Feminist and author Alice Walker and her daughter, Rebecca Walker, have been at odds over motherhood. Rebecca, after so much prose about snuggling and the like with her son, says:
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.
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.
I can't help but feel that Rebecca is a bitter (adult) child, who wishes her mother was the fantasy mother so many of us feel pressured to be by society. No doubt, Rebecca feels her mother was selfish -- but there is also no doubt that she herself has benefited from the very thing that she feels abused by: feminism.
I think few people appreciate their mothers; even fewer appreciate mothers who have dedicated so much of their lives to careers, including movements. And this is less likely to be done when it is fathers who have taken on such dedication of purpose. Do we call presidents, leaders, and activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. "selfish"? No. And it's not because their children didn't miss their fathers. But they were taught to understand their purpose. And, of course, there were mothers there to pick up all the slack from men who were, if not always away, not focused on their children so much.
But even on a smaller scale, raising a child comes with responsibilities which can and often do interfere with one's personal goals. And tradition places this more squarely on the shoulders of women. Mothers are expected to assume these duties as if this is their calling, their one true purpose and joy, to the exclusion or detriment of anything else. This belief is not just in my head either.
Employers, especially men (who still hold the majority of powerful positions regarding hiring, firing, and pay), view that it is difficult for mothers to be successful traders because connecting with a child is a focus “killer.”
Rebecca Walker can enjoy her role as mother. She may find it her greatest passion, her destiny, her true purpose -- even to the exclusion of anything else. Good for her if she has found her bliss.
However, for many of us, motherhood is far more complicated.
We struggle with our own identities and feelings of fulfillment beyond the role -- however enjoyed -- of Mother. We don't want to choose between parenting and careers -- but the very fact that we feel forced to see parenthood as a choice is a millstone around our necks. Many of us struggle feeling pulled in different directions or parent or provider, of mother or person. Why should we have to choose? Why should we be blamed or suffer finger-waves like Rebecca's for wanting something "more" than motherhood?
Heck, many of us wish we had the luxury to even view role of parent and role of provider as options -- for providing for our children in a world which not only prevents us equal pay, but control over our own bodies, leaves us with no choices at all. Just millstones everywhere you look!
If we, including Alice Walker herself, are to respect Rebecca's feelings and choices -- shouldn't Rebecca respect ours too?
Motherhood should be a choice. Yes, "Choice" with a capital "C". As well as a choice women are less imprisoned by -- and that includes the right to feel that we are people, not only mothers, and to pursue things which take us away from our children.