“There is nothing revolutionary whatsoever about the control of women’s bodies by men. The woman’s body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected.”
— Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Institution and Experience
Women in cannabis were big news last week, between Charlo Greene launching her crusade for legal marijuana in Alaska and ABC Nightline’s segment, “Pot and Parenting: Confessions of Colorado’s Weed-Smoking Moms.” I originally intended to write a column about those things, celebrating the leading role women are taking in the movement, applauding the “weed-smoking moms” for speaking out bravely about their choices, highlighting the women-owned businesses that are reshaping the face of the legal cannabis industry and radically altering our idea of what a pot smoker looks like.
That probably would’ve been a pretty good column. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Adrienne Rich. Adrienne Rich and the Canna-moms.
Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Adrienne Rich’s seminal work on the social construction of motherhood, begins, “All human life on the planet is born of woman,” and goes on to assert that patriarchy subsumes the female under the male, perhaps in attempt to deny the fact that all are “dependen[t] on a woman for life itself.” It was one of the first scholarly feminist analyses of motherhood, and, though it was written before I was born, it has powerful resonances with the lives of those of us engaged in this endeavor and institution today. Rich argues that our patriarchal culture has erased the basic relationship we all have, of woman born, with motherhood and transformed it into an institution with “theories, ideals, archetypes, descriptions” that reinforce and reproduce male dominance.
It was clear Nightline had an agenda, namely that these moms had something to confess. The narrative would be typical of late night news programs’ propensity to harness our collective paranoia into a vicious, don’t-trust-your-neighbors mentality: You’ll be shocked to find out what these moms-next-door do for fun when the kids are in bed! And, ostensibly, that was what the segment was about. The piece prominently featured Jane West, cannabis user, mother of two, and the founder of Edible Events, an upscale cannabis event production company, and Women Grow, a networking group for women in the marijuana industry, highlighting her entrepreneurship, her unofficial status as a cannabis aficionado, and her well-maintained appearance. West’s friends were there too, and the camera didn’t miss an opportunity to zoom in on the tattooed arm of Brittany Driver, the insightful Pot and Parenting columnist for The Cannabist. With all the nuance their genre is known for, Nightline simplified the scene for us, juxtaposing the woman who defies our pothead stereotypes with the woman who has tattoos. It was a segment about marijuana, after all.
But was it? What was really at issue in “Confessions of Colorado’s Weed-Smoking Moms?” What was really at stake? What I saw, what I replay in my mind, what has me thinking about Adrienne Rich all the time now, was a subtle and powerful reinforcement of the idealized institution of motherhood.
This piece was not about parenting and it was not about pot. Because if it was a story about either or both of those things, why were there no fathers? Have the weed-smoking dads nothing to confess?
“Yet from birth, in most homes and social groups, we teach children that only certain possibilities within them are livable; we teach them to hear only certain voices inside themselves, to feel only what we believe they ought to feel, to recognize only certain others as human. We teach the boy to hate and scorn the places in himself where he identifies with women; we teach the girl that there is only one kind of womanhood and that the incongruent parts of herself must be destroyed.” (Rich, italics mine.)
“Confessions of Colorado’s Weed-Smoking Moms” was about the socially constructed institution of motherhood, about the one kind of womanhood, and about the importance of maintaining the status quo around this most basic and important of all relationships. In this case, what’s out of bounds in the realm of motherhood is marijuana, but the substance functions as a placeholder for whatever patriarchy deems unacceptable. Rich writes, “guilt is one of the most powerful forms of social control of women; none of us can be entirely immune to it;” guilt is the weapon used against us if our choices as mothers do not coincide with what is generally deemed acceptable in our society, a way to keep us in line, or at least keep us quiet about our indiscretions. It is clearly what Nightline was attempting to impose upon these women, characterizing their discussions of their lifestyle choices as “confessions,” asking disparagingly about whether West thinks it’s okay to be high around her children. Incidentally, West handled inquiries like these beautifully, maintaining that people aren’t asked analogous questions about alcohol and that men are rarely asked these kinds of questions at all.
A friend recently shared an article from Jezebel called “We Need to Talk About Women Who Regret Motherhood.” I read it, and I agree. But just as urgently, we need to talk about women who have no agency in motherhood, about women who are shamed into conformity in motherhood, about women who wouldn’t regret motherhood if they were able to make choices that allowed them to be all the things they wanted to be, rather than each of us destroying, denying, or negating the “incongruent parts of herself.”
So let’s talk about it: we can proudly claim our incongruent identities, we can set the terms, we can speak our truths. Let’s share the fullness of our experiences in all their authenticity and ambiguity, all the blood and all the shit; let’s bury the patriarchal institution of motherhood and replace it with a radical relationship. And let us remember: “To seek visions, to dream dreams, is essential, and it is also essential to try new ways of living, to make room for serious experimentation, to respect the effort even where it fails.” This is about more than marijuana; it’s about defying cultural hegemony and choosing to live in a way that’s different from what we’ve been conditioned to accept.