Collateral Damage of the Feminist Movement: One Daughter’s Story

In her autobiography, Black, White, and Jewishreviewers have noted
Rebecca Walker’s unfavorable view of her famous mother Alice Walker. Alice Walker, most famous for her novel The Color Purple and the 1985 film adaptation, is a Pulitzer prize winning author and feminist. She wrote about her parents’ Alice Walker and Mel Levanthal, who were the first interracial couple in Mississippi and the challenges of growing up as the daughter of the famed feminist. This weekend Rebecca walker wrote an article challenging her mother’s views on motherhood titled, How my Mother’s fanatical Views Tore us Apart.

Rebecca Walker writes:

Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It’s helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it’s caused for my contemporaries?

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn’t take into account the toll on children. That’s all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: ‘I’d like a child. If it happens, it happens.’ I tell them: ‘Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.’ As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women’s movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them – as I have learned to my cost. I don’t want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

Here’s one of the quotes that grabbed me in her article:

But, 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.

In had a brief discussion about how some of Rebecca Walker’s experiences reflected a broader trend in Black American society. My friend said that if we believe Rebecca Walker’s accounts of her mother, Alice Walker is self-absorbed person. I’m not trying to be apologetic for Alice Walker’s views on motherhood, nor can I claim to be very familiar with Alice Walker’s writings outside of the Color Purple and her work on Female Genital Mutilation. But can we blame feminism for making Alice Walker a self-absorbed, neglectful mother? I just wonder if the treatment of her daughter was really a product of feminist thought. It sure doesn’t reflect third world feminism or women of color movements. Rather it seems reflective of deeper cultural shift that I see linked to the “Me” decade. Following the great social unrest in the 60s and cultural revolution, a new focus on the self took bloom in the late 70s. It continues to this day as a culture fueled by consumerism and pop psychology.

I have seen how a number of women, single mothers, have struggled to balance their own personal fulfillment, sense of contentment and motherhood. When mothers make poor life choices, their children suffer with them. Increasingly, we see more and more cases of children who are neglected by two irresponsible parents. We have read about terrible cases, where children are beaten to death by stepdads or boyfriends. Other children experience the emotional scars of a mother who they don’t see for years on end.

The news reports about neglected children are often chilling. These stories are rare, because for the most part extended family comes in to keep things together. But still, something is wrong with this picture. How many of you know kids who call their grandmother mom, and their mom by their first name? I know a number of women who became grandmothers in their mid- to late thirties. Its not like these 30-something grandmas are imparting a lot of wisdom to young moms. Often young mothers make attempts at reclaiming their young adulthood. So, they shuffle off their young children to family (often grandma) or friends. Mom, meanwhile heads off to the grown and sexy party. Even the grandmother was young enough that she was running the streets, there are the 30+ clubs catering to those in their late 30s to 50s. I’ve seen great grandmas step in, cause grandma isn’t very motherly either.

I know it is difficult raising children on your own. I know some damn good single mothers, and even a few great single fathers. But some cases over the years bothered me. More than a few of my friends in highschool were raised by their grandparents. Often, this was the best choice the young mothers made for their children. Other times, the arrangements seem more strained and the children suffer. This is why Rebecca Walker’s quotes struck a chord. I’ve babysat for a woman who left me with her kids for four days. I had no idea where she went and everyday her kids cried for her. Me, I was not well equipped to deal with four babies. I knew a mother who worked full time, attended classes week nights at University of Phoenix, and what did she do with the little time she had left to spend with her beautiful little girl? Well, she dropped the baby off at the great grandma’s house (mind you a retirement home because grandma was over 75) over the weekend. You could tell the little girl missed her mom and wanted to spend more time with her.

Can we call the partying moms and irresponsible motherhood a bi-product of the feminist movement? I don’t see a direct connection. Rather, I see a breakdown of social norms and practices. Single mothers are, still, single and don’t have the same prerogatives as a married couple who might be more interested in family or game night. Most of the moms going on pleasure cruises and weekend escapes with their boyfriends, however, are not pulitzer award winning authors or activists. They are not touching the lives of thousands of women at the expense of the one little girl who needed them the most. This daughter is hurting and writing an open letter to her mother. And I really wish that Alice Walker just apologizes and tries to make amends. But in the end, I can see how this relationship has suffered due to Alice Walker’s commitment to her work and trail blazing as a pioneering feminist.