Clio Talks Back: A Tribute to Adrienne Rich and Of Woman Born

Adrienne Rich
 Clio has learned of the death of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), one of America’s greatest poets and author Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976). In this book she brought her poetic skills to bear on enhancing our understanding of motherhood. Mother of three sons, she subsequently divorced their father and lived the rest of her life among women.

As Rich points out, “All human life on the planet is born of woman. . . [and yet] we know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood.”

She insists on the difference between the experiences of sons born of woman and of daughters, and of the way in which, “because women have not been makers and sayers of patriarchal culture,” women have been categorized as either mothers or as “barren” or “childless.” And the powerful physical and emotional experience women enjoy as mothers has been institutionalized in such a way that “that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control” in such a way that it has “ghettoized and degraded female potentialities.”

“The ancient, continuing envy, awe, and dread of the male for the female capacity to create life has repeatedly taken the form of hatred for every other female aspect of creativity.” Perhaps the word “hatred” is too strong, but Clio knows that women’s history offers centuries of examples of antifeminist men disparaging and belittling women’s “genius” or even talent – in art, music, literature, and every other field of endeavor in which they might potentially compete with men.

“Motherhood,” writes Adrienne Rich, “ – unmentioned in the histories of conquest and serfdom, wars and treaties, exploration and imperialism – has a history, it has an ideology, it is more fundamental than tribalism or nationalism.” Clio would add that since 1976 the findings of women’s historians have underscored the significance of Rich’s observations over and over.

Adrienne Rich admits that “I did not understand this when I started to write the book. I only knew that I had lived through something which was considered central to the lives of women, fulfilling even in its sorrows, a key to the meaning of life; and that I could remember little except anxiety, physical weariness, anger, self-blame, boredom, and division within myself: a division made more acute by the moments of passionate love, delight in my children’s spirited bodies and minds, amazement at how they went on loving me in spite of my failures to love them wholly and selflessly.”

Clio salutes the life and works of Adrienne Rich and urges all of you to read this precious, insightful book – a timeless classic and still so “right on” even today.