Dr. Jacqueline Hornor Plumez became inspired by the power of women when vacationing in Argentina. There she learned about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo-women who risked their lives by protesting the kidnapping, torture and murder of their children by their country's brutal junta. She started to investigate women throughout the world who gained economic, political and moral power by using their natural maternal instincts.
Through her research and in-depth interviews with over 50 women from all walks of life, Dr. Plumez realized that there is a new, but as yet undiscovered, movement around the world: Mother Power. Mother Power is changing society today, just as women's liberation changed it a few decades ago. In story after story, she shows how mothers have become powerful forces for justice and fairness, and have dramatically changed the world in which we live. Along the way, she offers prescriptive suggestions on how women can enhance and use their own inherent Mother Power.
The reader will meet women who have used Mother Power to successfully challenge criminals from neighborhood drug dealers to corporate polluters; mothers who have made the practice of law, politics, science and medicine more humane, caring and effective; and mothers who have used their maternal skills to gain respect in all areas of the arts. Readers will see how women have used maternal management to create their own successful businesses and non-profit organizations that benefit society. The most exciting thing Dr. Plumez learned is that even women without income, education or other traditional sources of influence can use Mother Power to achieve their goals.
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YOU'RE MORE POWERFUL
THAN YOU THINK
"Even in an animal as lowly as the rat, such an 'unselfish' drive as the maternal drive (to protect her pups) can be stronger than the so-called 'self-preservation' drives of hunger and thirst."
Clifford T. Morgan, Introduction to Psychology
What motivates mother animals to literally walk through fire if their babies are in danger? The protective maternal drive is caused by a combination of hormones secreted during pregnancy and nursing. If one of those hormones, prolactin, is injected into a virgin female rat, she will begin caring for young rats much the same way their mother would. However strong, the maternal instinct fades in rats and most other animals as babies grow up.
In humans, the maternal instinct is no less strong, but more complex. Adoptive mothers usually feel every bit as protective as those who produce prolactin through childbearing. Also, as every mother knows, the protective instinct lasts a lifetime.
This chapter explores how mothers have tapped into that protective instinct and transformed themselves from shy homemakers into heroes who risked their lives to save their children. It includes the story of how one woman joined the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and found courage and convictions she never knew she had. Equally inspiring are the heroic exploits of Russian mothers who made dangerous journeys into the war zones of Chechnya to bring their sons backto safety. Finally, there are stories of American mothers who used non-violent ways to fight gangs and gangstersand won.
A Mother Finds the Plaza de Mayo
In 1998, watching the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo demonstrating in Argentina, I wondered if I could ever be as brave as they were. Would I risk torture, death, and prison to save my child? Could I continue to be strong if I learned that my child had died? I kept wondering long after I flew home, so I later returned to ask some Mothers how they summoned such courage.
Two years after my first visit to Argentina, I arrived at the Mothers' headquarters, a small, walk-up building in downtown Buenos Aires, bought for them by sympathetic Dutch mothers. The leader of the group, Hebe Bonafini, was walking back and forth through the modest offices carrying her grandson. She proudly introduced the infant, and showed me her office filled with international peace prizes. I smiled as I compared this gray-haired grandma clucking over a baby to the typical Hollywood hero.
Since Hebe was busy baby-sitting, my main interview was with Ebel Petroni, secretary of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Ebel is a pretty, petite blonde with chocolate brown eyes that welled with tears during the interview. She says that, like most of the other Mothers, she was a completely apolitical homemaker before July 13, 1977the night her son disappeared.
That night was like any other until twenty heavily armed men broke into her suburban home and began hitting and kicking her two sons. They wrestled the older one, a twenty-one-year-old engineering student into an unmarked van and drove off. Claiming there had been a robbery in the neighborhood, the men said they wanted to question her son. Ebel begged them to take her instead.
She had no idea who these men were or where they were taking her boy. "I was desperate, but I thought I would find him at a police station. I never thought that I would never see him again, that he would vanish into thin air."
The next morning her husband had to go to work, so she went to the local police station. The officers claimed to know nothing about her son. She went to other police stations, with a growing sense of panic as everyone claimed to know nothing. "I went everywhere, and I tried to ask everyone we knew who was close to the government," she says, but she could not find anyone who would tell her anything about her child.
"I knew there were some people who had 'disappeared,' but I didn't have any notion of who they were or why they were taken," she recalled. "My son had always been concerned about social problems. He asked me once, 'Mom, what is your reason for living?' And when I told him that I was living for my family, my kids, and my home, he told me that was wrong. He said that people also had to be concerned about what was happening to others. But I never thought he was in danger. At most I thought he might be detained because he had different political ideasthat was all."
As Ebel searched for information about her son, she kept running into other mothers doing the same. "We were all desperate. We saw the look of suffering on each other's faces and we began to ask each other what was going on. We started realizing it was useless to keep going to the prisons and police offices trying to find our children, because the authorities would always answer that they knew nothing.
"The Mother's movement wasn't planned, it just happened as life showed us what to do and what steps to take when we started realizing that we were not going to recover our children as fast as we thought. We realized this was not just some casual political problemit was a strong and terrible political problem."
When I asked how she kept from becoming depressed she said, "Once I realized my son was not coming back soon, I, like all the Mothers, realized I had two choices: I could stay at home and cry, or I could go out and struggle. And you know it is quite amazing that none of the Mothers in our association ever felt the need to consult a psychologist." The fact that they were taking action with other women relieved their stress. As Ebel says, "Our psychologist was the struggle."
On the other hand, she says that the fathers who went to work and had to act normal suffered terribly. "Many became so depressed they could not work. Many died of heart attacks, cancer, and other illnesses. But those of us who are lucky enough to still have our husbands by our sides had men who were dedicated to a different kind of struggle. They had to go out and work and maintain the family while we were out on the streets searching and demonstrating."
Ebel says that during the days of the junta, the police often attacked the Mothers. Some were taken to jail and some disappeared forever. When I asked how she kept from being overcome by fear, she said, "When your child is taken away, you struggle for him and his life, and your life ceases to have any importance." She could not allow herself "to look at fear, because if you start thinking about it, you become too fearful to go on." By keeping herself active with the other Mothers, she was able to ignore the fear because everyone felt they had to be brave for each other and their children.
It was very hard for her younger son to cope with the disappearance of his brother, but "he had to go on living. And I think it was reassuring for him to know that if anything happened to him, his mother would fight for him in the same way." Today he is a dentist living in Argentina with a wife and two children. Ebel never found out what happened to her "disappeared" son.
When the junta fell in 1983, and democracy returned to Argentina, a deal was made with the military. In exchange for their staying out of politics, the officers responsible for the thirty thousand disappearances were granted amnesty. Most citizens feared that "The Dirty War" (left-wing and right-wing terrorists battling each other) would resume without amnesty and there was tremendous pressure on the Mothers to drop their demands for justice. But how can a mother do that when she knows her child is still missing and unaccounted forand that the people who kidnapped him were never punished?
As the civilian government became more secure in its control over the military, it offered to help relatives find out what happened to each "disappeared." The government is also building a monument to the disappeared and will pay reparations to their families. The Mothers adamantly refuse such help. They revile anyone who accepts government money and refuse to officially acknowledge that their children are dead.
Ebel and the other Mothers know full well that their children were killed. However, they are keeping them alive, at least in memory, by becoming as idealistic as their children were and caring about other people in need. She and the other Mothers have broadened their struggle. They now demonstrate to demand more jobs (the unemployment rate in Argentina was 18 percent when I was there), and they travel around the world supporting a wide variety of causes and groups that ask for their help. For example, Ebel and other Mothers wrapped their white bandanas around their heads, and acted as human shields for civilians caught in the crossfire in Serbia. Her husband supports her activities, travels with her, and watches when she marches.
In the early eighties, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo had thousands of followers. Now there are less than three hundred active members in all of Argentina. Some are simply too old and tired to continue the struggle. Many have gone back to their quiet lives, accepting government reparations and information about the death of their children. Others have become active in organizations that try to find grandchildren, babies of the disappeared who were secretly sold or adopted by friends of the junta.
Today the Mothers have a mixed reputation in Argentina. Some think they are saints. Others call them crazy or dismiss them as radicals. When I asked the South American bureau chief of an international news organization where she thought the truth lay, she said the Mothers should always be revered as human rights activists.
Whatever anyone else thinks, Ebel is at peace with herself and her situation. She knows her group was instrumental in overthrowing the Argentine dictators. She also knows that the Mothers' current struggle against poverty, war, and oppression will not be as successful. "We are not powerful enough to completely change Argentina or the world. There is terrible unemployment, and people are suffering. But we are part of the struggle to make things better. For all our lives we will be part of this. This way our children are still with us in our hearts and in our struggle."
The Soldiers' Mothers Committee
One secret to the Mothers' strength and fearlessness was the support they gave each other: whatever risks they took, they took as a group. Today, in Russia, another group of fearlessly protective mothers is discovering that they are more powerful than they ever knew. They venture into enemy territory trying to save their sons, ill-equipped soldiers fighting in Chechnya. While the Soldiers' Mothers Committee provides group support, in order to save their sons, individual mothers often travel into war zones all by themselves.
In November, 1999, as winter closed in on Chechnya, most of the country was a war zone, and Russian bombers were obliterating Grozny, the capital. Crowds of refugees were kept behind barbed wire fences, with only a small trickle allowed to cross the border into Russia. Some had waited there for weeks trying to get out of the country. They were incredulous as they watched a small group of middle-aged Russian women come in.
Those women, members of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, knew why the refugees were desperate to get out. But whatever dangers Chechen civiliansand travelers like themselvesmight face, they knew their sons, sent to Chechnya with the Russian army, were in greater danger. Those mothers were determined to find their sons and bring them out to safety.
Hundreds of mothers before and after this small group have made similar dangerous journeys through the war zones of Chechnya. Some went in small groups of two and three. Others went alone. Many had received notice that their sons were missing in action. Others, learning that their boys were prisoners of war, wanted to beg or bribe to get them released. Some knew their sons were wounded in hospitals or stationed with ill-equipped battalions, and were determined to force commanding officers to allow their sons to come home.
Regardless of her son's circumstance, each mother knew that other women on similar missions had been killed or held for ransom. They knew they might never find their sons, or that they might find them dead. They also knew that they might be their children's only hope for survival.
In 1999, conditions in the Russian army were scandalous. Defense experts estimated that nine out of ten soldiers were improperly trained for combat. Thousands of young men were conscripted (or offered sign-up bonuses that usually never materialized) and sent to the front lines without adequate supplies. In the winter, troops lucky enough to have tents to sleep in often had nothing to make fires for cooking or warmth. Food, blankets, clothing, and medical supplies were scarce. Gifts sent by families to enlisted men were often taken by the officers.
Thousands of soldiers languished in filthy Chechen prisoner camps or makeshift Russian field hospitals. Heartbreaking stories filtered back home of dead Russian soldiers left lying in Chechen streetsor dragged away to remain unidentified in mortuaries.
Russian families that suddenly stopped getting mail from their soldier sons rarely found support from the Ministry of Defense. One woman reported calling there every day for five months, only to be told each time, "We don't have any information." Finally, she contacted the Soldiers' Mothers Committee. They were able to tell her that her son was alivebut in Chechnya. (The Committee maintains an unofficial network of army contacts in Chechnya and elsewhere, so they can provide such information to fearful relatives.)
Who are these brave and resourceful mothers? The Soldiers' Mothers Committee was founded by a few women with draft-age sons back in 1989, after an estimated fifteen thousand Russian soldiers died in the ten-year occupation of Afghanistan. The Committee's initial purpose was to study the law, looking for loopholes to keep their boys out of the army. Within the first year, three hundred other mothers joined. By the next year, they had formed an effective lobbying effort that forced a partial demobilization of some of the more notoriously cruel and inadequate army units. Shortly thereafter, when the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan, the Committee set up a rehabilitation center for injured soldiers and began human rights training for conscripts and their parents.
Even when Russia is at peace, the army is a dangerous place for young men, with beatings, abuse, and hazing so severe that many commit suicide. War only increases the problems. When troops were sent to Chechnya in 1994, the Committee received up to two hundred letters a day from families describing abusive situations. During the first six months of the war, ten thousand more complaints were received in person. So much support poured in from so many frightened families that Committee volunteers opened fifty regional offices around the country.
Wealthy Russians could arrange a student deferment for their sons or pay a $2,000-$5,000 bribe to avoid service. This represents a fortune for most Russian families, where the base pay for conscripts, for example, was only $40 a month in 1999. So, less fortunate families flocked to the Committee for help.
The Committee sponsored public demonstrations against the war. They held press conferences reporting cases of torture and severe physical violence in the Army. They lobbied for improved living conditions and alternative service for conscientious objectors. They provided barracks for fugitive soldiers.
In January, 1995, the first group of mothers made the dangerous journey to Chechnya to bring back captured Russians from prisoner of war camps. After two months, they returned with one hundred released soldiers. The flow of mothers into the war zone never stopped after that.
Committee pressure and publicity helped force the Russian army to withdraw from Chechnya in 1996, but even this withdrawal was life threatening. The Russian news agency, Tass, reported that retreating Russian troops were freezing in the snow. Tass said the Committee, not the Army, led relief efforts sending trucks loaded with warm clothing, heating appliances, and food.
Excerpted from MOTHER POWER by Jacqueline Hornor Plumez. Copyright © 2002 by Jacqueline Hornor Plumez, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of ContentsIntroduction: Finding Heroes
Part 1 What Mothers Are
Chapter 1 Fearlessly Protective: You're More Powerful than You Think
Chapter 2 Peacemakers: The Maternal Art of Settling Disputes
Chapter 3 Giving: Helping People Consciously
Chapter 4 Emotional: The Power of Heartfelt Feelings
Chapter 5 Creative: Using What You Have and Know
Chapter 6 Fair: Taking Turns Honestly
Part 2 What Mothers Do
Chapter 7 Teach Right from Wrong: Asserting Our Moral Authority
Chapter 8 Nurture: Cultivating Growth
Chapter 9 Comfort Those in Distress: The Art of Healing
Chapter 10 See the Good in Our Children: The Unexpected Perks of Unconditional Love
Chapter 11 Ask for Help: The Common Sense Approach to Get What You Want
Chapter 12 Nag: Knowing When Not to Let Up
Chapter 13 Do It Ourselves: Our Immigrant/Pioneer Legacy
Part 3 What Mothers Need
Chapter 14 To Take Time Out: A Mother's Sense of Priority
Chapter 15 To Form Supportive Relationships: Reaching Out and Creating a Lifeline
Chapter 16 To Talk about Our Problems: The Courage to Be Vulnerable
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book not only made me realize I've been using Mother Power all my life, and haven't known it, but inspired me to use it more! After reading Mother Power, I realize how powerful our maternal qualities are. They are really strengths, not weaknesses. This book made me proud to be a woman and mother!
I bought copies to give as Mother's Day gifts for both my Mom and my Grandmother. It's a very unique book that any mother will appreciate and relate to!