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Is There Room For Motherhood In Feminism? (Amended)

09 Feb

Is it Possible to be Both?

Whilst doing some research on LGBTI/Q (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex and Queer) issues for one of our in-house brown bag lunch sessions at a gender equality organisation I used to work at a couple of years back,  I decided to look up two of my favourite bisexual/ lesbian women Tracy Chapman and The Colour Purple author Alice Walker. WARNING: I shall now digress a little from the actual story as I feel that the recounting of the following exchange has some bearing, however minute, to the story and simply because I find it funny if not tragic. This search was prompted by a male colleague’s comment in response to my revelation about Tracy Chapman’s sexual orientation after I had just introduced him to her amazing music. He had finished listening to Chapman’s New Beginning album and had given her a raving review and I was quite pleased with myself (one would think I was her manager the way I was so chuffed with myself). Just seconds after I had casually shared the information and how I thought it was amazing that one of the world’s best African American writers and the most brilliant folk musicians of all time had been romantically involved sometime in the mid-nineties he quickly took back his praises and replaced them with “why are you making me listen to this? Do I look gay to you?” I was gobsmacked to say the least and it took me a few seconds to gather my thoughts and chastise him.

When I returned to my desk after this exchange and as a result thereof I thought to tackle the issue (LGBTI/Q) from the celebrity angle in our session. “I am pretty sure a lot of people who are against same sex coupling are not aware of how many of their idols are in such relationships whether it’s outside the closet or so deeply in it, it may as well be an underground nuclear bomb bunker” I thought to myself so I looked up Walker. I felt she was a good place to start because I was pretty sure anyone worth their salt (and their uncle) has an inkling of knowledge about her and her Pulitzer winning novel and world acclaimed movie. What I found however, was a little disheartening I must say. Now, at that stage in my life I had refused to call myself a feminist simply because I preferred to think of myself as a humanitarian as I, in essence,  fight for everyone’s rights including those of men but feminist I was, am and always will be, this I know now, in as much as I abhor being limited to a singular cause. That is why Alice’s pitiful relationship with her only daughter Rebecca Walker left me wondering, at the time, if as a feminist I was trading in my ability to be a good mother to the children I wish to one day have/ adopt. Was my apathy towards marriage going to be a huge contributing factor for my children’s disfunctionality (I think that should be made a real word. Memo to self: get in touch with Oxford and Collins dictionaries people)?

Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker

According to the findings that resulted in my digging then, I must admit I haven’t really looked into it since, Rebecca felt that her feminist mother was so concerned with being the heroine to all women, she forgot about being her heroine and that her refusal to subscribe to the world’s patriarchal societal norms subsequently became her refusal to be her mother. She described her mother in her novel Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence (funny how the apple really does not fall too far from the proverbial tree. Look at me.) as a dispassionate woman who neglected her. I found myself wondering that although this was true to Alice Walker, was it true of all feminists? Do we forget our obligations to our children the second we set that Victoria’s Secret 34 D bra on fire? Ours is no walk in the park and it most certainly requires a certain amount of dedication, ovaries of steel and a few sacrifices along the way but is that still justification for us turning our backs on our duties as parents, for those of us who make the choice to bring a child into the world? The obligation to be a good parent is one that rests on both parents and is no more the mother’s obligation than it is the father’s but in the same token should feminist mothers relinquish this obligation when they feel that they are not being met halfway by their partners and will therefore be found guilty of playing into a role delegated them by men? I was really perturbed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that women should spend their lives bare foot and pregnant standing at a kitchen sink but your child should never go through primary school and high school with you never having attended a swimming gala, dance recital, rugby match or prize giving night because you are too busy writing a report, or appearing on TV or having dinner with clients. It is great to establish good professional relationships but never at the expense of your relationship with your child. Gender equality is something close and dear to my heart and I pray to Mother Earth that I live to see the day when men start to value women as their equals and like wise women start to value themselves as men’s equals and not view feminists as a bunch of Godless, immoral, self serving and superior women and I will fight for that day for as long as I am still breathing but when I have children that fight will have to make do with coming second to my fight to give my children the very best of me.

I will fight for a child’s rights before the rights of any adult and perhaps that is why I made the shift from fighting for women’s rights (8 to 5) to fighting for children’s rights as my official job. I strongly believe that when a person, man or woman, makes the choice to bring a life into this sometimes harsh and cruel world then their priorities change as a result of that choice. If one can go through life balancing their roles as a parent and as a professional or spouse then that is ideal indeed but if a person ever reaches a cross roads and finds themselves having to pick one or the other then the lot should fall to the child. I have had the opportunity to discuss the issue further since then with fellow “professional” feminists and they have highlighted that it can feel like a mammoth task at times, this balancing act and at times they fall short but they also state that this acknowledgement is “not really a consolation if you feel like the only person in the school whose mother didn’t show up (not counting the girl whose family was banned off school property after stealing cakes at prize giving!!)” says Pat Brickhill, friend, feminist and writer. Rebecca Walker believes that one shouldn’t let feminists tell them that it’s impossible to be a mother and stay sane, active, creative, and productive. “It is possible,” says the younger Walker and I believe this to be true.

Photo: MAURO FERMARIELLO Caption: Mother looking after her child while she works in a sewing school in the Gulu region of Uganda.

Women like Alice Walker give me hope as a feminist, through her writing (as an aspiring writer myself) and her work with Women for Women International (a non-profit organisation that supports women survivors of war) in how much a woman can do in the fight for the rights of women the world over but her less than desirable relationship with Rebecca presented a scarier side of feminism to me in that moment. I am glad to say that I have learnt a few things since. I have learnt first and foremost, that all women are feminists by virtue of being born women and to quote a good friend of mine, Ottilia Maunganidze, “try as many might, our XX is so inextricably linked with feminism… of course, some of us suffer from patriarchal society induced Stockholm Syndrome and fail to let the fact that we are inherently feminists out… but that’s not to say we aren’t”. The woman in the rural areas who’s in a polygamous and abusive marriage but still gets up every morning to fight till she sheds blood, sweat and tears to ensure that her children and even said husband and extended family have food and shelter by labouring in harsh conditions in the fields, walking for kilometres and kilometres to the nearest market to sell whatever she has managed to harvest is both a feminist and a mother. Feminism is not limited to standing on soap-boxes and calling for the castration of all men, nor is it limited to possessing a post graduate degree in Gender Studies and it is most certainly not limited to writing articles or blogging on women’s rights. It is instead, your agency and subsequent daily fight for your survival as a woman and claiming whatever spot YOU choose in this world as your own. I also learnt that there most certainly is room in feminism for motherhood. More than enough and the failure to see, acknowledge and celebrate this is as a result of a personal character flaw and not a collective one.

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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in Gender, Reflections

 

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