June 18 2013
Feminist Mommie Dearest
Steven Hayward sees a backlash building against the humorlessness of gender feminism, even--or especially--in mainstream America. The most egregious example he cites, however, is more sad than funny.
Hayward quotes from a compelling reminiscence by Rebecca Walker, daughter of Color Purple author Alice Walker, entitled "How My Mother’s Fanatical Feminist Views Tore Us Apart.” It is sort of the feminist Mommie Dearest:
My mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.
In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from ‘enslaving’ me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late - I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck. . .
My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it’s time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution. . . 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
Rebecca Walker recounts how she wasn’t allowed to play with dolls as a child and was “raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle.” Alice Walker and Rebecca’s father, lawyer Mel Leventhal, were divorced when she was eight, and the child was shuttled back and forth between her parents.
Rebecca came across her mother’s deepest feelings about her own birth by reading a poem:
I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me - a 'delightful distraction', but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.
According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio - some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.
Hayward uses the sad saga of Alice and Rebecca Walker to plug Christina Hoff Sommers’ new book Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Still Matters, which presents an alternative feminism. Hoff Sommers shows what the movement was before it was “stolen” by man-hating, gender feminists and why it still has much to offer women. (Here is my take on it.)
Meanwhile, Rebecca Walker is raising her son Tenzin, who was born in 2004, with a partner named Glen. Alice Walker has never met her only grandson.