MIRCI 20th Anniversary Gala Conference 2016
by Victoria Bailey
Held over three days in downtown Toronto – October 14-16 – the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) 20th Anniversary Gala Conference was nothing if not jam packed. The schedule ran from early morning to late evening each day, with minimal breaks in-between multiple co-occurring and thematically diverse sessions. Highlights included keynote addresses from Martha Joy Rose - founder of the Museum of Motherhood, Marcelle Soviero - editor of Brain, Child magazine, Jowita Bydlowska – author of Drunk Mom, and a special address by Marilyn Waring entitled, ‘30 Years of Counting for Nothing: Reflections, Strengths and Strategies,’ as well as numerous insightful presentations provided by academic staff and students as well as activists and artists.
However MIRCI 2016 also took on a reflective tone; a giant photo board overladen with images and documents displaying past activities and attendees took pride of place in the conference’s temporary ‘main room’ paying testament to the achievements of MIRCI’s history. This history has included a founding as ARM (Association for Research on Mothering), a period when it looked like the organization might disappear altogether, followed by its rebirth as MIRCI and the related founding of Demeter Press which is also marking its 10th anniversary. Over the past 20 years MIRCI has published 38 journals, and facilitated 50 conferences, many of which were held outside of Canada in locations including Barbados, Lisbon, Athens, Puerto Rico, and New York.
Yet though I attended this particular ‘Gala’ conference as a ‘newbie,’ it seems that it marked a milestone not just for MIRCI – but for the concept and continuation of motherhood as a research, academic and ultimately feminist topic. MIRCI founder and director, (and also founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and Demeter Press) Professor Andrea O’Reilly, PhD (in the School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at York University) released her new book at the conference which not only shines a light on the topic of motherhood studies, it demands its due recognition.
In this new text 'Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice', O’Reilly ultimately declares that mothers need a feminism of their own while sounding the alarm for mothers, mothering and motherhood’s continual, not only seeming but documented, disappearance from traditional and more academic realms of feminism. As O’Reilly explained at the conference, ‘Motherhood studies exists as an island – it is adrift.’
In the text O’Reilly documents how, when examining the content and coverage of typical feminist research spaces e.g. women’s studies conferences, textbooks, journals and women and gender studies departments classes, currently a motherhood focus typically occurs just 3% of the time and in some cases even less. This is despite 80% of women in Canada identifying as mothers. However, this is not to say that this diminished prioritization or focus on motherhood linked themes is only of concern to women. ‘For mothers, maternity matters as much as, if not more so, than gender thus mothers need a feminism that puts mothers and mothering at its centre,’ O’Reilly explains. At the core of this argument is the idea, as repeatedly exemplified during the conference, that mothers are oppressed as women and as mothers and that without establishing a feminism for and about mothers, motherhood will remain on the periphery of feminist focus or worse, be overlooked, trivialized or ignored.
In looking toward the goals of MIRCI in the next twenty years, O’Reilly explains that like many non-profits, financial stability and sustainability remains an on-going issue. MIRCI continues to be solely funded by donation, memberships, publication purchases and conference attendance. This Canadian organization provides a unique space, nationally and internationally, for discussion and examination of motherhood related issues and topics, and/or to analyse social issues through a mothering lens thus, sustained financial support, in-hand with being valued and prioritized within academic and feminist spheres, is crucial - to say motherhood is important is beyond trite.
Thus, in an aim to promote continuation of the organization, its focus, successes and goals, going forward, MIRCI will now focus its attention on organizing one conference per year, alternating between hosting within Canada, and then abroad the subsequent year.
Plans are already underway for a 2017 conference in Galway, Ireland, providing space for examining, exploring, discussing, analysing and reflecting on mothers/mothering/motherhood. As always, presentations are not exclusively limited to an academic framework. ‘We don’t include a title on our name badges,’ O’Reilly points out, ‘That’s intentional – there’s no hierarchy at MIRCI conferences.’ Contributions from, and participation and attendance by, artists, activists and community members is keenly encouraged. For more information about MIRCI please visit http://motherhoodinitiative.org/
Victoria Bailey has an MA in Women's Studies and is due to begin a PhD program in Sept 2017. Until then, she will continue working in a freelance capacity researching, writing, and ranting mostly about feminist issues on blog sites, in anthologies, and for magazines, as well as teaching yoga, walking her manic sidekick dog and mothering three children (a high-schooler, a middle-schooler, and an elementary-schooler) in Calgary, Canada.