Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose - review by Susie Orbach

Susie Orbach

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty


Faber & Faber 238pp £12.99

In the 1970s, as feminism burst onto the stage, theorists and activists struggled to make sense of the ways in which patriarchal attitudes lived inside us and had constructed us as girls and boys, women and men. Of course, we observed the economics of power relationships and how this was the compost for inequalities, from not being able to get a mortgage to not being able to get the birth control pill or gain equal custody of children unless one’s husband gave permission. The inner and the outer worlds both seemed to be letting women down. How then to explain and change them?

Some of us looked to the role of the mothering relationship, while others, including Jacqueline Rose, focused on the ‘law of the father’, or phallocracy. In both cases, psychoanalytic means of thinking and research were deployed to unpick the ways in which the mother or the symbolic father was central to both intimate and cultural relationships.

The mothering people understood that gender lives in the maternal eye from, or even before, day one. Children are anticipated, or were until very recently, in gendered categories, and while mothers mostly don’t consciously school girls in the ways of being girls or boys in the ways of

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