Maternal Feminism

We consider ourselves maternal feminists.

Maternal feminism is an important part of our Big Ocean culture. Feminism has become a broad banner which has encouraged many women to have a voice in the public square related to laws and policies. As maternal feminists we wish to likewise have a voice in the the public square for the things that deeply matter to us, – our faith, family, and motherhood.  As women, mothers, and caregivers we are natural leaders and critical change agents. We have the power to create positive changes innately. Our unique feminine and maternal identities are advantageous as we hold a key and distinctive roles within society.

Women are empowered by the gift of faith. One of the things that has drawn many of us to Big Ocean is the vision of an interfaith organization that could help women actively represent faith perspectives in both the private and public spheres. For many of us, we feel we have found a home for our vision of empowered womanhood, and especially one that reaches outside our own faith community to join hands with women of faith throughout the world who unite with us as we stand for faith, family, and motherhood. And indeed, our sisterhood is vast.

According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent analysis of censuses, surveys and population registers (in 192 countries and territories), an estimated eight in ten women around the world identify with a faith group ( This represents a vast majority of the world’s women. Any attempt to talk about the empowerment of women that leaves out perspectives of faith is lacking. Faith must be considered a fundamental feminist issue.   

Women are empowered by their ability to bear children and by their nurturing gifts. As far as motherhood goes, from the UN Population World Fertility Report of 2009 we learn that in most of the less developed countries the percentage of women who will bear children in their lifetime is over 90%. And in some populous nations, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Turkey, the proportion of women who will be mothers during their lifetime is over 95%. In developed nations, the number of women who will become mothers is lower, but still ranges between about 75-87%. Again, a clear majority of the world’s women are or will become mothers. (  

And of course, these statistics are only concerned with the biological role of mothers, not the relational role. If we included the number of women who take on the role of “mother” to children to whom they did not give birth, there would be even more. While these perspectives may not be adequately represented in media, policy, or education, when we look around us at the women with whom we interact every day, we will find that the great majority of women are deeply connected to faith, family, and motherhood. And it is our hope that maternal feminism will give them a philosophical home.

Using a word like “maternal” to describe our movement can be challenging. What about the women who have lost children? What about those who have never had them? Can they be considered mothers? Maternal feminism makes peace with the maternal identity, and recognizes that “mother” represents both a biological and relational role.  We recognize and honor the “mothering” relationships genuinely offered by incredible aunties, sisters, daughters and friends the world over.  

This also relates to the genesis of the name of our organization, Big Ocean. Our founder, Carolina Allen, chose the name based on her vision of the power of a collective body in shaping the future. Although the image of the wave is used by mainstream feminists to define their movement, Big Ocean represents more than a wave. It represents a vast and enduring ocean of women who now have a philosophical home in the tenets of maternal feminism. It is a place where women of all faiths, cultures, and life circumstances can find sisterhood and validation. Even among ourselves we will not agree on everything (how boring if we did!), but we seek to find common ground and build on it wherever we can.

Here is a talk and panel discussion about The Three Environments of Maternal Feminism given at Brigham Young University. This talk was also given in Quito at the Habitat 3 Conference.


A discussion on maternal feminism:

Amanda: How do we relate to other maternal feminists?

Erika: The concerns of the European maternal feminists are a bit different from ours because their push is for the government to pay a living wage to stay-at-home mothers. It’s because of the social state tax burdens already in place for single-earner families. Our position is significantly different in that we are trying to head off creating that kind of burdensome tax structure in the first place since we really don’t want the government paying us to take care of our own children. It sets a backward precedent as far as parental rights are concerned. Anyway, I would say they are allies if not totally aligned.

Amanda: Got it. Is maternal feminism a prevalent idea? I had not heard about it until Big Ocean.

Erika: Great question. So, maternal feminism was the original form of feminism as practiced by the early women’s advocates and suffragists who sought the vote in order to better protect their families and communities. Once they achieved their goals, most of these women sort of went home to take care of hearth and home, while a few of the more liberal feminists “stayed in the ring” as it were and shaped what we understand to be modern feminism today. That said, as the world has become increasingly hostile toward mothers (and faith and family), there has been a global reawakening of this idea of maternal feminism – although it goes by a lot of different names – radical feminism, womanism, cultural feminism, ecofeminism, intuitive feminism, freedom feminism etc. Vanessa and a couple of other activists in England started their “maternal feminist” movement roughly the same time Carolina started ours. So, we’ve been in touch with them from the beginning but we have some very significant differences – particularly around abortion and the centrality of faith. I would say that their movement is very Britain-focused, while ours is global. So, as far as the term maternal feminism is concerned, the truth is that most women today have not heard of it, because it’s not actively represented by mainstream feminism but those that are familiar with feminist history might know about the historical version of it.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is maternal feminism an important perspective to share?
  • What are the challenges we face as we carve out a unique space?
  • Why is it important for women to have a voice in the public square?
  • What are some key reasons why big ocean women claim the word “feminist” by using maternal feminist?
  • Practice the elevator pitch for Big Ocean and come up with your own reasons why maternal feminism speaks to you.

Big Ocean Elevator Pitch

An “Elevator pitch” is a business term that means a persuasive speech that can create interest in your organization. It is meant to be so quick that you could deliver in one elevator ride. It’s fast, concise, and tells your idea in 60 seconds or less. Here is one version of the Big Ocean Elevator pitch. Please adapt it to be your own.

The majority of women today are not being represented by progressive feminism. Women who prioritize faith, family, and motherhood are excluded from the discussions and decisions that affect their daily lives. Big Ocean provides a place for faith-filled feminists to draw on their innate power in the public sphere. We call our movement “Maternal feminism.”

At Big Ocean, trained volunteers lead local cottages, where we learn about Big Ocean philosophy, then organize around important causes at the local, national, and international levels to further our movement.

Insert a personal story, and call to action here. For example, “Big Ocean has given me, not only a philosophical home, but opportunities for friendship, and to serve. Would you like to join us at our next cottage meeting?”