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Resistance, Motherhood, and Social Networking Profiles

Recently I’ve been going through another wave of wondering who my father was. My mother claimed his name was Jake Linn and that he was of Russian Jewish ancestry and came from Virginia. She said she met him when she was at Duke University in 1944. Nobody in her family ever saw him and she had no photograph, so he’s always been a phantom in my life. In fact I don’t much resemble the rest of mother’s family physically, so I’ve always wondered where my tall, angular build and my large-faced blondish looks–which I passed on to my sons–came from. When a man named Jake Linn who came from Florida was contacted by a lawyer representing my mother in the 1950s, he denied ever knowing my mother. He could have been lying. It could have been a different man by the same name. But then my mother had, shall we say, idiosyncratic ways of experiencing reality. Her story about my father changed from time to time. I would passionately love to know who he was, to see a picture of him, and to know a little about his medical history. As part of my recent quest for answers, I googled the name Linn and came up with a Jewish scholar named Ruth Linn whose main body of research is “mature unwed mothers” and their choice to bear children, which she sees as a form of “resistance.” Naturally this interested me, as I flatter myself that I have always been about “resistance,” and I chose three times to have children as a mature single woman–once by birth and twice by adoption. So I got Ruth Linn’s book via Interlibrary Loan, and it is absorbing both in the abstract and in my own particular. Eventually I’ll connect the dots to the profile I just created on Myspace. Read on only if you’re interested in this. Otherwise wait till another day and I’m sure I’ll have another topic.

The book is called Mature Unwed Mothers: Narratives of Moral Resistance (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002). It features an introduction by Carol Gilligan that includes this delicious bit:

“The parallelism between Linn’s study of conscientious objectors and single mothers lies in the fact that both acts signify resistance to the hierarchy that is patriarchy…. The power of moral resistance has been linked historically with men’s resistance to unjust authority. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela stand out as moral heroes of the twentieth century and as symbols of resistance to oppression. Listening to the women in her study, we hear them challenging the injustices and the carelessness associated with sexism and patriarchy” (vi).

That reminded me that I was interviewed in 1975 by a stringer for the New York times who was doing an article on the independent character of mature single women who chose to bear children “out of wedlock.” [Teenage unwed mothers are a whole other story, and my mother had been single and twenty-one when I was born with a phantom father.] I was then thirty and single, my baby boy was two, and the journalist, whose name I’ve forgotten, said I was “off the charts in terms of all the ways we measure independence.” I remember that. The ego is always gratified by being “off the charts” in damn near anything, and I have always fought to be “independent” in as many ways as possible. I don’t think the NYT article was ever published, or if it was I never saw it. But that woman asked me pretty much the same questions Ruth Linn asked the Israeli women she interviewed in her study:

1. Did you choose single mothering because you were unable or unwilling to find a husband?

2. What made you want to do this?

3. Was it deliberate or accidental?

4. Do you hope to find a husband and a father for your child?

5. Is having a child a way to evade losses? What is the role of your age? (p. 39).

It amused me to read that most of these mothers, interviewed more than a decade after I was, answered the questions about the same way I did. There were some differences of course, but basically they said they felt they needed a man like a fish needs a bicycle, they felt whole and strong and capable of being a decent parent, they felt a strong bond with the unborn child, it was an exciting adventure and a life experience they wanted to have, and they didn’t give a damn what anybody else had to say about it. They weren’t intimidated by social proscriptions against “unwed mothers,” but their clock was ticking and they knew if they were ever going to do this, they better get on with it. They knew it would be difficult financially, but they were hard workers, highly motivated to succeed in their fields, and they believed in themselves and believed they would find a way. For some, as for me, the actual pregnancy was accidental, but for all, the decision to bear and rear the child was deliberate. Having a child was not a way to evade loss but to embrace possibility. Basically, these tough-minded single women were, excuse the expression, pretty cocky. The practical difficulties of rearing children on one income battered just about all of us into financial submission, but our heads remain unbowed. Our children have not had an easy time of it, but then, who does?

Linn writes, “Motherhood out of choice is the telling of how both new families and new stories are produced…. This invisible and voiceless transition into motherhood as an ‘experience’ not as an ‘institution’ takes on a complex identity and a complex narrative, as ‘one’s self identity is the story one tells one’s self of who one is'(she’s quoting Laing there)” (109).

Motherhood as an experience, not as an institution. The story one tells one’s self of who one is. Nice, huh?

If you are still awake, you may be saying to yourself, A-ha! That’s where she brings in the Myspace profile. And it is. The whole business of keeping blogs, crafting “About Me” pages, figuring out how to present yourself to new people in a new town, writing “profiles” for the internet, or creating pages on Myspace (I won’t bother making a link because you have to be a member to see another member’s “space”), is a matter of “the story one tells one’s self [and others] of who one is.” And for some of us, Resistance is part of that story; and Motherhood (the experience) is part of that story; and family–but not domesticity–is part of that story. I have long rebelled against domestic partnerships. I think the domestic is the part that most offends me, but the partnership gives me chills as well. I’m just not that kind of girl. Never have been, apparently, though I did try for years.

So here is my question for the day, for anyone who wants to play with it: what is the story you tell yourself about who you are? And where do you tell it? And as you go through life telling it, which parts change and which parts remain the same? I wonder endlessly about this kind of thing.

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4 responses to “Resistance, Motherhood, and Social Networking Profiles”

  1. Ivona says:

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed reading your article about strong, independent-minded women and the way you expressed your ideas. I’m too young to have a story to tell you about who I am.

  2. Kathryn says:

    Thanks, Ivona. I bet you do have a story to tell (I had a story to tell by the time I was five), but I’ll wait till you feel ready to tell it. I’m looking forward to it.

  3. Bob Currier says:

    One of the stories that your post brings up for me is to wonder what my birth mother [I was adopted as a baby] told herself about her situation. Was she in a place in her life where she could have considered keeping the baby [in the early 1950s]? How old was she? Was she married when I was born? And did/does she revisit that decision now? I sure hope not.
    And I wonder if some of my desire to be “settled down” comes from all the way back then. And, contrariwise, if some of my independence comes from not trusting that anyone will have to be there for me.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Wonderful questions, Bob. Plenty for all of us to think about. I especially like “if some of my independence comes from not trusting that anyone will (have to) be there for me.” Bingo.

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