Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rebecca Walker On How Her Mother’s Feminism Affected Her Life

This is a very compelling article I had actually found yesterday via The State of. If you don't know Alice Walker is the author of the book The Color Purple. Check it out when you get the first opportunity.

Anyway duaghter Rebecca certainly has her own feelings on growing up a Walker. A daughter of a feminist and Jewish man who had come out of the second world war and the Holocaust. If you read Rebecca's story there is certainly a conclusion to be made with regards to how "ideology" played a role in raising a kid. I suppose the lesson here is ideology and background isn't a substitute for being a good parent. Read on:

Walker had also joined the early feminist movement — Gloria Steinem is Rebecca’s godmother — and it was her politics, more than anything, that shaped mother-daughter relations. The so-called “first wave” feminists believed that housework was another form of slavery and that women did not have an innate need to nurture but had been conditioned into their subordinate role as wives and mothers through centuries of patriarchy.

“My mother is very ideologically based, and her ideology is much more important in many ways than her personal relationships,” says Rebecca.

When Rebecca became pregnant at 14, Walker wasn’t shocked: she calmly picked up the phone and arranged an abortion. “Her feminist thing was about empowering me to have an active sexuality and to be in control of my body, and that trumped any sense of boundaries,” Rebecca says.

Certainly, Walker believed that what she was doing was right. Leaving her teenaged daughter to “do her own thing” was a way of fostering Rebecca’s independence and avoiding inadvertently passing down patriarchal values.

“Her circle were questioning power relationships and whether a mother had any more knowledge than a child. Some friends of hers were living on communes. I know those kids and they’re totally screwed up.

“Some were sexually abused, all kinds of bad stuff happened, but even those who survived intact don’t want to create communes for their children. They didn’t want to be raised by 10 different parents — again, it was this ideological thing trumping the maternal instinct.”

Towards the end of senior school, an ecstatic Rebecca showed Walker her offer letter from Yale. Instead of celebrating her daughter’s success in landing a place at one of the world’s top universities, Walker asked her coolly why she wanted to go to a bastion of male privilege.

Rebecca went to Yale anyway, and started thinking about feminism for herself. Her first book examined what feminism meant to young women and what role it played in the modern world. “When I began to challenge status quo feminism, my mother started to feel very injured,” she says. “To have a daughter who was questioning feminism — it was seen as a threat. Imagine Margaret Thatcher having a hippie child who wanted to live in India and become a Hare Krishna. It was that kind of schism.

“I keep telling people feminism is an experiment. And just like in science, you have to assess the outcome of the experiment and adjust according to your results, but my mother and her friends, they see it as truth; they don’t see it as an experiment.

“So that creates quite a problem. You’ve got young women saying, ‘That didn’t really work for me’ and the older ones saying, ‘Tough, because that’s how it should be’.”

...

The final showdown happened while Rebecca was pregnant, and is chronicled in her new book, Baby Love — a diary of her pregnancy in which she explores modern women’s dilemmas about relationships and motherhood.

Having been raised to believe that “it’s not nature, it’s nurture”, she was not prepared for the strength of her feelings for her baby. “I adore him,” she says. “He’s really into running and jumping and he’s very attached to me. It’s all, ‘Mommy, Mommy, Mommy’, and it’s very difficult to leave him.”

People she meets constantly express surprise at what’s happened — surely having a child should have brought her closer to her mother, rather than splitting them asunder? She agrees.

“People don’t really understand how strong ideology can be,” she says. “I think sometimes of that group and that feminism as being close to a cult. I feel I had to de-programme myself in order to have independent thought. It’s been an ongoing struggle. When you have a cult, you have a cult leader who demands a certain conformity . . . And when you have a celebrity who has cultural-icon status, economic power beyond what you can imagine, you can’t resist that person — if you want to stay in their realm. Because once you start challenging them, they kick you out.”

I've probably given plenty away but go ready the whole thing. Daddy Walker is not absolved although he seems to be a little more sensible than Alice although I must say I don't know everything about that dynamic amongst both parents and Rebecca so I can't say too much. I suppose this feminism in this article concerns me. Almost the type that stifles reason.

It seems that if you go too radical with a theory feminism is a theory or perhaps several theories lumped under one name the results could be problematic. Rebecca calls it an experiment but them I suppose before you can experiment you have to have a theory. Of course the problem is less that you're dealing with an experiment/theory as you are with the results. One can't just deal with what ought to be.

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