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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Rebecca Walker on her relationship with her mom
    Posted: Jun 06 2008 at 10:21pm

How my mother's fanatical views tore us apart


By Rebecca Walker
Last updated at 1:18 PM on 23rd May 2008


She's revered as a trail-blazing feminist and author Alice Walker touched the lives of a generation of women. A champion of women's rights, she has always argued that motherhood is a form of servitude. But one woman didn't buy in to Alice's beliefs  -  her daughter, Rebecca, 38.

Here the writer describes what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a cultural icon, and why she feels so blessed to be the sort of woman 64-year-old Alice despises  -  a mother.

The other day I was vacuuming when my son came bounding into the room. 'Mummy, Mummy, let me help,' he cried. His little hands were grabbing me around the knees and his huge brown eyes were looking up at me. I was overwhelmed by a huge surge of happiness.

Rebecca%20Walker

Maternal rift: Rebecca Walker, whose mother was the feminist author of The Color Purple - who thought motherhood a form of servitude, is now proud to be a mother herself

I love the way his head nestles in the crook of my neck. I love the way his face falls into a mask of eager concentration when I help him learn the alphabet. But most of all, I simply love hearing his little voice calling: 'Mummy, Mummy.'

It reminds me of just how blessed I am. The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother  -  thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.

You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.

Rebecca

Family love? A young Rebecca with her parents

In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from 'enslaving' me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late  -  I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck.

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.

As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

My mother's feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn't even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.

I love my mother very much, but I haven't seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son  -  her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.

Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world  -  goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.

My parents met and fell in love in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. Dad [Mel Leventhal], was the brilliant lawyer son of a Jewish family who had fled the Holocaust. Mum was the impoverished eighth child of sharecroppers from Georgia. When they married in 1967, inter-racial weddings were still illegal in some states.

My early childhood was very happy although my parents were terribly busy, encouraging me to grow up fast. I was only one when I was sent off to nursery school. I'm told they even made me walk down the street to the school.

Alice%20Walker

Alice Walker believed so strongly that children enslaved their mothers she disowned her own daughter

When I was eight, my parents divorced. From then on I was shuttled between two worlds  -  my father's very conservative, traditional, wealthy, white suburban community in New York, and my mother's avant garde multi-racial community in California. I spent two years with each parent  -  a bizarre way of doing things.

Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa  -  offering herself up as a mother figure.

But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities  -  after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.

My mother would always do what she wanted  -  for example taking off to Greece for two months in the summer, leaving me with relatives when I was a teenager. Is that independent, or just plain selfish?

I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me  -  a 'delightful distraction', but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.

According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio  -  some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.

Sisters together

A neighbour, not much older than me, was deputised to look after me. I never complained. I saw it as my job to protect my mother and never distract her from her writing. It never crossed my mind to say that I needed some time and attention from her.

When I was beaten up at school  -  accused of being a snob because I had lighter skin than my black classmates  -  I always told my mother that everything was fine, that I had won the fight. I didn't want to worry her.

But the truth was I was very lonely and, with my mother's knowledge, started having sex at 13. I guess it was a relief for my mother as it meant I was less demanding. And she felt that being sexually active was empowering for me because it meant I was in control of my body.

Now I simply cannot understand how she could have been so permissive. I barely want my son to leave the house on a play-date, let alone start sleeping around while barely out of junior school.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.

Although I was on the Pill  -  something I had arranged at 13, visiting the doctor with my best friend  -  I fell pregnant at 14. I organised an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl. I don't remember my mother being shocked or upset. She tried to be supportive, accompanying me with her boyfriend.

Although I believe that an abortion was the right decision for me then, the aftermath haunted me for decades. It ate away at my self-confidence and, until I had Tenzin, I was terrified that I'd never be able to have a baby because of what I had done to the child I had destroyed. For feminists to say that abortion carries no consequences is simply wrong.

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father's second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.

There was always food in the fridge and she did all the things my mother didn't, such as attending their school events, taking endless photos and telling her children at every opportunity how wonderful they were.

The%20Color%20Purple

Alice Walker's iconic book was made in to a film in 1985, and starred Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery (pictured)

My mother was the polar opposite. She never came to a single school event, she didn't buy me any clothes, she didn't even help me buy my first bra  -  a friend was paid to go shopping with me. If I needed help with homework I asked my boyfriend's mother.

Moving between the two homes was terrible. At my father's home I felt much more taken care of. But, if I told my mother that I'd had a good time with Judy, she'd look bereft  -  making me feel I was choosing this white, privileged woman above her. I was made to feel that I had to choose one set of ideals above the other.

When I hit my 20s and first felt a longing to be a mother, I was totally confused. I could feel my biological clock ticking, but I felt if I listened to it, I would be betraying my mother and all she had taught me.

I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but over the next ten years the longing became more intense, and when I met Glen, a teacher, at a seminar five years ago, I knew I had found the man I wanted to have a baby with. Gentle, kind and hugely supportive, he is, as I knew he would be, the most wonderful father.

Although I knew what my mother felt about babies, I still hoped that when I told her I was pregnant, she would be excited for me.

'Mum, I'm pregnant'

Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I'd never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed  -  she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?

Worse was to follow. My mother took umbrage at an interview in which I'd mentioned that my parents didn't protect or look out for me. She sent me an e-mail, threatening to undermine my reputation as a writer. I couldn't believe she could be so hurtful  -  particularly when I was pregnant.

Devastated, I asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she'd hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me for things I had no control over  -  the fact that I am mixed-race, that I have a wealthy, white, professional father and that I was born at all.

But she wouldn't back down. Instead, she wrote me a letter saying that our relationship had been inconsequential for years and that she was no longer interested in being my mother. She even signed the letter with her first name, rather than 'Mom'.

That was a month before Tenzin's birth in December 2004, and I have had no contact with my mother since. She didn't even get in touch when he was rushed into the special care baby unit after he was born suffering breathing difficulties.

And I have since heard that my mother has cut me out of her will in favour of one of my cousins. I feel terribly sad  -  my mother is missing such a great opportunity to be close to her family. But I'm also relieved. Unlike most mothers, mine has never taken any pride in my achievements. She has always had a strange competitiveness that led her to undermine me at almost every turn.

When I got into Yale  -  a huge achievement  -  she asked why on earth I wanted to be educated at such a male bastion. Whenever I published anything, she wanted to write her version  -  trying to eclipse mine. When I wrote my memoir, Black, White And Jewish, my mother insisted on publishing her version. She finds it impossible to step out of the limelight, which is extremely ironic in light of her view that all women are sisters and should support one another.

It's been almost four years since I have had any contact with my mother, but it's for the best  -  not only for my self-protection but for my son's well-being. I've done all I can to be a loyal, loving daughter, but I can no longer have this poisonous relationship destroy my life.

I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It's helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it's caused for my contemporaries?

What about the children?

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: 'I'd like a child. If it happens, it happens.' I tell them: 'Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.' As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They've missed the opportunity and they're bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them  -  as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

I hope that my mother and I will be reconciled one day. Tenzin deserves to have a grandmother. But I am just so relieved that my viewpoint is no longer so utterly coloured by my mother's.

I am my own woman and I have discovered what really matters  -  a happy family

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uppitynegroid View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 12:08am
Wow, great post Henny!  I don't knowwhere to start.
 
Regarding her and her mother's difference of opinion:
 
I think my biggest gripe with traditional/feminist women is that they cannot differentiate between personal wants and needs and gross generalizations.  Every woman's place is not in the home.  All women do not see it as their responsiblity to put aside their dreams and aspirations to be a full-time mother.  Likewise the response to that should not necessarily mean that the best way to live your life is to live an extreme life. 
 
Neither Alice or Rebecca are right or wrong.  They are just two human beings with their own thoughts and ideas.  I personally know people who were raised similar to Rebecca and loved it!  I know people who were raised by devoted housewives who think they are pathetic, passive women with no minds of their own.  So Rebecca's ideas are just that, her ideas which are a result of her experienc.
 
Regarding Rebecca's resentment of her mother:
 
I find it sad that the two women do not have a relationship, and I can certainly understand Rebecca's resentment especially after she told her mother about her pregnancy. 
 
Regarding the last line of her article:
 
She has no idea she is just as bad as her mother.  She basically is preaching the exact opposite lifestyle that her mother lived, and claiming it to be the only truth.  Sound familiar?
 
Either way, I think both women are incredibly gifted and intelligent.  I've always enjoyed their work.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 12:25am
WOW!!!
I don't think Rebecca is saying that her way is the only way. I think that her mother has forced her beliefs her whole life. Now she lives an opposite lifestyle.
Alice is wrong for the whole,' i'm no longer interested in being your mother' line.
If she was so against motherhood, why didn't she use birth control?? It was available then. Confused
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 12:46am
Wow, I can relate to her on many levels.  I could be wrong but it seem in certain ways her mother was jealous of her and seemed very selfish in that typical feminist way and although there's always two sides to the story sometimes it's better to cut your losses and stay away from negative family even when it's your own flesh and blood your mother.  I've learned in my own life and experience that I've had to abruptly cut off those who were closet to me my own flesh & blood because they we're killing me emotionally, spiritually, and soon physically.  


Edited by Curlie - Jun 07 2008 at 12:53am
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 12:51am
Rebecca fails to mention those comments usually come after being questioned about your age and why you do not have children.  Most women do not start off in a conversation saying "I want to have kids" but are asked "Do you have kids?"  I can sympathize with those women in their 30's who say "They would like to have a family, if it happens, it happens."  We feel no need to immediately produce children but we are comfortable with the aspect if children are produced we can handle the responsibility. 

IMO, I do find it a bit selfish on Rebecca's behalf to stop speaking to her mother and not allow her child to have any interaction with his grandmother.  Just because your mom isn't jumping up and down about news of your pregnancy.   BTW, who is Rebecca child's father and what were the circumstances of the relationship?  I mean if he was a married man and my daughter called to say she was pregnant. I don't think I'd be showing great emotions either.  I'd probably have to get my thoughts together.  BTW, The only person being harmed is the grandchild.

Co-signing with uppidity.  Not all women are meant to be mothers nor do all women want to be mothers.   We get it already Rebeccca, you had a child.  It changed YOUR life. 


Edited by QueenBee - Jun 07 2008 at 1:05am
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 1:08am
I am shocked at this article. I hope they mend their relationship if not for themselves atleast do it for the child. This is so messed up
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 1:13am
BTW,  Rebecca's got some serious issues

Rebecca Walker, Measuring Out A Mother's Love

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007; Page C04

It's been several years since Rebecca Walker became estranged from her mother, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, a rift that shows no signs of repair. But now that Walker has a new book exploring her nine-month odyssey to childbirth, that mother-daughter relationship has been opened up and dissected again, revealing oftentimes painfully squirmy details. The younger Walker, who is biracial and bisexual, has spent a lifetime -- and a career -- sorting through her issues. Her medium of choice: the memoir, which she likens to ripping off her clothes and strolling through a crowded street.

She's got a knack for self-exposure -- and for courting controversy.

"People are going ballistico," Walker, 37, said Tuesday night after appearing at Borders Books in Tysons Corner. "It's stirring up feelings on both sides."

"It" would be her memoir, "Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence" and a certain chapter where she describes the difference between her love for her teenage stepson, Solomon -- whom she still parents with her ex, the singer-musician (and D.C. native) Me'shell Ndegéocello -- and her love for her biological son, Tenzin.

In it, she wrote: "It's not the same. I don't care how close you are to your adopted son or beloved stepdaughter, the love you have for your non-biological child isn't the same as the love you have for your own flesh and blood. It's different. . . . It isn't something we're proud of, this preferencing of biological children, but if we ever want to close the gap I do think it's something we need to be honest about.

"Yes, I would do anything for my first son, within reason. But I would do anything at all for my second child, without reason, without a doubt."

Then came a profile earlier this month in the New York Times, in which she sharpened the distinction. While she knows that she would "die for" Tenzin, she said, she's not sure she would do the same for her non-biological child.

Infuriated letters to the editors ensued. As did angry postings on her blog RebeccaWalker.com, such as this one: "I do not want to speak for all the infertile women in the world who cannot birth their own 'natural' children but your comments in the NYTimes about adoptive parents not experiencing the same level of love as biological parents were about the most insensitive I have ever experienced."

Walker says she was caught off guard by the fallout. These are her feelings, she says, her truth -- a "brutal truth," as she later put it -- but hers nonetheless. She says she's not trying to denigrate the many different incarnations of family and deem one type of love as lesser. Not lesser. Different.

"I think it's healthy to talk about different kinds of love," she says after the reading. "You love each of your children differently. We have to be comfortable with thinking that there are different kinds of love. . . . I think my first son feels differently about his biological mom than he does me. And I'm fine with that."

As an activist, she says, she's spent years celebrating family in all its guises; right now, she's working on an anthology that explores that very issue, "Walk This Way: Introducing the New American Family." After all, she once contemplated creating her own less-than-traditional family. In her memoir, she describes how she and her long-term female partner (whom she does not identify by name) approached a male friend about fathering a child for them. That union did not yield a child. But after the couple broke up, Walker met Glen (she doesn't provide his last name), her Buddhism teacher. Today, unmarried, the couple live in Maui with their son, Tenzin.

"I salute her for writing about those mixed feelings," says the writer Erica Jong, who, along with her own writer daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, knows something about airing mixed feelings about family ties in memoir.

"But not everyone feels that way. A lot of people feel very intensely about their adopted children. Whatever your feelings are, you should be able to write about them, even though they're taboo feelings."

Walker wrote critically about her famous mother in her first memoir, "Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self," in 2001: "My parents did not hold me close, but encouraged me to go. They did not buffer, protect, watch out for, or look after me. I was mostly left alone to discover the world and my place in it."

Today the two do not speak; Alice Walker has not met her only grandson.

"We are estranged," Rebecca Walker says.

The prospect of parenthood can be harrowing for any Gen X feminist -- so many choices, so little time. Independence vs. the ticktocking clock; the desire to be adventurously autonomous vs. the desire to love and be loved. Factor in a feud with an iconic mother, and for Walker, motherhood was something to be viewed through a haze of ambivalence.

Until she got the call from the doctor's office informing her that her pregnancy was a viable one.

Now, she wants other women contemplating the leap to motherhood to realize this: Fertility is finite.

At the book signing, a woman raises her hand. Like Walker, she is 37. Like Walker, she's been ambivalent about becoming a mother. She's newly married. Can't she just wait a while? Enjoy the honeymoon? Is being a mother worth it?

"What would you tell me?" she asks Walker.

"It's totally worth it. You don't have much time. Get to it."

Pause. "I'm so sorry."

Walker laughs. Ruefully. And the small crowd -- all female save for one lone male -- laughs with her.










Edited by QueenBee - Jun 07 2008 at 1:16am
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 1:16am
Originally posted by QueenBee QueenBee wrote:

Rebecca fails to mention those comments usually come after being questioned about your age and why you do not have children.  Most women do not start off in a conversation saying "I want to have kids" but are asked "Do you have kids?"  I can sympathize with those women in their 30's who say "They would like to have a family, if it happens, it happens."  We feel no need to immediately produce children but we are comfortable with the aspect if children are produced we can handle the responsibility. 

IMO, I do find it a bit selfish on Rebecca's behalf to stop speaking to her mother and not allow her child to have any interaction with his grandmother.  Just because your mom isn't jumping up and down about news of your pregnancy.   BTW, who is Rebecca child's father and what were the circumstances of the relationship?  I mean if he was a married man and my daughter called to say she was pregnant. I don't think I'd be showing great emotions either.  I'd probably have to get my thoughts together.  BTW, The only person being harmed is the grandchild.

Co-signing with uppidity.  Not all women are meant to be mothers nor do all women want to be mothers.   We get it already Rebeccca, you had a child.  It changed YOUR life. 
 
If my mom wrote me a letter saying that she was no longer interested in being my mother, I wouldn't bother bringing my child around her. I would assume that if she wasn't interested in being my mom, she wouldn't be all that hype about being a grandma.
I don't see what the nature of her relationship with the child's father has to do with her mother neglecting, trying to outshine her, disowning her.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 2:02am
From Article: Although I knew what my mother felt about babies, I still hoped that when I told her I was pregnant, she would be excited for me.  Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I'd never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed  -  she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?

Question: Why did she disapprove of Rebecca being pregnant?  What were the circumstance surrounding Rebecca's pregnancy? Is Alice's reaction not normal?  Have any of us received news that we were unable to comment on for a moment and then change the subject..ie meaning you need time to get your thoughts together.  Wati, but she mentioned she already knew how Alice felt about babies, so why was Rebecca in shock and awe to Alice's response?  Therefore, why would Alice be deliberatly withholding her approval of Rebecca's pregnancy to hurt her. 




Edited by QueenBee - Jun 07 2008 at 2:05am
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 07 2008 at 2:02am
Wow! Of course there's three sides to this story, Rebecca's, Alice's and the truth! If Alice's version is the truth, well then I empathize. No female child should have to grow up that way, void of a bond between mother & daughter.
 
I actually share some of the same views as Alice. I tell my daughter all the time, don't worry about having children. Go to college, choose your career, enjoy your free time....your own time, live your life as you please. Then when you are done, when you are good and ready, when you have met the man that treats you like a queen...the same way your step-dad treated both you and I, then you can begin to think about children. Its not that I'm potraying parenting as an enslavement to women entirely. I just believe that motherhood can be an enslavement for YOUNG CHILDREN (12-25)! I put 25, but I'd rather my daughter have a child upon turning 30 or after...but not to much later than that.
 
I too didn't allow my daughter to play with "baby dolls", and "Barbies". I didn't want her playing "house" and all that..to see other children do it, made me cringe. Instead, her room was filled with books, leapfrogs, boardgames, videogames, kiddy-cameras, etc.
 
I do believe though, that is of utmost importance to express the love you have for your child, in a way that they can feel it. I have a strong bond with my daughter. I am constantly praising her for her accomplishments, and efforts. I always tell her how beautiful she is to ME! We tell each other "I love you" atleast twice a day...my mother and I may say this to each other 2 times a year, even though we have a tight bond. So I think that is extra icing on the cake.  I would never want my daughter to feel like she's navigating throgh this world alone.
 
I'm just sorry that Tenzin will have to grow up the same way his mom did...without having a relationship with Alice...repaeting a vicious cycle. Maybe its best annyway...then again, maybe not! :-( Its a shame.
 
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