Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Mothering Vs.(?) Feminism
There is a controversy brewing over Rebecca Walker's latest column. A column in which she very publicly (and with a sense of bravado) ends her relationship with her mother--Alice Walker. The two women have long been on shakey ground but it appears the ground has broken open and swallowed any hope the two of them may have had of a productive relationship. Interestingly, this Feministing post comes a day after I finished R. Walker's latest book--Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After A Lifetime Of Ambivalence and had quite an issue with it myself. I wrote on my goodreads' review:

This book was interesting and helpful as she unpacks a lot of complicated issues between motherhood and feminism. I enjoyed a lot of her story. In particular, I enjoyed reading about her struggles with choosing a parenting strategies.

But parts made me uncomfortable--mainly her seeming obsession with heterosexual parenting and her goal to wipe out ambivalence among women about motherhood. Once she became pregnant, she seemed to turn into a heterosexist, "motherhood is the only path for women" machine. It rubbed me the wrong way for much of the book. In particular, she tells a story about an interaction with a young woman who claims she will "never become a mother" because she dreads any day a human is dependent on her. Upon finding out her age, Walker reassures her that she has "plenty of time to change her mind." GAH. GAH. How patronizing and dogmatic can you be?! Oddly enough, she exhibits behaviors she complains about for much of the book. Walker has a pretty sharp indict of her mother and other "second wave" feminists who are critical of the unfairness of motherhood. She regales readers with stories about her mother's inability to support her decision to become a mother. As I reader, you feel shock and anger. Of course, that narrative is spliced with Walker's own inability to accept childless women.

Also, I was annoyed that Walker wasn't really all that "ambivalent" about motherhood (thus the title was more than a little flawed). She reports on the first page that she's wanted to be a mother for more than 15 years. Huh?!!? So throughout the book it seemed she had to invent struggles between motherhood and feminism. I do not think that being maternal is as antithetical to feminism as she states. Walker wanted to prove that in order to be a feminist one must be ambivalent about motherhood and that once you are self-actualized you will realize that to be ambivalent is to be wrong.

These issues are amplified once again in R. Walker's column. It is clear that Walker had a bad childhood. Her mother was not overly nurturing and maybe even a little bitter about the challenges of motherhood. But is that the result of feminism? I can't decide. Actually, that's a lie. I can decide. I think it *may* be the result of a certain brand of feminism. Certainly there have been time periods of feminism that are skeptical of motherhood. They see the undervalue of motherhood as a problem and have chosen not to participate because they don't want to fall victim to those pitfalls. I'm cool with that. I'm also fine with women who choose to be come mothers but do not uphold the typical aspects of motherhood. Thus, I think it would be possible for both Rebecca and Alice to negotiate the tensions R. speaks of in their relationship. And I think it possible not to be the type of mother R. expects yet still be a good one. Additionally, I don't think their mother/daughter relationship is any of my business no matter how much R. shoves it down my throat.

However, I'm also troubled by the rate at which feminists turn on Rebecca. In the comments on the Feministing piece, commenters call R. an "anti-feminist" and not part of the movement. What?!?! Rebecca Walker?! One of the women responsible for the current status of feminism-- toward a more inclusive and contemporary movement?

Why does it have to be either/or? Why are feminists quick to take sides? We don't have to be for Alice OR Rebecca. We can appreciate Alice's work on de-mystifying motherhood and Rebecca's work to appreciate it. Personally, I think that maternal thinking and feminism go hand in hand but before I become a mother, I'll set up my own standard of parenting that will draw on generations of feminist women.

So I thank both Rebecca and Alice. And I hope I don't fall into a trap of having to choose one over the other.

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