Recently, I posted about Rebecca Walker’s comments on feminism and her mother Alice Walker. I personally found her comments insightful. However, there are some feminists who seem to think Rebecca is scapegoating feminism in the midst of an adult temper-tantrum. Hugo Schwyzer posted his opinions about Rebecca’s comments and her upcoming book on his blog:
Those already pre-disposed against feminism will happily quote the younger Walker’s anti-feminist screeds as “evidence” that feminism destroys families. I have no intention of defending Alice Walker’s poor parenting; assuming her daughters’ charges are true (and that may be a big assumption), the elder Walker was a failure on multiple counts. But what both Walkers may be guilty of is the classic sin of explaining poor personal choices as the inevitable consequence of ideological commitments.
If Rebecca Walker’s allegations about her mother are true, then Alice made some poor parenting decisions. Lots of people make bad decisions about child-rearing. Many have abused their children in the name of one particular ideology or faith. If Alice Walker used feminism to justify her poor treatment of Rebecca, that is no more an indictment of feminism than the physical abuse of a child by fundamentalist parents who misunderstood the whole “spare the rod” line is an indictment of all of Christianity.
There’s something terribly sad in Rebecca Walker’s piece, filled as it is with a mix of self-righteous rage and childish pain. But she has chosen to profit from that pain, and chosen to confuse her mother’s private betrayal with her mother’s public commitments. And though the younger Walker may deserve pity and sympathy, her wild and silly claims about feminism ought also elicit exasperation and firm rebuke.
Technically speaking, Rebecca’s comments about feminism’s negative impact on her childhood are no different than Alice’s comments the Patriarchy’s negative impact on herself and other women. If the latter is acceptable and not considered excuse-making or whining, then the former should be treated no differently regardless of the person’s age. While it is much more soothing to pretend that people who follow various ideological views exist in a vacuum that keeps them and the views forever separate and prevents those views from ever impacting the person’s behavior towards others (particularly their family), that kind of thinking is, ironically, little more than an excuse.
As is true with any other instances, people no more want to believe that the views they hold are capable of causing others harm anymore than people are willing to believe that a mother would treat her child with the callousness and apathy Rebecca described. That is why there is an inherent contradiction in stating that Rebecca is “blaming” feminism for making one woman a bad mother while linking to a post exalting feminism for making another woman a better mother.
What I find more disturbing is the total dismissal of Rebecca’s experiences. That in and of itself is shameful, particularly given that many on Alice Walker’s side chastise others for not believing women’s claims of abuse. It is more unfortunate that there appears to be an unwillingness to accept that feminism can be and is just as toxic as any other ideology. No ideology makes a person bad anymore than it makes a person good, but it certainly impacts that person’s character, that person’s choices and that person’s treatment others. Again, this can be seen in the inherent contradiction of dismissing Rebecca’s experiences as “self-righteous rage and childish pain” and “wild and silly claims about feminism” while claiming that “countless others […] raised by parents of Alice Walker’s generation […] can attest to the marvelous parenting skills of those who embraced a commitment to radical egalitarianism!”
Coincidentally, Hugo’s assertions support Rebecca’s comments about feminists and feminism:
“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’.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be the reaction some feminists are having towards Rebecca’s comments. Feminism cannot possibly be flawed, imperfect, toxic or abusive and by proxy neither can anyone who is* a feminist. This notion is not coincidental. It is necessary because the opposite assertion is held to be true, i.e. feminism improves and betters the lives of everyone it touches.
However, on this much I do agree: there comes a point where one can no longer hold one’s parents responsible for every harm that they may have caused or allowed to occur. Once one is an adult one must begin to take responsibility for one’s own life and stop worrying about how awful things were in the past. That will not make the pain go away and it certainly will not answer all of one’s questions, but in order to move forward one must stop looking back. The choices before Rebecca are to not subject her son to feminism and to deal with her issues about her childhood in way that does not cause the exact same neglect and apathy feminism fostered in Alice Walker.
* This is a rather a shaky point because whenever it comes to instances in which it is clear feminism had a negative effect on someone, the issue then turns to whether or not the harmful and/or abusive person is really a feminist or just someone using the title.