‘Doing Good and Feeling Bad’: Psychiatry, Motherhood, and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Four demands were adopted at the first national conference of the Women’s Liberation Movement, at Ruskin College, Oxford in 1970: equal pay; equal education and job opportunities; free 24-hour childcare; and free contraception and abortion on demand. It is significant that two of these related directly to women’s maternal role. Emerging from an era in which motherhood had been framed as a fulfilling and pleasurable responsibility, the British Women’s Liberation Movement was quick to juxtapose the romanticized social ideal of motherhood with women’s experiences of it. One of the foremost ways women did this was to attack the institutions held responsible for women’s oppression within the home, of which psychiatry was one. This paper explores how feminism’s ‘second wave’ both critiqued and mobilized psychiatric and psychological paradigms in order to forge a new understanding of motherhood. It uses feminist publications such as Shrew and Spare Rib, as well as papers given at events like the conference at Ruskin College in 1970, to argue that women’s emotional distress in the maternal role was used to evidence the need for widespread social reform. Using the language of psychological expertise and personal fulfillment, motherhood was animated by the Women’s Liberation Movement as a tool for achieving cultural change.