Souhir Zekri holds a PhD in English Studies from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (Scotland) and currently teaches at the Higher Institute of Applied Humanities of Tunis. Her main research areas include life writing theory, spatial theory, masculinity studies and feminism. She has published articles in Tunisia and the UK and her PhD thesis on metabiography in Marina Warner’s fiction has just been published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2019).
Motherhood has been represented by patriarchal and religious discourses as a woman’s innate function, bestowing life through selfless, unrestrained love. It has come to represent an absolute form of altruism, materialized for centuries by Christianity into images of a self-sacrificing, teary Virgin Mary. A real mother could not be angry, impatient or selfish. A real mother identified with her child to the point of self-extinction. The accumulation of such imagery and its accompanying ideology has contributed in effacing the body and identity of each individual mother. Many feminists like Julia Kristeva and Adrienne Rich have attempted to provide new definitions of motherhood, both as a personal experience and an institution, in order to validate it. However, as Bruzelius claims in “Mother’s pain, Mother’s voice”, they could not do so without systematically associating motherhood with pain and suffering, thus destroying the credibility of their discourse by submitting it yet again to another aspect of the Virgin Mary; the Mater Dolorosa.
This presentation both critically and creatively attempts to destroy the boundaries created around motherhood by definitions of self-effacement and passive submission to pain. By transfiguring De Beauvoir’s famous “One is not born a woman” into “One is not born a mother” and including scraps of my own experience of childbearing, childbirth and motherhood in a Kristeva-like fashion, this presentation attempts to defy the generic and thematic boundaries of narratives of motherhood in order to redefine the physicality of such feminine acts which, although dominated by physical pain, are not limited to it. In addition to giving voice to my own experience and introducing the concept of “personal criticism”, I will be using examples from Marina Warner’s Indigo and “Be my Baby” as they abound with representations of alternative maternal figures.