Symbolic mother, within everyone’s reach

From the historian, feminist and lesbian, romantic relationships between women, one could expect strong support for assisted reproduction for all, and even surrogacy. It is however her strong opposition to these medicalized gestations that Marie-Jo Bonnet expressed before the National Consultative Ethics Committee, during her hearing in 2014. If she deplores the transfer of female power to scientists, she is ‘offended by the unbridled race of homosexuals towards normalization, at the cost of renouncing the subversive and transgressive nature of their sexual orientation, capable of attacking the foundations of patriarchy and its heterosexual norm.


The painful observation of this “Rebels” invited Bonnet to remind some, to reveal to others, the richness of “Symbolic motherhood”. It is in no way a question of surrogate motherhood, which would postulate the incompleteness or the suffering of any childless woman, but of a motherhood other than biological. Knowing and researching it would make it possible to resist societal injunctions to childbirth, which would be largely responsible for the desire for a child. Understanding this motive would free from all guilt those who refuse to comply with a supposedly natural destiny, would allow sterile women to evacuate any stigmatization of abnormality and all to fully enjoy, without judging themselves selfish or underestimating themselves, of this. what does this other path bring: being yourself by creating yourself, “By favoring symbolic fertility”. A development that, according to the author, biological motherhood could not bring, as emphasized, in 1949, Simone de Beauvoir in the Second Sex. Proof: in the XVIIe century, Madame Guyon, a mother however, is overwhelmed by the symbolic motherhood which unites her to her spiritual son, Fénelon. As for the author, she thanks life for having given her symbolic mothers, to whom she dedicates this book; she thus offers us the story of her own rebirth, between spirituality and creativity, feminism and psychoanalysis, mysticism and writing. His experience makes this book eminently human, which some will find too intellectual to be accessible to an average readership.


In fact, the essay presents the facets of said motherhood by articulating, with audacity and brio, philosophy, esotericism, art, but also history and intimate autobiography. Such a link gives us a dive into the Women’s Liberation Movement, divided as to the very nature of motherhood, fractured by the symbolic motherhood that Antoinette Fouque intends to impose through it. It is necessary to have a certain talent and an unshakeable conviction to cross these lines of interpretation and pass without breaking from Socratic maieutics to “Technological matricide”, caused, according to Bonnet, by scientific modifications of reproduction. They lead, she believes, to an erasure of the female subject under the effect of medicalization, increased in the name – you – of commercial interests, inseparable from neoliberalism and globalization. This capture is doubled, according to her, in the case of “surrogate mothers”, a commodification of the female body, an exploitation of poor countries by rich countries.

The work calls as much on the richness of symbolic motherhood as on the complexity and risks of scientific discoveries, while the evocation of the happiness of these mothers – infertile or lesbians -, even of their “right to a child”, most often obscures them. Also the indictment of current motherhood that the historian draws up neglects the affect and the desire for children of women – and of men who do not conceive of their life without paternity – just like the envy of couples of embody their love, to prolong it as well. The book is very silent on the joy of being a mother, seeing in it only the cause of depression and self-sacrifice, and forgetful – one will not fail to say – that nothing can replace the tenderness of a child, so absent in these pages, under the pretext that it owes its birth above all to societal pressure. The radical nature of these remarks will, without doubt, be controversial, especially since the essay, as brilliant as it is scholarly, is fascinating; it is no less disturbing, and that’s good!

Yannick Ripa Drawing Coco

MARIE-JO BONNET Symbolic motherhood. to be a mother otherwise Albin Michel, 352 pp., 20,90 €.


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