Mother(land)’s Day: A Brief Look at the Significance of Gendering Our Homelands

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” — Abraham Lincoln

As a tribute to the nurturing nature of Mothers, putting up with us in our youth and beyond, I would like to take a moment to extend my gratitude to all Mothers and Motherlands. The gendered term “Motherland” provokes images of a homeland that cared for us in a way that no other country ever could. Why is it that some call their homeland “Motherland?” What is the significance behind changing the view from a “Motherland to a Fatherland?” What are the social and political emotions evoked by such terms?

In a guest blog post on Oxford Dictionaries, Caroline James asks the question of how Russia became associated with the feminine term “Motherland.” She argues that the Russian word that means “Mother Russia” [rodina] is pragmatically used to mean “homeland;” Rodina is not only feminine, but its stem rod– is linked to “family, birth, and procreation.”[1] She also argues that it is because mothers are often associated with “love nurturing, and fertility.”[2] However, the term goes beyond a linguistic association.

Throughout its history, Germany has changed its pragmatic view of the homeland as a “Motherland” and a “Fatherland.” After the Treaty of Versailles was drafted and implemented, Germany felt that it was victim to subterfuge and injustice. When Hjalmar Schacht wrote The Colonial Question, he included a table which showed the ratio of land available to “each inhabitant, when the motherland and the colonies are reckoned together.”[3] In this case, the use of “Motherland” evoked the feeling of need for protection.  The use of the word “Fatherland” during wartime suggested power.

A similar case can be made for the United States. Until the 1920’s, Columbia was a very popular figure, recognized and prized by all Americans. During the women’s liberation movements of the early twentieth century, suffragettes “garbed themselves in her rebel warrior’s spirit” to show they were serious about their freedoms.[4] Although Columbia was born of the Thirteen Colonies, it is believed the Uncle Sam replaced her for a time the male personification of the United States during the War of 1812.

Gendering of a nation is reflective of the condition and of that nation. The use of a male or female embodiment of a country can change the perspective and feeling of the political debate or the sentiments of the populace. As a feminine personification, the feeling is one of nourishment or rebellion; as a male personification, hardness of character and patriotism are aroused.

 

 

Featured Image: Franke-Ruta, Garance, “When America Was Female,” The Atlantic (Atlantic Media Company, 05 Mar 2013), Web.

 

[1] Caroline James, Identity Crisis: Motherland or Fatherland?, Oxford Dictionaries (Oxford University Press: Web), 8 May 2015.

[2] James.

[3] Hjalmar Schacht, The Colonial Question, The End of Reparations, trans. by Lewis Gannett (New York: Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, 1931) 231-234, Web (ghdi.org).

[4] Franke-Ruta, Garance, “When America Was Female,” The Atlantic (Atlantic Media Company, 05 Mar 2013), Web.

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