Modern Matricide by Sara Frykenberg

Many feminist theologians powerfully and convincingly ague that racist, capitalistic hetero-patriarchy is matricidal, as are its religions. Mother-murder takes a variety of forms, including:

  1. Suppression of mother goddesses/ the mother goddess through establishment of patriarchal religion,
  2. Erasure and appropriation of goddesses and female power figures in myth and historical accounts (i.e. the goddess Eostre),
  3. Recasts of goddesses into monster roles—the ‘monsterization’ of female power (i.e. Medusa, Kali, Dark Pheonix, etc.),
  4. Description of “original,” “world building” matricide, vivid with violent dismemberments, mythically and psychologically (i.e. Tiamat),
  5. Allegorizing of androcentric philosophical ideals through gendered symbols which demonize the mother, contrasting her “dark cave” with “the light of reason” (i.e. Plato’s Cave – thank you Carol for this insight),
  6. The demonization, discrediting, and, in some cases, extermination of midwives/ midwifery (i.e. through ‘witch’ burnings),
  7. Medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth—the disabling of childbirth, etc..

This is a too short list for a wealth of feminist knowledge on the subject of matricide: its pages and exemplars filling up books, databases and blogs with evidence for a misogyny, matricide and “theacide,” that the mainstream media is quick to trivialize and ignore.

In the wake of “Trumpcare’s” (or “Ryancare’s” if you prefer) recent false start,* I find it necessary to re-member this crime and re-contextualize matricide in the battle for health care rights.

In a recent CNN Politics article, Tami Luhby describes, “Essential health care benefits and why they matter.” The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) required insurance plans to cover several “essential benefits,” including things like hospitalization, prescription drug coverage, pediatric services, and, maternal and new born care. Trumpcare, unsurprisingly, is working to dismantle these regulations.

Multiple liberal media sites circulated an image of the POTUS and VPOTUS’s meeting with the conservative Freedom Caucus regarding the health care bill, captions of which captured the gross irony: a room full of (mostly white) men in suits is debating women’s health care with nary a woman in sight. A patriarchal power decides (again) what to do about its mothers, and they propose: no more mandatory prenatal care or new born care. The reasons for which go straight to the heart of white supremacist, capitalist kyriarchy.

Republican Representative John Shimkus explains, responding to a question regarding what he “took issue with” in the ACA by asking in turn, “What about men having to purchase prenatal care… I’m just, is that correct… and should they?” Why should men have to pay? Made infamous for his remarks in many circles, Shimkus’ comments betray a common understanding of reality:

We shouldn’t have to pay for each other—capital is the priority.
We shouldn’t have to take care of each other (like mothers care)
We are not responsible for you (like mothers are)
We are independent, not dependent (upon a mother)
We are individual (not interrelational)
We should not have to care about the “other” (even if that “other” is more than half the population and literally “bears” the future of of our species.)
“We,” is not concerned with/ is not a woman, a child, a mother.

 If the United States lead the way in maternal health, if women had paid leave, if their partners/ spouses also had leave to help raise the next generation, I would still find the repeals of these protections reprehensible. But the fact of the matter is, the US is falling fall behind other industrialized nations—its maternal death rates rising despite the opposite global trend. The national average was 28 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013, and 25 in 2015. Texas has a particularly high maternal death, growing alarmingly from 18.6 to 30 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2011-2014. USA Today provides important comparative data, reporting “That’s significantly higher than Italy (2.1 deaths per 100,000 live births), Japan (3.3) and France (5.5), and more in line with Mexico (38.9) or Turkey and Chile (15.2), according to World Health Organization statistics.” In light of this data (and other facts of the bill), I cannot respond to Trumpcare with anything but rage and disgust.

Reading different articles about this mortality trend, I was struck by one article in particular that reminded its readers that 25, 28 or 30 in 100,000 isn’t really that many people. ‘Not that many people’ are needlessly dying in a country that has the technology and resources to prevent such death. Not that many people’s lives are impacted—so why should I have to pay for them? Matricide and misogyny are alive and well in our health care system.

I am reading an important book this semester called, Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Tolerance by Janet Jacobsen and Anne Pellegrini for one of my classes. In the text the authors remind us that people are selectively minoritized to serve particular political ends and uphold notions of a false dominant majority who is actually the minority.

I also read a powerful the chapter, “Looking Back But Moving Forward: The Radical Disability Model,” in Diability Politics & Theory, by AJ Withers—a work of Crip Theory. Here, Withers problematizes the category of “disability” as an arbitrary and socially constructed label (as opposed to impairment) which extends benefits to some in such ways as to deny benefits for many. Withers then warns readers that as long as the label exists, those who were once considered disabled (women, homosexuals and racialized people) are under constant threat of being reclassified and restigmatized in this way. I found the warning particularly chilling and eye opening, recalling how I (and other parents) accessed my own benefits when on maternity leave: by going on disability.

Trump(anti)care didn’t pass. But rather than read this as a victory, I want to reiterate a colleague’s post the day after the ‘defeat:’ the bill didn’t pass because it wasn’t ‘conservative’ enough for the Republican dominated Senate. This was a false start* in the modern renewal of ancient matricide.

Facing the realities of this death-dealing impulse, however, I want to declare that I re-member these mothers, women and goddesses. We re-member; and we will resist.

8 thoughts on “Modern Matricide by Sara Frykenberg”

  1. “We are independent, not dependent (upon a mother).” Love the list in which this occurs. As I said on my fb, “Maybe he was not ever pronatal.” In other words these policies do not only penalize women but also male fetuses and male babies. You may be right that one of the root causes of matricide is the desire to claim independence–including independence from the mother–being born from the head of Zeus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the mention of male fetuses and male babies. Seeing the vulnerable as the enemy has a long history, and isn’t gender-based. Discomfort with and even denial of our human vulnerability may in fact be the enemy. Vulnerability is “other.”

      And mother reminds us of our most vulnerable stage of life, apart from old age. We were very fragile, and completely dependent. Men were very fragile, and completely dependent. Men are trained–yes, by mothers themselves as often as not–to distance themselves from this deep memory, sometimes from a very young age. Men are culpable, of course, but also victims of a gender-based society.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Sara. I have just been introduced to the phrase “mother wound” and don’t yet understand what it means. Is this an example?


  3. “We are individual (not interrelational)” Herein lies the core of the problem. If we are relational it is natural to care about and for others. Matricide is on the rise. How could it not be? My urgent question is: What do we have to do in order to be HEARD by the corrupt and unbelievably selfish, self serving gov’t that we find ourselves in now?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Sara, for this informative piece. More and more I am thinking that we (specifically, the US) have not yet begun to unpack the myriad ways in which misogyny makes itself felt and known.


  5. Excellent post! Your list at the top is excellent. It made me angry all over again at the Troll-in-Chief and the political party currently in charge. Alas, I can’t foresee any time when things will get better for mothers and daughters….or even for our foremothers, who have largely been written out of history. The monsters in the standard-brand holy books were originally goddesses, too, let us not forget. Thanks for writing this, but I sorta wish I hadn’t read it first thing in the morning……..


  6. Wow, Sara, this is a powerful and eye-opening post! I wondered why Republicans would want to abolish maternal and newborn care, and this certainly explains it, well, this and their antipathy toward anyone who needs to “use the system” as they see it! Of course this exempts them and their families since they are rich enough to pay for the care they need – GRRRR!


  7. Thank you Sara. Before I even comment, I would like to share another writing that addresses another front in “Modern Matricide.” The title is, “We can’t have a women’s movement is we don’t call ourselves women,” by Sarah Ditum. Sarah (with H) is addressing a deeply visceral issue that threatens to crumble everything that we stand for. And it begins with the name WOMAN.


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