I came across an article written by Rebecca Walker, daughter of famed womanist author Alice Walker. Much to my chagrin, she maligned feminism. It seems based on her relationship with her mother, feminism is “an experiment that has made some huge mistakes”. Throughout the article she relates events from her childhood to justify where feminism has gone wrong in her life, however it seems to me that though this article professes that the mistake is on the part of feminism, it is really a judgement of her mother. Click here to read the article.
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I am huge Alice Walker fan. She has been an inspiration in my life, and I doubt I would be the woman I am today, had I never been exposed to her work. That said, I am not privy to her private life, and therefore I cannot make any judgement on what Rebecca has chosen to publicize to the world. I would only add that her choice of whether or not to be a mother, only exists because of feminism.
If we truly believe that the personal is political, then feminism is a useful analytical tool for all women. It gives us a way to understand womens oppression in a patriarchal world. Though motherhood is certainly an issue in feminism, it is not the only issue. Even among mothers, parenting is not a universalizing experience, it is mitigated by race, class, gender, age etc. Each woman brings to the experience her own unique frame of reference, which must then be negotiated by the society in which she lives.
In truth women are often trapped by idealized notions of what motherhood is supposed to be. Mothers are always patient, kind, loving, self-sacrificing, tireless, teachers, etc. The motherhood discourse is defined by personal infallibility, which we as human beings know to be an impossibility. Yet we demand it of our mothers, and defame them when they fall short of the monumental task. This is part of what makes motherhood a stifling affair. It is a constant struggle between the woman that you are and the socially constructed ideal that you are expected to be.
Feminism allows the deconstruction of the category of mother, as well as the “traditional” nuclear family. It is to the family that women direct the majority of their lifetime of labor, and yet we know that domestic labor leaves women impoverished. It is also in the family that we learn about the hierarchal nature of gender. To claim motherhood, and the family as a major site of womens oppression is a reasonable assessment when we consider the time invested into each. What we as mothers, indeed as daughters must do is learn to re-conceptualize our expectations with the understanding that mothering may not be appropriate for all, and that even in our supposed failings we have still added beauty to this world with the birth of our children.