On Sunday, May 13, America will celebrate its mothers, grandmothers, and other mom-like figures. If you're tired of the usual platitudes that idealize mothers without granting them room for complexity or nuance, check out a refreshing list of feminist Mother's Day quotes. From the "mother of feminism" Gloria Steinem to feminist folk singer Ani DiFranco, new mom and tennis star Serena Williams, and other figures, these 15 quotes offer a collection of perspectives on motherhood and feminism in all of its intersectional glory.
Feminism Is For Everybody and We Should All Be Feminists are two book titles that could also be rallying cries for today's intersectional feminism, which hopes to achieve gender equality along with greater inclusivity in both the feminist movement and society at large. The concept of intersectionality is defined as "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Which means I've included feminist quotes about motherhood from women of different races, religions, and walks of life. I've also included a gay father's take on Mother's Day and a quote from a gender fluid parent. I hope you'll feel inspired, celebrated, and represented, whatever your identity may be and however you choose to spend the holiday.
1“Birth is the epicenter of women’s power.”— Ani DiFranco
Folksinger, enterpreneur, feminist, abortion rights activist and mom of two Ani DiFranco has been sticking up for women throughout her two-decades-plus career. Her 2017 song "Play God" celebrates women's role in creation and frames reproductive freedom as an unfinished piece of civil rights.
2“Some days I’m made up of a thousand mothers who have given one ironic look, one laugh at the right moment, one exasperated wave, one acknowledgement.”— Louise Erdrich
In an essay for the Paris Review, Sarah Menkedick quotes from Erdrich's 1995 book The Blue Jay's Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood and describes its impact on her as a newly pregnant writer:
"I had understood motherhood up until then as either the stultifying oppression of conventionality or an exercise of triumphing-in-spite-of, staying cutting edge and ambitious and successful by proudly suppressing or minimizing the maternal. Erdrich offered me another model: motherhood as profound creative subject, as way of seeing, even as empowerment."
3"I thought that I was the hero of my story, [but] in writing it I came to realize over time that my mom was the hero."— Trevor Noah
Referring to his bestselling memoir Born A Crime, Noah tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross about the amazing and inspiring woman who raised him. If you read the book you'll see that she truly is a bold and fearless feminist icon.
4"We moms may feel closer to the source of all power that exists in the universe, but we are forced to endure the condescension of a society that acknowledges our role with pink balloons."— David Beach
In a Modern Love column for The New York Times, Broadway actor and new dad David Beach describes his ambivalence about being celebrated on Mother's Day with a flower delivery from his husband.
5"Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials."— Meryl Streep
We need more examples like Streep, who demonstrate that big careers are not incompatible with motherhood. This quote also conveys the very human experience of raising children, which can extend our empathy for all other humans in the process.
6"When we cling to the idea of motherhood as sacrifice, what we really sacrifice is our sense of self, as if it is the price we pay for having children."— Karen Rinaldi
In a thought-provoking op-ed for The New York Times, Rinaldi challenges the notion that motherhood is all toil and sacrafice.
7"I hope my boy is lucky. I hope he is never in the wrong time at the wrong place on the wrong end of a weapon. I hope he is never vulnerable with those who wish to harm him. I hope I love him enough in the time I have with him, that while he can be a child, I give him the gifts of a childhood: that I bake chocolate chip cookies and whisper stories to him at bedtime and let him jump in muddy puddles after heavy rains, so he can know what it is to burst with joy."— Jesmyn Ward
In a heartwrenching essay for The Guardian, National Book Award winning author Jesmyn Ward describes her hopes and fears for the black son she's raising in America.
8"Having grandchildren is the great reward for enduring the indignities of aging. Holding your baby’s baby is life-affirming. It’s joyous." — Lesley Stahl
Let's not forget about the grandmothers! Pioneering journalist Lesley Stahl describes the pleasures of becoming a grandparent after struggling to balance career and motherhood during her own daughter's childhood.
9"Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them."— Serena Williams
She's one of the world's best athletes and a rich, successful business woman, but even Serena Williams experiences the same highs and lows of motherhood as the rest of us.
10"Brave moms raise brave kids."— Jen Hatmaker
In a blog post, Evangelical leader and author Jen Hatmaker describes her reasons for raising her kids in a "free-range" style.
11"I didn't have kids until later and so I almost thought that it wasn't going to happen for me, so I'm very aware that I was blessed with that. It could have been something different."— Jennifer Lopez
Another example of a successful career woman and mother, Lopez tells Today about her gratitude for her twins and how she fits family into her busy work schedule.
12"When you raise children in an open and free environment without things like forced gender roles or religious beliefs, they tend to be very much themselves rather than a reflection of you, and their preferences and choices echo a free mind." — Jesse Sullivan
Actor, model, and parent who identifies as gender fluid, Jesse Sullivan discusses the benefits of raising children in a gender-neutral environment.
13"My mother paid a high price for caring so much, yet being able to do so little about it. In this way, she led me toward an activist place where she herself could never go." — Gloria Steinem
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem shares stories of her own mother, who helped her see the connection between the personal and political.
14"If women want men to treat them better, it is up to us to raise our sons to treat women the way we want to be treated and show them the partnerships men and women can enjoy." — Ameenah Taher
Taher, Executive Director of Corporate Communications at Zabeel Investments, shares her perspective on feminism in the Arab world, emphasizing the point that raising feminists is about boys as much as girls.
15"I knocked on over 5,000 doors during my campaign for Paducah City Commission...Here are some of the comments I got that I'm guessing my male opponents didn't: Are you married? What does your husband do? I often got asked if I had children, which didn't bother me. What did bother me is that several people - again men and women - openly questioned how I would have time to be a city commissioner (a part-time position) while raising three young children." — Sarah Stewart Holland
Holland may not be as famous as Meryl Streep or Jennifer Lopez but as a public servant and self-employed podcaster, writer, and speaker, she certainly knows a thing or two about pursuing one's dreams while raising kids. This quote comes from a blog post in which she discusses sexism in politics.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.