S. Fabisch, Performer)http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/132932/music-city-madness-sue-fabisch-wal-mart-woman.jhtml#id=1554388

Gilman, C. P. (1911). Suffrage Songs and Verses. Retrieved December 11, 2014, from Internet Archive: http://archive.org/stream/GilmanSuffrageSongs/Gilman%20Suffrage%20songs    page/n0/mode/2up

Hanauer, C. (Ed.). (2003). The Bitch in the House. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Janet Jakobsen, C. S. (Ed.). (n.d.). A New Queer Agenda. Retrieved November 18, 2012, from http://sfonline.barnard.edu/a-new queer-agenda/

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Kinser, A. (2010). Motherhood and Feminism. Berkeley, California, USA: Seal Press.

Loveless, N. (2012). New Maternalisms. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from Academia.edu:    http://www.academia.edu/1476734/New_Maternalisms_Booklet

Marketing to Moms Coalition. (2011). http://www.marketingtomomscoalition.org/docs/2011-SOAM-Highlights.pdf

McRobbie, A. (2003). Smug Shots. Retrieved Decembr 14, 2014, from The Guardian:   http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/mar/29/highereducation.news1

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Patricia Madoo Lengerman, G. N. (1998). The Women Founders. Long Grove, Illinois, USA:  Waveland Press.

Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. (1983). http://www.rockhall.com

Rose, J. (Composer). (1998). No Prescription Required. [H. O. Prozac, Performer] Hastings On Hudson, NY.

Rothman, B. K. (1989). Recreating Motherhood. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books.

Ruddick, S. (1989). Maternal Thinking. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York, NY: Alfred P. Knopf.

Smith, D. (1987). The Everyday World As Problematic; A Feminist Sociology. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Suisman, D. (2009). Selling Sounds; The Commercial Revolution in American Music. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Whiteley, S. (2000). Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity. New York, NY: Routledge.

[1] Slavery can be perpetuated through emotional and physical violence within the domestic sphere. It can also as described by Harriet Martineau in the 1800s. Martineau describes the indulgences of women by men as a “substitute for justice.”

[2] Patricia Hill Collins (Higginbotham 1989; Morton 1991; Collins 1998a, 95-123).

[3] These are from my class notes; Hester Eisenstein, Gender Studies. I do not know if they are my own notes, or if I scribbled them down based on a text? I simply want to credit the source here, and make this footnote in case I am not remembering properly.

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/09/nyregion/band-sings-about-what-it-s-like-to-raise-a-family-in-the-90-s.html

[5] (Gilman, 1911)

[6] http://www.rockhall.com

[7] http://www.academia.edu/1476734/New_Maternalisms_Booklet

[8] Web. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/mar/29/highereducation.news1

[10] Web. http://www.workingmother.com/best-companies/2014-working-mother-100-best-companies

[11] Pg. 1 To Serve God and Walmart. See also Wal-Mart Woman video: http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/132932/music-city-madness-sue-fabisch-wal-mart-woman.jhtml#id=

[12] Web. http://www.marketingtomomscoalition.org/docs/2011-SOAM-Highlights.pdf

[13] Web. http://joyrose.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/mapping-american-motherhood/

DOWNLOAD PDF HERE: Electric Mommyland by M.J. Rose

Additional Articles and Resources:

What Happens to Our Lives After Motherhood? – The Broad Side (Added Dec. 17, 2014)

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