Shatter not the branches of the tree of anger
Mothering, affect, and disabilityHypatia, 2018
Hypatia Special Issue:Gender & the Politics of ShameVolume 33, Issue 3, 2018
Autoethnography is a qualitative method that offers a way of giving voice to personal experience for the purpose of extending sociological understanding.Postpositivist narrative inquiry"...an autobiographical genre of writing that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural" (Ellis &Bochner, 2000, p. 739)Evocative or analyticalRisks: self-disclosure, stigma, naval-gazingprivileging concrete action, emotion, embodiment, self-consciousness and introspection (Ellis, 2004, p. xix, as cited in Douglas & Carless, 2013, p. 85).partial, situated and incomplete in the autoethnographic process of further knowing and discovering who we are (Douglas & Carless, 2013, p. 85)In purposefulrelation toan audience(Holman Jones, Adams, & Ellis, 2013)
Feminist literature used, abbreviated
Bartky, 1990 Lorde, 1981, 1984Runswick-Cole, 2013DiQuinzio, 1993 Nussbaum, 2006 Sedgwick, 1995Frantis, 2013Pedwell& Whitehead, 2012 Sousa, 2011Garland-Thomson, 2005Probyn, 2005 Warner, 2005Kittay, 1999 Rich, 1979 Young 1990Landsman, 2009 Ruddick, 1980Lavlani, 2011
Literary texts used
I stand here ironing, Tillie Olsen, 1961 (short story)The special mother, ErmaBombeck, 1981 (poem)Shame, Levy, 2009 (poem)Who said it was simple, Lorde, 1973 (poem)The trial, Kafka, 1999 (novel)Shame,Stass, 2008 (poem)
Mothering: exquisite suffering (Rich, 1979)Embodied experience, nurturing, raising childrenSituation within institution of motherhood and other institutions (e.g., class, race, marriage, patriarch, etc.)Motherhood associated with socially valued children (Lavlani, 2011; Gabel & Kotel, 2015)Subject position, locus point in power networks (Diquinzio1993)EmbodiedNormative discourses, micro-physics of power (Foucault, 1982;Lieb, 2017) authorizing or denying emotions, guiding individual conduct
Self-denying good mother, long-suffering, free of complaint (Rich, 1979)If not, she is not the good motherTiger mom (Chua, 2011)Soccer momSmothering mother (Harrington, 2016)Refrigerator mother (Kanner, 1949; Sousa, 2011Sacrificial motherAbleism write the narratives about mothers of children with disabilities (Colker, 2015;Frantis, 2013; Gabel & Kotel, 2015; Thomas, 2003)
Disabled people are not the subject matter of the social interpretation of disability (Finkelstein, 2001)Produced ideologically by ableism, or the structural exclusion of people with impairments or people assumed to have impairmentsDevalued social status
Authorized and proscribed by power (Foucault, 1977)Sense of failure to attain an ideal state (Nussbaum, 2006)Painful, loss of dignity (Brooks, 2008)I drag my shame outside for a walk…my shame exudes an odor (Levy)Silences and marginalizes (Leeming & Boyle, 2013)Mother steeps—soggy, numb, lukewarm…
Docile and divided from self (Deveaux, 1994)Alienated, ashamed…Wrenchingly painful (Nurka, 2012)Tormented, engulfed (Olsen’s narrator)Generative and productive of anger (Gabel, 2018).Shame silences, anger clamors; same paralyzes, anger agitatesTransitional affect (Gabel, 2018)
There are so many roots to the tree of anger that sometimes the branches shatter before they bear (Lorde, 1973)
One day with defenses weakened, mother startles bleary-eyed, unable to gulp anything down. What once felt colorless and listless now roils with flaming sparks of awareness. She realizes she is balanced precariously on a pedestal at the edge of a cliff. Shame, her familiar, now seems useless and weak but what else is there? Mother teeters on her sacrificial pedestal. She does not perceive the throbbing, drumming, vibrating in her chest as the pulse of anger. This is the gift of transformation but will she seize it? She peers across the affective chasm, dangling helplessly on shame, sometimes with barely a toehold, other times on her knees and clutching the edge, white-knuckled and tearful. She is afraid to leave shame and vault toward anger. If she jumps she may fall and be lost. If she stays where she is, she remains on familiar ground perilously close to habitus.
The sacrificial mother is self-denying and unacquainted with her affective options. She does not realize she has a right to be angry so she steeps—soggy, numb, lukewarm—in her shame. She may harbor feelings she labels as frustration, disappointment, or discouragement but she is unlikely to call her feelings anger since anger is unbecoming of her gender and of the good mother. Therefore, she attributes negative emotions to her own shortcomings and attempts to wrangle and manage them as imperfections even while she admits to her flaws and the shame of them.
Cramming her emotions into dark penetralia, she thinks her shame is her own “experience of the self by the self” (Sedgwick 1995, 136). She eventually chokes on shame’s bile. It rises, she gulps it down. It rises again. She gulps again and again. She cannot afford to taste the sewage of self-pity. Better to swallow it. Better to avoid talking about it. Unfortunately, mother does not realize how shame is imposed on her by poetry clipped from the newspaper and offered in awe; stolen glances and swift glances away; other mothers shushing their children when they stare at her child; the friend or family member who does not have the time to babysit, visit, or call; the teacher who urges her to do more or less but never acknowledges her doing the right amount; the “faithful” who pray for her child to be healed and pray for her to have patience.
With each indignity dispensed to her or her children, mother has a prick of anger but she is unaware of the tree of anger even when it germinates, sprouts, and swells within her. She does not realize that her shame can generate anger and anger can serve her purposes. Moments of heart-pounding, white-hot anger “eat clefts into her living” (Lorde 1984) and she defensively pushes her anger away while berating herself for her unexpected brazenness. She is consumed with the hidden labor of managing her emotions, yet without embracing anger, the branches of her tree of anger may shatter before they serve her. The sacrificial mother does not understand that her emotions are attached to the productive field of power relations (Alford 2000) calling for her to be docile and divided from herself (Deveaux1994), alienated and ashamed.
When things eventually go askew, as they inevitably will, mother’s self-talk colludes with shame and deflects anger’s promise of transformation (Blackmon 2015). “If you get angry people will avoid you. People don’t like to be around angry mothers,” Shame cautions. “Anger increases your cortisol levels and makes you fat,” warns Shame. “You know you can’t think straight when you’re angry,” blames Shame. “It’s OK to feel a little angry now and then but don’t dwell on it,” consoles Shame. “Your mother was angry and you don’t want to be like her, do you?” reminds Shame. “Look at the wrinkles on your forehead. Staying angry will make them permanent,” admonishes Shame.
One day with defenses weakened, mother startles bleary-eyed, unable to gulp anything down. What once felt colorless and listless now roils with flaming sparks of awareness. She realizes she is balanced precariously on a pedestal at the edge of a cliff.
Shame, her familiar, now seems useless and weak but what else is there? Mother teeters on her sacrificial pedestal. She does not perceive the throbbing, drumming, vibrating in her chest as the pulse of anger. This is the gift of transformation but will she seize it? It feels dangerous and risky and she tries to push it away, hoping to bury the unfamiliar. She peers across the affective chasm, dangling helplessly on shame, sometimes with barely a toehold, other times on her knees and clutching the edge, white-knuckled and tearful. She is afraid to leave shame and vault toward anger. She is paralyzed by the dizzying rush for which she has no vocabulary, no intimacy. If she jumps she may fall and be lost. If she stays where she is, she remains on familiar ground perilously close to habitus.
Mother can now see her options. If mother takes the risk and leaps toward anger, she may fall and have to climb back up. Having fallen, she is fully awake, heart pumping, breathing heavily. She can clamber back to her pedestal where life is mundane and anemic but oh so familiar. This is an easy climb. The footholds are where she remembers them. Her hands know where to grasp without looking. The pedestal may not be so bad after all, with its permanent impression of her heavy body. See the people on the edge of the cliff waving mother to climb up? Her daughter’s teacher, her son’s doctor, the neighbor next door, the family member, the restaurant owner/bus driver/store clerk/social worker.
Or mother can choose the more difficult ascent. She can scratch and claw her way toward anger, but mother do not look up! Stay focused on securely placing hands and feet. Ignore the cacophony coming from behind urging you to descend. If you reach the top you become a new mother, a vigilante mother (DiQuinzio1993; Blum 2007). You will insist that your children live dignified lives. You will resist policies that segregate your children “for their own good” or because “this is the best placement” or “this is where we have the resources and teachers who are trained to deal with your child.” You will embrace your outsider status as a woman who “viscerally understands the world because [you have] the vantage point of outsiders looking in on it” (Locke 2007, 152). This will be an uncomfortable embrace—pariah, marginal, peripheral woman engorged with powerful, agitated, compelling fury. Cling to anger and despite ridicule, stigmatization, misunderstanding, and blame, you will refuse to accept that your children are less deserving and you will have the strength and courage to withstand.
Anger is the vigilante mother’s response to injustice (Lorde 1973, 1981; Bell 2005; Taylor andRisman2006;McWeeny2010).
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