About Mothering

We’ve posted a lot on mothering, pressures on feminist philosophers as mothers, and models of good and bad mothering.  I was reading today about a mother who could easily be an object lesson for us all.  Maybe the story is familiar; certainly condemnation of people with similar stories is all too common.

She went through two  divorces, having started in a possibly bigamous relationship at 18 when she was three months pregnant by her partner.   One divorce, several years of single parenting, another marriage and divorce, so again a single parent, now with  two children!  And all the while she’s working and going to school.  Her son sent off to live with her parents for his  high schooling.  She’s white, but both children are bi-racial, though the second race is different in each case.

Clearly, she’d have a hard time getting a license to foster children, still less to adopt!

And what do you think the children grew up to be like?  Well, the son is now president of the US.  And a recent article describes some of the ideas and ideals she communicated to him:

Running through Dr. Soetoro’s doctoral research, as through all her work, was a challenge to popular perceptions regarding economically and politically marginalized groups; she showed that the people at society’s edges were not as different from the rest of us as is often supposed. Dr. Soetoro was also critical of the pernicious notion that the roots of poverty lie with the poor themselves and that cultural differences are responsible for the gap between less-developed countries and the industrialized West. …

…   She helped to pioneer microcredit programs that made small amounts of capital available to weavers, blacksmiths and other low-income groups — people who would otherwise have had no access to credit.

It’s worth pointing out that though microenterprise is fairly well-known today — and Indonesia now has one of the world’s largest microcredit programs — it was pretty radical stuff when Ann Soetoro was doing her work. But then, she had a habit of swimming against the current. …

There is a final lesson from her work that is worth remembering: No nation — even if it is our bitterest enemy — is incomprehensible. Anthropology shows that people who seem very different from us behave according to systems of logic, and that these systems can be grasped if we approach them with the sort of patience and respect that Dr. Soetoro practiced in her work.

Her doctoral dissertation, Surviving against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia, is going to be published this fall by Duke University Press.

Moral:  There is more than one way to be a great mother.

I can’t find out whether she breast fed her children though, something which has proved a controversial topic here.

Cultural Variation in Maths Gender Gap

A surprisingly large number of people are willing to uncritically accept the idea that boys outperform girls at the top end in maths performance, and that this is genetically determined (despite problems for it that we’ve noted before). Rob has pointed us to this very interesting article about cross-cultural variation. One fascinating thing is that some of the best countries for girls’ performance are Islamic ones. The authors of the original article speculate:

While of course highly speculative, these cross-country data are consistent with the hypothesis that mixed-gender classrooms are a necessary component for gender inequality to translate into poor female math performance, although it is difficult to distinguish single-sex classrooms from Islamic religion in the data.