Posted in Personal Response

Disillusioned Feminism

Nederlands: portret van Rebecca Walker

I have spent the better part of my life being keenly aware and proud of the feminist movement.  My mother was a hard-working nurse throughout my childhood, and my grandmother also was a widowed working woman for an insurance company, once owned by my deceased grandfather; their example and wisdom taught me much about the feminist movement for rights and liberty.  Empowerment of women has always been an allure and motivated me as a young learner to do my best academically so that I could write my ticket to success – tapping into all the potential roads that the feminist movement had mapped for me.  My reading interests were feminist trailblazing writers from Atwood and Laurence, to Bronte and Shelley, to Woolf and Chopin, to Plath and Sexton, to Angelou and Walker, among many others – too many wonderful voices to list here.

So, it was with great interest that I happened upon the writing of Alice Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Walker.  Alice is the genius writer of the beloved Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, a Civil Rights Movement activist, and an activist writer for issues of feminism, sexism, and racism. When I saw that Rebecca was a writer too, I imagined how inspiring it must have been to grow up basking in Alice Walker’s genius.  I dreamed of what it would have been like to have had grown up in the battle for rights in the Southern United States, especially with a mother who had such a powerful voice, especially in the household of a mixed-race and mixed-class family (her father was from rich Jewish New York descent, while her mother came from poor Southern African-American farmers). But Rebecca’s article – “How my Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart” in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail – offered a very different perspective than any I could have anticipated; it made me reflect on my own challenges with my mother, and of my role as a mother with a career.

Although I’m a firm believer in the concept of perspective and bias in writing – and I have yet to investigate Alice’s own counter-arguments to her estranged daughter’s claims – I must admit that I was completely devastated by this article.  To learn, from Rebecca’s perspective, that she almost never became a mother “thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.”  It is with great irony that Rebecca’s independent choice to become a parent with a man whom she loved was condemned by our beloved Alice – the same Alice who in her matriarchal power rallies for women to have the freedom to choose their hearts desire, the same Alice who advocates for the sisterhood of women who need to care for each other.  Rebecca further explains how her own existence was a burden to Alice who poetically wrote about Rebecca being a “calamity” who “impeded” her ambitions as a writer.  Oh dear Alice, how can you betray your own child?  How can you be so callous and cold when your beautiful and talented daughter has chosen the path of motherhood in conjunction with the ambitions of career?

Furthermore, the article reveals the neglect that Alice inflicted on Rebecca: “while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities  –  after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.”  Ouch!  Rebecca’s neglect has known no end and she has found her voice to trumpet her tales of woe from the abuses of this fanatical feminist.  However, Rebecca needs to find peace with this condemnation.

Like Alice, my mother was a mother to all in our town.  I would grow up hearing the words: “how lucky you are to have such a wise and caring mother.”  But when she came home, and her service to our family was done, she rarely had time left.  Now, thousands of miles apart, our time is achieved through a phone call here and there, a “fwd” moment of sincerity in an email from her, an email with jpeg pictures of her grandchildren from me, and a four to five day visit once every year (if we’re lucky).  But unlike Rebecca, I have found some peace in this relationship.  Rather than rail against this reality, I’ve come to accept it.  My mother loves me – I know this.  My mother worked very hard, and taught us well, and did her best.  It is not her fault (or mine) that the demands of a working mother couldn’t find time or balance during the working week.

This article also stirred up my own fears of trying to “do it all”.  I, too, fight to find a sense of balance between work and motherhood.  I often say that trying to satisfy the demands of my work, my family, my home, and myself leads to a lot of mediocrity in all categories.  My gosh, someday my children will find their voices and will complain that I spent too much energy and time on work – like writing in this blog tonight instead of cuddling them to sleep.  The guilt of trying to be all, to all people.  The fear of failure, failure to myself.  Such are the pressures when we try to walk in two worlds.  I admit, with feminist guilt, that being a mom and housewife in those lazy, hazy days of summer are my favourite moments in life.  If only, I often say, I could afford to just stay home and fret about the crumbs on my floor.  Feminism is a powerful movement that has afforded my 21st century life a freedom unknown to women 100 years ago.  I am forever humbled and grateful to the sacrifices and battles my predecessors endured for my freedom.  Yet, this same freedom often leads me to feel like a failure, a fraud, and felon

Reading and talking about "Why War is Nev...

– living a life where mediocrity and fragmentation is a guilty reality.  I don’t blame my children for my mediocrity as a teacher; I don’t blame my teaching, or feminism for that matter, for my mediocrity as a mother.  I just recognize the internal battle and hope that someday I find a way to reconcile this divisiveness.

Like Rebecca, I am proud of being a mother to two of the most sincere and gorgeous creatures to have ever entered my life.  I love being witness and participant to the joy of my children when we make pancakes together on a Sunday morning, the squeals of their laughter as we dance and sing to Camp Rock 2 together, and the charm of their negotiation skills as they convince me away from my laptop to play with them in their world.

Dear mother and Alice, you have missed so much of the past and you are missing so much of the present and the future.  Dear me, please remember that being a mother is the most gracious of all gifts I have received in life, and traditional ways are of value to me, my children, my family, and society.  It does not diminish my feminist existence, it empowers it with the choice to enjoy the embodiment of my feminine and my feminist selves.  Dear Luca and Tulia, I pray that someday you will know that I have loved my every day with your “delightful distractions” and that my only calamity of existence is not spending enough time basking in your silly ways, and your growth-filled days .  I truly hope that you will always know that you two are my most sincere priority. I do hope that this anthem will often hold me accountable to the dream of what really matters to you and me.

(Walker, Rebecca. “How My Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart”. The Daily Mail: Mail Online.  23 May 2008. Web. 05 Sept. 2010. )