Devon Clare Banfield | Staff Writer
Featured Image: Dr. O’Reilly founded the first-ever academic motherhood program and has won many accolades for her groundbreaking studies. | Courtesy of yFile
On February 8, York professor Dr. Andrea O’Reilly was presented with the 2019 Status of Women and Equity Award of Distinction. O’Reilly founded the Motherhood Studies program at York, and also founded the independent feminist publishers Demeter Press in 2005. She has organized over 50 mother conferences during her career.
“She is an outstanding scholar, teacher, mentor, publisher, and leader within the academy,” said Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations president, Rahul Sapra during the award ceremony, according to a yFile article.
He continued to say that her contributions to the study of intersectional feminism have changed lives both on and off campus. York students seem to be in agreement with this.
“I think when you value motherhood and focus on educating children you are investing in a better society,” says Luana Saturino, York student and mother of a two-year-old.
Patricia Mohammed, a 33-year-old mother of three agrees. Mohammed’s children range in age from five to 15; she says that she believes all aspects of motherhood need to be researched.
“Motherhood should be studied! When you become a mother so many things change, physically, mentally, emotionally. The body and mind react differently to situations than someone who isn’t a mother,’” Mohammed explains.
“Researching these things and explaining why moms act and think they way they do will help mothers not to feel like something is wrong with them. It’ll also educate non-mothers and people in general about why we are the way we are. Motherhood is a beautiful thing that isn’t understood by everyone, even mother’s themselves.”
Back when O’Reilly first founded the program over two decades ago, she would receive letters from students all over the world asking her to convince their academic supervisors that motherhood should be studied.
“For me, it’s very affirming because this has been an uphill battle,” O’Reilly said on receiving the award.
O’Reilly was the first inductee into the Motherhood Hall of Fame at the Museum of Motherhood. The museum is also home to the Andrea O’Reilly Library.
She has written, edited and published 18 books as well as founded the Association for Research on Mothering at York in 1998. She ran the facility until it’s closure back in 2010. Afterward, O’Reilly founded a new organization — the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.
She went on to become the founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, now rebranded as the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. O’Reilly is also the founder of the feminist mother group called “Mother Outlaws.”
O’Reilly coined the term “Matricentric Feminism,” which refers to the feminist focus on motherhood. According to Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, Practice by O’Reilly: “Mothers are oppressed under patriarchy as women and as mothers. Consequently, mothers need a feminism of their own — one that positions mothers’ concerns as the starting point for a theory and politics of empowerment.”
Anastaysia Ivonova is a 27-year-old mother and professional writing graduate, who is currently completing a diploma in journalism.
“There is a lot of fear surrounding motherhood and career development in combination, from my experience. There is a separation between the two: a woman has to either sacrifice motherhood for a thriving career or vice versa. At the same time, if a woman is able to balance the two, it is extremely difficult mentally and physically,” Ivonova says.
“But what people don’t realize is that a mother who chases a career is doing it to contribute to society as best as she can and to secure a good future for her children.”
O’Reilly says that both her activism and academic work are important, and she sees that reflected in her students.
This type of academic focus is important when, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 22 per cent of all undergraduate students have children.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include accreditation to yFile.