I spotted this on Stand Your Ground:
The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother
In the mid-1980s, The New York Times ran a profile of the American writer and activist Alice Walker. Her novel, The Color Purple, had won the Pulitzer prize and was being turned into a film by Steven Spielberg.
The article was illustrated by a photograph of Walker sitting on her teenaged daughter’s knee. It was meant to be a “fun” picture; but, in retrospect, according to Rebecca Walker, the photographer unwittingly portrayed the true nature of her relationship with her mother.
Alice Walker was, and remains, an icon of the American civil rights movement. “People adore her. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘Your mother saved my life’ and ‘I have an altar to your mother in my bedroom’. They feel a connection to her and revere her greatly,” says Rebecca.
Walker’s success as a campaigner was to her detriment as a mother. Like Dickens’s Mrs Jellyby, who neglects her home and her children as she directs her energy towards the poor of Africa, so America’s icon often went to feminist meetings and rallies and left Rebecca to fend for herself. Her daughter experimented with drugs and became pregnant at 14.
I am not surprised that there is a rift between them. That seems to happen quite frequently whenever a person is primarily an activist. Their relationships with their families suffer greatly. However, in this instance there is a bit of irony to it (which does not seem to be lost on Rebecca) because Alice Walker spent so much effort pushing for the recognition of many of the problems her own daughter faced as a result of what appears to be her poor parenting skills. There is another moment of irony when Walker finds out her daughter is pregnant. Rather than being shocked she simply arranges for an abortion, but it does not seem like that was something Rebecca wanted to do. Perhaps the greatest irony is that once Walker and her allies created a new establishment of feminist power they (unsurprisingly) rejected any attempt to challenge their status quo. They created the exact same kind of “we make the rules, you follow” system that so many of them resoundingly objected to.
Rebecca Walker makes some interesting comments about feminism, many of which feminists probably find inflammatory (I am certain Rebecca’s claims of sexual abuse within feminist compounds will be readily dismissed as will her claim that her mother’s feminism is “close to a cult”), but I think her most intriguing on is this:
“I keep telling people feminism is an experiment. And just like in science, you have to assess the outcome of the experiment and adjust according to your results, but my mother and her friends, they see it as truth; they don’t see it as an experiment.
“So that creates quite a problem. You’ve got young women saying, ‘That didn’t really work for me’ and the older ones saying, ‘Tough, because that’s how it should be’.”
While she may have been speaking about feminists like her mother, similar reactions occur with second and third-wave feminisms too. There is no room for substantive examination or discussion, only the acceptance of the positions as fact and truth. That may simply be a result of the nature of the ideology and its inherent similarities to religious philosophies. It may also be an extension of the anger and frustration of those who are part of the movements and the fact that someone is seeking to alter something these people worked hard to create.