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  • Published: 6 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141996608
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 512

Mother State

A Political History of Motherhood




A radical case for motherhood as a political state, and what liberated mothering could be

When we talk about motherhood and politics together, we usually talk about isolated moments - the policing of breastfeeding, or the cost of childcare. But this is not enough: we need to understand motherhood itself as an inherently political state, one that poses a serious challenge to the status quo.

In Mother State, Helen Charman uses this provocative insight to write a new history of Britain and Northern Ireland. Beginning with Women's Liberation and ending with austerity, the book follows mothers' fights for an alternative future. Alongside the mother figures that loom large in British culture, from Margaret Thatcher to Kat Slater, we meet communities of lesbian squatters, anti-nuclear campaigners, the wives of striking miners and teenage mothers protesting housing cuts: groups who believed that if you want to nourish your children, you have to nourish the world around them too.

Here we see a world where motherhood is not a restrictive identity but a state of possibility. 'Mother' ceases to be an individual responsibility, and becomes an expansive collective term to organize under, for people of any gender, with or without children of their own. It begins with an understanding: that to mother is a political act.

  • Published: 6 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141996608
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 512

Praise for Mother State

This monumental book will inform the future of action and thinking on the politics of motherhood for generations to come. The stunning level of study undergone by Charman draws out crucial new perspectives on the institutions of the UK that have classified motherhood as morally and socially fertile for both symbolic rendering and systematic economic construction. As the state continues to contrive damaging figures of motherhood, this book tirelessly evidences contrary models and resists bad mythologies. All of the narratives, documents, testimonies and policies reviewed here are articulated in brilliantly readable prose with expert understanding, while methodologically ensuring the personal-as-political ethical contract that drives feminist writing. I hope everyone reads this book. It feels like we are in a new golden age of political, cultural and critical writing, with Helen Charman at the forefront

Holly Pester

Mother State is an act of reclamation - through its erudition, intellectual range and unwavering moral clarity, it presents a vision of motherhood that reaches beyond marketised individualism, and instead reveals it as a radical and life-enhancing framework for understanding and deepening collective care

Keiran Goddard

With ease and precision, Charman examines all the waged and unwaged labour that creates mothers as well as the political processes that produce their vexed relationship to the British state. Mother State is at once a sorely needed politicised history of motherhood – sharp and critical – and a tender love letter to her own mother’s knees

Lola Olufemi

In my days of early mothering, this book — so assuredly, compellingly written, and staggeringly well researched — is helping me to look outside of myself, to conceive of this state of motherhood as one that connects and binds us all. It is a state of the greatest possibility, the greatest hope

Harriet Baker

Mother State is a book of unusual empathy and erudition. Charman throws new light on the surprising and occasionally shocking ways that motherhood has been co-opted and remodeled for various political causes. As with all great nonfiction, I found myself nodding along with no little surprise, anger and admiration. This is a wonderfully crafted work of narrative scholarship that will be studied and enjoyed for many years to come

Francisco Garcia

Mother State places Helen Charman alongside Jacqueline Rose, Angela Davis, and Denise Riley in a lineage of psychical and political history that lets us re-see this ubiquitous form of care at a critical juncture.

Hannah Zeavin

This book is a magnificent achievement. Mother State radically rethinks the history of modern Britain through the figure and labour of the mother. Helen Charman has pulled off the remarkable feat of compelling storytelling underpinned by rigorous research. Required reading!

Rebecca May Johnson

Mother State is a remarkable, revelatory and life-changing book, and an indispensable tool and guide in the ongoing struggle towards radical, liberated and collective care. Its tracing of the ‘stubborn and delicate’ histories of motherhood - as body, state and metaphor - also offers glimpses of possible futures, visions of reconfigured care in which motherhood thrives beyond categories of gender and biology, and the limits of the individual. Charman’s project, both intellectually luminous and deeply affecting, becomes a part of the radical legacies it takes as its subjects, revealing care as a social interdependency: the labour and love of giving birth to one another

Daisy Lafarge

I started to type that Mother State, the eagerly anticipated debut from the writer and academic Helen Charman, was ‘slender’ then looked again, slightly perplexed, at the proof on my desk. In reality Charman’s "political history of motherhood" is pretty substantial. But how could it be, when I tore through it over a couple of days like it was a thriller? Some of this is owed to Charman’s invigorating style and to the clarity of her thought. She writes beautifully, with a great sense of pace, and has the intellectual confidence and generosity to make her arguments clearly; there is no jargon or convoluted, meaningless, language. In Mother State, Charman weaves anecdotes from her own life through deftly, alongside a great catalogue of references – high, low, historical, academic, and anything in between. A book which could also be read as a history of feminist thought through the past few decades, I especially appreciated its full understanding and contextualising of Ireland, the North of Ireland, and its relationship to Britain

Holly Connolly

With the weaponisation of gender across the world at present, Mother State is both timely and necessary. Looking at the myths, flaws and dangers of focusing on the idea of the mother as the individual rather than the collective, and the power, strength and visibility that is created when we include those who are all too often at the fringes of the conversation. A vital book for all

Marie Mitchell

I was frightened to read a history of motherhood written by a thinker as searching, thorough and intellectually honest as Helen Charman. It is easiest not to look too hard at a cherished thing when you know that inside the romance lives a violence as confusing, old and ugly as misogyny itself. Yet with a truly masterful blend of political commitment and compassion, Charman makes room for the reader to make sense of their investments in a ‘mother state’ that has failed not only mothers but most of the UK citizens who were born from one. Mother State movingly reanimates mother-led struggles for better than shame, blame, material deprivation and the litigious cancellation of life. In doing so, it leaves no excuse not to gun for a motherhood rooted otherwise – in reproductive justice, recognised labour and shared responsibility for honouring each other’s eternally infantile needs

Amber Husain

Mother State is a staggeringly well researched body of work, made all the more indispensable by Charman’s burning insights throughout. I’m so incredibly glad it was written, amazed by what it must have taken, and know that I will return to it again and again

Hannah Regel

Totemic and graceful. A necessary study and intervention into contemporary thinking around care, love and the multifarious ideas of the ‘mother’. Helen Charman writes with such intellectual command, open generosity and nuance: she is a genius

Rachael Allen

This monumental book will inform the future of action and thinking on the politics of motherhood for generations to come. The stunning level of study undergone by Charman draws out crucial new perspectives on the institutions of the UK that have classified motherhood as morally and socially fertile for both symbolic rendering and systematic economic construction. As the state continues to contrive damaging figures of motherhood, this book tirelessly evidences contrary models and resists bad mythologies. All of the narratives, documents, testimonies and policies reviewed here are articulated in brilliantly readable prose with expert understanding, while methodologically ensuring the personal-as-political ethical contract that drives feminist writing I hope everyone reads this book. It feels like we are in a new golden age of political, cultural and critical writing, with Helen Charman at the forefront.

Holly Pester

Mother State is an act of reclamation - through its erudition, intellectual range and unwavering moral clarity, it presents a vision of motherhood that reaches beyond marketised individualism, and instead reveals it as a radical and life-enhancing framework for understanding and deepening collective care.

Keiran Goddard