Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"The Mother-Daughter Wars" (on Alice and Rebecca Walker)

Salon has a poignant, thoughtful, sharp commentary by Phyllis Chesler on the very public mother-daughter tensions between the writers Rebecca Walker and Alice Walker, who are daughter and mother.

You should be able to get into Salon with no trouble. (If you get a message asking you about Salon Premium membership, just ignore it and click on. Look toward the top right of the page if you can't find a place to click forward.)

The essay is

P.S. PJ makes a very good point in the Comments about a point I had managed to overlook -so much for mindfulness in the summer- so the piece isn't perfect (far from -- "emphasizing abortion"?) but I do think the major point about mothers and daughters and about the public nature of the discussion was spot on. More comments and criticism welcome! Thanks, PJ.


pj said...

Forgive me Jane, I don't mean to be combative with you of all people, but what kind of crack is Phyllis Chesler smoking?

"While most second-wave feminist leaders and thinkers emphasized abortion rather than motherhood, job equity rather than child support, sexual violence rather than the importance of family building..."

WTF??? And,

"Yes, and Alice did all the things that women like Judy don't want to do and can't do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to world work, crusade for human and women's rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one."

Then she goes on to document a bunch of historically mean mommies.

Sorry, but Phyllis Chesler is no feminist.

(I'm off to go "emphasize abortion" now. Tra la la.)

Jane R said...

You are totally right -- I missed that ridiculous comment of Chesler's. Ugh!

I do like her main point about the mother-daughter dynamic and about the public nature of this one. It's sad Rebecca Walker has been ragging on her mom in public for years and sad about whatever part Alice Walker has had in it; she's kept her own statements more restrained but I seem to remember the disinheriting thing is true.

Chesler is speaking out of her own experience.

But with the statement on abortion she continues to give fodder to people who think feminism was and is about abortion, or even that those who advocate for freedom of choice don't love or want children or take abortion deadly seriously (I'm using the adjective intentionally.) Thanks for catching that.

Jane R said...

On whether women can "do it all" -- Right, we can't. And yes, we can. Chesler is right in many ways, but there are women who manage, and of course the deeper question is how can we change the system so that both women and men can do work in the world and be good parents. So it's about men, too.

At any rate, though I know a lot about parenting and families and can comment about them as much as married people can about being single, I am not a child-rearing mom myself, so I'll let the mothers take over here.

Change the system, I say. (Which means both laws and mindsets, it's not either/or.) And don't dis your Mama (or your daughter) in a public forum, not only because of the Commandments, but because you (and she) will live to regret it.

So I think we're also dealing with the Era of the Public Confessional here. (She says on her blog... but I hope I know the difference.)

Someone needs to write a new book on all these issues of boundaries, confidentiality, secrets, disclosure, truth and lies, etc along the line of Sissela Bok's book on lying and the various books on secrets and boundaries et al.

pj said...

I think she could have easily written an article about the dynamic between mothers and daughters -- even using the Walkers as a jumping-off point -- without turning it into an issue between 2nd wave and 3rd wave feminists. Actually, I hate those labels and I don't see them in my own family. I've got three nieces in their twenties, a sister in her fifties and a mother in her eighties and they're all feminists, period.

Also, Chesler seems to be blaming feminism for whatever is going on between one particular mother and daughter. Maybe she got that from Rebecca, but it's rather blatant and shitty, IMO. Sloppy thinking, too.

And now here's a smiley, because as a woman I can't bear to leave "mad" comments without softening 'em. :)

Ken said...

One need not be a feminist or even a woman to recognize a terrible fissure between parent and child. It's sad and difficult to read.

FranIAm said...

Oh my God, the weight of sadness after reading this is crushingly heavy.

Deep sigh.

I have now read the piece in Salon twice as well as the linked piece by Rebecca.

It is just so sad to me and what I see is this... Two sad extremes played out for the world to see.

In virtus media stat - which is not to simply advocate for middle of the road lives, but to say that the extremes are rough places. Necessary at times - but rough places.

We are all the legacy of nature and nurture of what came before us and how we pass that along.

Deep sigh again.

johnieb said...

I, too, was shocked at those comments of Chesler's; I really can't make that fit with my understanding of Feminism.

My daughter gifted me with a delightful book, which I half-finished on the flight yesterday: a conversation between Robert Coles and Dan Berrigan, just before the FBI caught the latter in 1970. They are most eloquent on the changes we wanted to make in the Sixties, and the perils of that life, trying to live personally/ politically in new, more human ways within an Empire of violence.

The Walker wars, by these accounts, appear to be part of that, though it is mostly RW, and AW, who speaks publicly in this. Did I read RW correctly in saying she walked down the street to Nursery Care at one? I would rather think it a mis-print or that I mis-read her essay.

Generational conflict isn't news, however sad and tragic; I really don't accept RW's point that this was necessary; it sounds more like bratty competition. Even if I accept her accusations as being grounded in fact, hers is not the only interpretation. And, if AW and her sister/ comrades were as anti-motherhood as RW declares to be the case, how does she explain her own existence?

Jane R said...

JohnieB, bless yer heart, you're back.

Alice Walker once wrote a wonderful essay called "One Child of One's Own: A Meaningful Digression within the Work(s)." I think it's in her early book of essays In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983 or thereabouts; my copy is at the office). It wasn't all about her daughter; it was also about race, work, women, and on how it is all right to have only one child. She hasn't written half as much about her child as Anne Lamott has about hers (speaking of Too Much Information and raising your kid's future therapy bills - though the first book about her son, Operating Instructions, was hilarious, and as a grownup the son will probably love it) but in what she has written, her mother love is clearly there, as is her writer's vocation. Which is not to excuse whatever she didn't do right. But that's not the major issue here.

The whole thing is sad. It does make us think about mothers and daughters and about mothers, daughters, and feminism, but there are other ways to get thinking about that. Anyhoo, it got us talking.

Hey JohnieB, welcome back! Grandson pictures??

johnieb said...

Yeah, pictures of both,but I gotta figure out if I can load it directly from the camera chip or need a USB connector or some sech. I'm outside my comfort zone here, plus still a little "rode hard and put up wet." Carter had a cold and I caught one--perhaps from him.

There will be a picture or two, I'm sure. But I don't want to increase anyone's future therapy bills: :-)