First a little background. The following posts are important to read so that you understand where I'm coming from:
What Michelle Obama is Giving Up: A question of Power
Walker on Michelle O. Or, the stupid job of First Lady
How my mother's fanatical feminist views tore us apart
Ok. You with me? For those of you without the patience to sit and sort through the above links: here is the short version of a long story. Alice Walker and her daughter, Rebecca Walker do not get along. In fact, from what I can tell, they are estranged. Rebecca Walker details her end of the relationship here. As far as I know, Alice Walker has not spoken specifically on her relationship with Rebecca, but as anybody who has read her work knows, Alice has talked about being a mother, many times in highly complicated and negative ways, just as Rebecca has talked about being a daughter to a feminist mother in highly complicated and negative ways.
Ok, having laid the framework for this discussion down, I want to bring in the third player. The one who said:
It’s hard not to read a major Oedipal* subtext to Rebecca Walker’s work. It ain’t hard to link the distancing from feminism in her writing to her struggles with her mother, Alice. This dynamic was obvious in a recent column for The Root about Michelle Obama.
Of course this hasn’t hurt Walker’s career, since the powers that be are always delighted to give an anti-feminist woman, better yet an anti-feminist black woman, plenty of airtime. It’s too bad, though, because there are interesting things to say about Michelle Obama. I think Michelle Obama is the bomb and I loved it that she was quoted immediately after the election saying she’d be working to raise awareness of the struggles of working moms. And damn is it something fine to see a gorgeous, regal black woman as First Lady of the United States of America.
Before I go on, I want to point out--what the woman who wrote this said about the Walker relationship is not new. If you look back through the course of Rebecca's online time, you find that she's gotten a *lot* of this response to her writing: "I know you don't like your mother, but that's no reason to talk bad about feminists." Or, "Rebecca is everything that's wrong with the third wave of feminism--they're all a bunch of petulant children who hate that they're not as good as their mothers." Or, "it's great that Rebecca can make a name off of bashing the only reason anybody even knows her." etc etc etc etc.
So, seeing as the previous passage is simply another chord in a previously played song, I don't want to focus specifically on the blogger in question.
Rather instead, I want to focus on a few more general things. General things like, 1. Why is it so easy to dismiss a woman of color who says she's been hurt by feminism? 2. Why is it that a woman of color says she's been hurt by feminism and suddenly it doesn't matter *what* she writes about, the only thing people can associate with her is her 'angry' 'bitter' 'resentful' 'jealous' and 'ranting' against feminism? and 3. Why is it that it's so fucking easy to take two really complicated and painful interactions with motherhood written by women of color and strip the complicated and painful down to 'bitter' and 'jealous'?
Why is it so easy to dismiss a woman of color who says she's been hurt by feminism?
Rebecca Walker is not the first woman of color to say that she's not only ambivalent about feminism, but that feminism has hurt her, deeply and powerfully, in ways that many women simply can't or refuse to understand. She's pointing to reasons that are much different than the reasons I'd point to--but she's saying the same thing that I've said and that historically, MANY women of color have said. And she's being treated in the same way most, if not all of us have been treated. Completely ignored, infantilized, cast aside, ridiculed and outright rejected.
Having been on the receiving end of this treatment, it's hard not to notice how many *white* women are treated when they voice similar problems with feminism as a whole. They get whole books written to them in their 'language' in an attempt to reach out to them. They get linked on their mother's blogs, even though they say exactly the same thing women of color say:
Then there’s Erica Jong, well-known novelist and advocate of what Shalit describes as “the concept of a random, guilt-free sexual encounter between strangers.” Jong’s now-grown daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, tried that lifestyle and found it utterly unsatisfying. The sad thing is, she tells Shalit, “You’re not allowed to admit that [promiscuity] just doesn’t work.” Though devoted to her mother, Molly is “embarrassed” by Erica’s writings and says to Shalit, “I was sold a bad bill of goods.” Well, their kids ought to know.
Is this anything different than what Rebecca Walker has said? What's up with that difference in how white women and women of color are treated for expressing the same thing? What does it mean? What does the difference stem from? Is there something wrong with feminism that white daughters are embraced and recognized as valuable enough to keep reaching out to, but colored daughters are written off? Does it speak to the values of feminism?
2. Why is it that a woman of color says she's been hurt by feminism and suddenly it doesn't matter *what* she writes about, the only thing people can associate with her is her 'angry' 'bitter' 'resentful' 'jealous' 'ranting' against feminism?
Count the number of times Rebecca Walker mentions her mother in that essay about Michelle Obama. The answer? Zero. She instead talks about the passionate discussion that her and other women had about a passionate woman and how she still had thoughts about that discussion. When I read her post, I felt excited and vaguely jealous because I wanted to be a part of that discussion.
But for some reason, when other people read that post (or, frankly, anything written by Rebecca), all they can see is some "Oedipal complex" playing itself out in some sort of vain obnoxious way.
Is it reflective of feminism that a woman who voices objection to it becomes known for those objections rather than her complicated, interesting, passionate debates that have almost nothing to do with her fight with feminism? Is it reflective of feminism that with few exceptions the woman who becomes entrenched in feminist history as existing almost exclusively as a reactionary force of violence and hate against 'real feminists' is a woman of color?
What does it say about feminism that this pattern keeps repeating itself?
Why is it that it's so fucking easy to take two really complicated and painful interactions with motherhood written by women of color and strip the complicated and painful down to 'bitter' and 'jealous'?
I'm going to be forthright here in how I understand both Rebecca and Alice's relationship with motherhood/daughterhood. I get both of them. I am a daughter who would never ever in a million years make the same decisions my own mother did, because I disagree with them that forcefully. I am also a mother who has made decisions that I know hurt my baby girl because they were the only decision I *could* make and stay alive. I am so beyond grateful to Alice Walker for writing Meridian, and pointing out the conflict of my life: what do you do when you figure out you never wanted to be a damn mother to begin with?
I am also so beyond grateful to Rebecca Walker for writing the other conflict of my life: what do you do when you figure out you never wanted to be a mother, but now that you are, you would rather cut off your own hand than hurt your child the way you were hurt?
What do you do with the love you have for your mother, the anger you have, that seems to simultaneously show itself in your relationship with your own child?
What Alice and Rebecca Walker talk about is not easy. It's not fun, it's, more often than not, completely painfully devastating--almost exclusively because there are no easy answers. Both of them are right. A woman has a right to not be tied down or defined by marriage or child rearing. A child has a right to be raised (and a right to *expect* to be raised) by a mother, not a friend or hired help. And yet, somehow, the painful brutal conflict that Alice and Rebecca discuss is so very easily reduced to "Oedipal conflict."
Why is that?
Is it a reflection of feminism that two women of color who are complicated, nuanced, painfully truthful, and committed to 'the personal is political' can be so easily reduced to squabbling children?
Is it a reflection of feminism that opportunities to self reflect and critically examine what feminism has done, what it's achieved, what it's screwed up, what it still needs to figure out, are considered male identified hate attacks rather than opportunities to become bigger, stronger, more beneficial to more women?
Is it a reflection of feminism that "feminism" as a whole seems to hold itself accountable to pretty much--well--nobody?
That it's simply another trick that people get to use however they see fit to achieve whatever they want?
Because I think that's what so many find so offensive about Rebecca's writing--that she's asking exactly what so many other women, and specifically women of color have asked for-- accountability. Feminism as a whole is demanding things that many women haven't asked for, and is insisting that it is doing it in their names. But when those women demand accountability, when those women say, not in my name, or what were you thinking, or you hurt me--then, suddenly the fun game is up. Then suddenly, the hard work of *movement making* is sitting and staring feminism as a whole in the face. And feminism as a whole refuses to admit--it isn't really sure what the hell to do.
There are many reasons for this, I think--but the biggest one is then women would have to sit down and admit, really admit--feminism is in the process of failing. Failing itself, failing women, failing girls-- but who wants to deal with that when there are more fun things to do like get Hillary into office and write books?
And if we can reduce Rebecca Walker to a whiny petulant brat, keep Alice Walker on a throne instead of in a painful dialogue, feminism can achieve that super fun dream.
But as somebody who will never again call herself a feminist and now approaches most, if not all of "feminism" with caution and trepidation--I have to say--You'd think that the lives of women would mean more to a movement that claims to care about women.