2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Racism in the Second American Women’s Movement: Motherhood Redefined

Yen-Chuan Yu

Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica

During the 1960s and early 1970sthe early stage of the second women’s movement in Americawhite feminists challenged the traditional concept of motherhood that prescribed that every woman was destined to become a mother and motherhood was a woman’s finest achievement. While white feminists were fighting to escape the destiny of motherhood, American black feminists were struggling to protect their rights to be mothers and to redefine black motherhood. Why did these differences emerge? Did racism contribute to the differences? What was the impact of racism feminists’ definition of motherhood? How racism affect the development of feminism and the women’s movement? By exploring feminist debates on motherhood, this article aims to illuminate the role of racism in the women’s movement and to understand the complex relationship between motherhood and feminism.

There are three sections. First, I briefly summarize the background of the second women’s movement and white feminists’ arguments against traditional motherhood. I also lay out their views on better forms of motherhood. The second section discusses problems black feminists faced and how they struggled to define motherhood. While sexual discrimination was a serious problem, black feminists needed to cope with sex, race and class oppressions at the same time. In order to reclaim a positive image of the black mother, black feminists rebutted such dominant images as matriarch and mammy. The redefined image of a strong, independent and hard working black mother embraced a broader and more powerful role for women. The last section compares black and white feminists’ concerns on issues and programs such as reproductive freedom, day care, and women’s right to work. This article concludes that the different view’s on motherhood between black and white feminists are due to their different experiences of motherhood. Although white feminists were not guilty of serious racist practices, such as excluding black women, they were responsible for over-generalizing their experience of motherhood to women of other backgrounds. Their lack of awareness of their racial and class privileges was also a form of racism.


Key Words: the women’s movement, feminism, motherhood, black feminism, racism, sexism