I call this work Mama Dentata, to make one thing clear; the matters of motherhood aren’t soft-headed sentiment, aren’t mere fluff. There are a lot of purveyors of that attitude, and they are either misinformed, malevolent, or simply peddling schlock. No, the concerns of motherhood are the determining factors of survival for individuals, for cultures, and (increasingly) the planet as a whole. The work of evolution is literally, perpetually emerging from our bones, one fragile, infinitely complex head at a time. Without mothers’ tenacity - and sometimes pure, bared-tooth ferocity - you and I would not be here. And many of us have not made it, in spite of such efforts.
I call this work Mama Dentata, as a riff on the myths from all across the world about vaginas with teeth - aka vagina dentata. Such imagery might sound weird, or hilarious, and it is - but sinister as well. Because these myths tend to involve male characters ‘heroically’ smashing up said toothy vaginas to conquer a specific female or a kind of Eternal Female who doesn’t give them what they want. The stories are said to represent all manner of anxieties about sex, desire, maternal archetypes, Mother Nature, and even death. Their widespread and graphic nature suggests that these fears are not only fundamental, but substantial, which in turn hints at what tremendous power we females carry within us; and that this greatest, generative power is a serious liability as well as a blessing.
I call this work Mama Dentata, in reference to a common German saying: Jedes Kind kostet die Mutter einen Zahn. (Each child costs the mother one tooth.) The science confirms the folk wisdom: the more babies a woman bears, the more dental problems she is likely to suffer. Motherhood mutates and devours the female body, mind, and spirit, in a thousand different ways. I would never wish it on any woman who wasn’t prepared to enter the ordeal willingly. That said, I would wish this astonishing experience for each of us. And indeed, many a woman would give much more than a tooth for the chance to bear just one beautiful baby.
I call this work Mama Dentata, because the love I experience for my son is so overwhelming, I have to check myself when I kiss his darling, delicious little cheeks each day, lest I get carried away, and nip him.
I call this work Mama Dentata, for the thousand furious desires I have for work, sex, adventure, silence, art, autonomy, and sleep, which would be difficult enough to reconcile with each other, but are downright impossible to reconcile with the needs of the person I love most.
I call this work Mama Dentata, for Aristotle, famously claiming that one of the ways of telling that women are inferior to men is that we have fewer teeth. In case you’ve never thought to check, this is objectively not true; adults of both sexes get 32 teeth apiece. The fact that Aristotle could have just fucking looked to check, but apparently could not be arsed to do so, is frequently held up as one of the prime examples of the wilful misogyny that underpins the entire history of western thought. But this sort of refusal to look at what is literally right in front of you is very much a major problem of our present time. Particularly when it comes to reproduction. And even, often, amongst those who call themselves feminists.
I call this work Mama Dentata, as an outright admission of everything I got wrong about feminism, and being female, and life. I have degrees from the University of California and the London School of Economics, where I took every kind of women’s and gender studies course I could. I interned with Planned Parenthood and NARAL and Cancer Research UK. I went to rallies and conferences, wrote letters and reports, and gave presentations. I considered myself something of an expert feminist. And throughout those years, feminism, to me, meant repulsion to and rejection of all things to do with motherhood. This is, I now realise, a pitifully adolescent kind of feminism. Squeamish, cowardly, lonesome, inadequate. Embarrassingly American, painfully ahistorical, medicalised, and corporate to the core. And above all else, sterile, and thus, a dead-end. Confronted with the reality of being a fully feeling fertile female in the world, the flimsiness of my quasi-feminist training came back to bite me in the ass. And in this I am entirely un-alone. It is no wonder then that women’s advances of the last century have stalled out or rolled back - no one is paving a broad way forward that is realistic and fertile, or at all realistic about our fertility.
Lastly, I call this work Mama Dentata, because the name came to me while I was tremendously high on psilocybin, at a retreat on a Dutch farm. I had gone there looking for answers to what seemed an intractable problem; how to reconcile my desire to write with my need to look after my family. Many wonderful thoughts and visions came to me, and they were all to do with love, creation, and the nature of the universe. This name was the cherry on top of all that. And I enjoy it with relish. I hope you will, too. x
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I love the way you write. You are very gifted.
Thanks Solana, for this bloody brilliant post and dig at Aristotle. I may even have to cite you in my thesis!