Monday, June 08, 2009

Rebecca Walker: How my mother's fanatical views tore us apart

The women's rights movement and feminism has brought many positive changes over the last 100 years in varying degrees around the world, however it's had its fair share of criticsm.

Here, Rebecca Walker, daughter of acclaimed writer and women's rights activist Alice Walker shares her story of growing up with a 'rabid feminist' as a mother.


lani said...

Waoh! What can I say (as somebody who greatly admires Alice Walker)?

I started reading this with my baby daughter in my arms but I had to pause because she became fussy - she wanted to nurse to sleep. I could not get back to reading the article until she went to sleep in a dark room listening to a lullaby.

Now, that's my version of the two Walkers. I feel I can relate with both. I am a feminist and in less than a year of being a mother, my emotions sometimes conflict. It must be hard to be a die-hard feminist and a 'typical' Mummy.

I really cannot take sides because each side has its truth. Ever since I had my baby, I have been unable to travel for pleasure or knowledge and my career is only now just springing back to life "itsyly bitsyly" (if that makes any sense...). When I was pregnant and sick a lot, I had to turn down a HUGE career offer. It was sheer agony.

That said, I have to concede that Rebecca's recommendation makes more sense to me. To all fellow feminists out there, if ever you feel maternal, go ahead. It's not a defeat if you prepare your mind in advance that of course, some things are going to give. Having shed tears over that, I have come to terms with the fact that some things may slow down in my life but my daughter is also part of my life and the joy of her presence should not be discounted.

And being a Christian (yes, I am a Christian AND a feminist - a topic for another day considering feminism's oft-preference for humanism), I am of the belief that God will somehow restore the seemingly-lost career opportunities. And even if that does not happen, what the heck? Nothing beats the smile my baby gives me in the mornings...

LoloBloggs said...

This article hit me!

I agree with Lani, it's a tough call sometimes, but as strongly as I feel about women's rights, I feel that a woman's first right is to bear a child and have a family.

I also find it hard to believe a woman who writes with such empathy, and understanding, doesn't see how she may have affected her daughter.

She's still a heroine in my book, but after this, she's a very human one.

Thanks for sharing the link!

Ore said...

It was also such a surprise for me to read this article. However, like you mention, Lani, I can also relate to both sides. I am not yet a mother but motherhood (as does being in a relationship) involves a lot of compromise and sacrifices. And to someone who strongly believes in equal rights for men and women, the idea of having to make these sacrifices must go across the very essence of this belief.

At the same time, raising a child must be such a joy in itself.

I only pray that when I am a mother I have the strength to make those tough choices when I need to. I am sure that Alice Walker felt that she was making the best decisions in her circumstances. And like you allude to, Lolo, we don’t always get it right.

I am not sure that every woman possesses what are thought of as 'maternal' qualities. I know for sure that not all women want to have children, but the normal expectation is that all women do. So, I don't think that all women should have children if that is not their desire.

But having said that, perhaps motherhood cannot be so specifically defined. For instance, some women would give up work to raise their children, while others would not.

And co-incidentally, I've been wanting to write a post about being a Christian and a feminist. It's hard because I am not sure that I can sufficiently articulate my thoughts on this.

LoloBloggs said...

I'd love to read a post on being a Christian and a Feminist.

I understand the pull of Christian family values, but I think it's time Feminism was given a new facet, or maybe we create a new ideology that balances the maternal instincts with those of the individuality and empowerment of a woman.

I think many of us do not necessarily covet the loneliness of the successful but single and/or childless '90s woman', but there is no desire to go back to the 'little woman' who lives for her family status either, so what's the best way forward?....would be a really interesting discussion.

lani said...

Whenever you get the chance, do initiate a discussion on Feminism and Christianity. Though I have to say you have to be prepared for sparks to fly.

Ore said...

Sparks would be fun. I'll give it a go.

Lita said...

feminisism has had several different waves, and what some once considered to be feminist, many have added other facets too. i don't think that one needs to forfeit their right to be 'feminine', to deal with the things that come naturally to us as women (and specifically, as mothers) to still believe in equality and change. the point, is that we should be allowed to be whomever or whatever we want.

Ore said...

@ Lita: Yes, women should be able to be whatever they want.

It's interesting. I attended a conference last year on women's rights and one major gripes by many younger feminists was that they are not always taken very seriously by older feminists. The issue being partly that due to the ground-breaking efforts of earlier feminists, women today contend with far less discrimination.

I don't agree with this sentiment, where it does exist, because women are still battling patriarchy in its varied manifestations. But that makes it a bit easier to understand why Alice Walker was so passionate about her work and why her daughter has a more relaxed attitude towards balancing family and work.

StandTall-The Activist said...

So many fatanstic comments here, I just wonder if I agree with LoloBloggs that our first right is to have babies and families as women.
Women have thier fundamental human rights like the men and making babies and raising a family is a choice.

There are lots of women that are not feminists or that never claimed to be and still fail as mothers. There are women that find it difficult to relate with their children. This may be a defect in their upbringing or the fact that all women are not mother materials.

I want to believe that it's possible to prioritise no matter our believe or career as men and women when it comes to how to raise our kids and how close we want to be to them and how we want to share every important parts of thier growing up.

StandTall-The Activist said...

And conclusively, Alice Walker simply failed as a mother and being a feminist myself I can clearl see she fed her children a lot of untrue position of feminism as coloured by her fanaticsm

cindysh said...

Ore, what an interesting juxtaposition of the arranged marriage and feminism posts. I can imagine what Alice Walker would think of an institution like arranged marriage!

As a female professional,(though not a feminist)with 22 years experience as an architect, 12 years experience as a wife, and 11 years experience as a mother, I believe that what women bring to the workplace is balance. That valuable concept that careers need not eclipse family life, and a family does not necessarily preclude a successful career.

My personal mantra has been, 'when career and family conflict, family comes first'. Professionally this translates as " I have a schedule conflict on Friday afternoon, let's make it Monday morning". Simple as that.

Being able to responsibly control my availability as a professional, I believe, has empowered those around me in my corporation, including the men,to strive for that work/life balance. Believe it or not, men too have paternal instincts just as strong as the legendary maternal ones and many these days want to be fulfilled both in their careers and family lives...believe me I know because as an architect I work with LOTS of men.

On arranged marriage, there are definitely pros as well as cons. One thing is for sure, with the rising divorce rate, there is not much evidence that young people are any better at selecting spouses for themselves than their parents/relatives are. I say, if you are single and would like to be married, don't turn down any opportunity to meet a prospective spouse, be it through family, friends, schoolmates or even the internet. You never know where he/she may be hiding.

Ore said...

Cindysh, thank you so much for your comment.

One great thing that feminism helped uphold is the right to make personal choices (though we also know that what we often think of as 'choices ' are actually informed by the way we've been brought up and cultural and social norms). So, for some women it's putting family first and for others, it's career.

I think that there appears to be a more sentimental notion of marriage now, as opposed to in generations before where such a union was viewed through extremely practical lenses. Therefore, perhaps many of the things which we would like in a partner are not very important or suited for managing the vicissitudes of married life. Disclaimer: I am not yet married and while extremely practical, I hold close some romantic notions about marriage.