Take a Look at Our Syllabus for Reading Motherhood at Georgetown University

Reading Motherhood is also a course at Georgetown University. Here's our syllabus, including the titles of readings and media that guide our class.

Elizabeth Velez

409 New North

Email: Office phone: 687-7575 Office Hours: M 2-4:30 pm or by appointment

Pamela Fox

416 New North

Office phone: 687-7418


Office Hours: Mondays, 1:30-2:30; Weds., 2-3:30; or by appointment


ENGL 271-01

Spring 2020

M/W 11-12:15

Course Description:

Motherhood is deemed one of the most ‘natural’ experiences binding women together across time and space. But as feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich famously argued in her landmark work Of Woman Born, it is also a social institution with its own history and ideology.

Our course examines this institution as a shifting, historically and culturally specific phenomenon given particularly potent life in cultural representations: that is, the literature, film, television, advertising, video, comics, etc. that surround us in everyday life. Analyzing foundational criticism and theory about motherhood alongside a variety of predominantly U.S. cultural texts—from I Love Lucy, Imitation of Life, and Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Roseanne, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Elisa Albert’s After Birth to the recent documentary Google Baby—we explore how differing notions of motherhood are constructed, contested, negotiated.

One premise of the course is that motherhood cannot be universalized as an experience or as a right (not all women are urged or even permitted to mother); it is not innate or necessarily a biological relation. And while the syllabus focuses largely on the U.S., its structure will address how western and non-western political relations are increasingly embedded in global circuits of motherhood via transnational adoption, surrogacy, and reproductive technologies.

Learning Goals:

In this course, as the above description establishes, you can expect to gain a nuanced understanding of motherhood that goes far beyond commonsensical notions of a personal experience that is at once unique and universal. You will learn:

  1. How to conceptualize motherhood as an ideological and cultural construction;

  2. How to analyze a variety of cultural representations of motherhood—from both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture--within their historical contexts;

  3. How such representations help to shape not only our own visions of ‘real’ motherhood but also laws and business practices with differential impacts on different groups of women

  4. How motherhood as ideology and cultural image can be resisted by both consumers/readers/viewers and writers/filmmakers/artists

  5. How motherhood in the U.S. is inextricably linked to motherhood abroad—to economic and cultural globalization

  6. How to write about motherhood in diverse assignments that blend, as well as distinguish between, the academic and the personal

Required Texts (all should be available online or at the GU Bookstore):

Elisa Albert, After Birth Toni Morrison, Beloved

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born

Schedule of Assignments

W, Jan 8 Introduction to Course

Setting the Stage: Thinking about Contemporary Motherhood

M Jan 13 Kinzer, “Introduction: Thinking and Going About Mothering in the Third Wave”

Caviness, “What Black Moms Know”

Noonan, “The Globalization of Love: Transnational Adoption and…”

Haider, “I Am a Trans Mother—Deal With it” (in Canvas Pages)

W Jan 15 Badruddoja, “The Fantasy of Normative Motherhood”

Cusk, “Lily Bart’s Baby”

Erdrich, from The Blue Jay’s Dance

Castillo, “Women Don’t Riot”