May 24, 2008

"Brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman."

"I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother."

And I very nearly missed out on linking to this article — because I've already written about Rebecca Walker and, even then, I felt put off by the way this woman is getting too much publicity saying thoroughly conventional things — motherhood is fulfilling — while being the daughter of a writer (Alice Walker) who had to build her fame by coming up with interesting new things to say and now has a daughter who manufactures fame out of expressing hostility toward her famous mother.

But this article is getting a fair amount of attention. Michelle Malkin is saying: "Print this out and send it to every young liberal woman you know."

So I read it. This struck me:
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'.
But wait. You are the one trying to undermine her reputation. What is she supposed to do? Write articles portraying you as lying or exaggerating or nutty? She seems to be keeping her silence. I'm back to my original instinct: Look away.

47 comments:

dbp said...

Ann said, "You are the one trying to undermine her reputation. What is she supposed to do?"

I don't think Rebecca is trying to undermine her mom's reputation as a writer or even as a feminist; she is trying to reveal the true nature of doctrinaire feminism.

If Alice Walker believes her behavior was consistent with her philosophy--why not just defend in in those terms? Making threats is not what people do when they can justify their actions.

Maguro said...

I felt put off by the way this woman is getting too much publicity saying thoroughly conventional things — motherhood is fulfilling

You're missing the point. The idea that motherhood was fulfilling was not clearly not the conventional wisdom in the Walker household. So much so that Alice Walker disowned her 40-something daughter when she decided to become a mother.

Certainly the author has an axe to grind, but I thought it was an interesting story on where radical feminist ideology can lead.

Ann Althouse said...

Eh. I'm not missing that point. It's blatantly obvious. It's just not the point I choose to talk about. Are you so hungry for a messenger on that particular point that you'll snap up anything? What do you know about Alice Walker's behavior that isn't coming from this unreliable messenger?

Fausta said...

How much more reliable a messenger does she need be?

P. Rich said...

Alice Walker: angry black radical feminist narcissistic word merchant - and her twisted progeny. Yep, we need more of those to enrich society. Or not.

Eva said...

Adults who whine about how terrible their parents are/were always seem so stuck in perpetual adolescence.

Anyway, she's just preaching to the converted. People who think feminists hate children will shout amen and buy her book. Just read the comments on Malkin. I mean don't you know that feminists are all lesbians?

Everyone else will just roll their eyes.

knoxwhirled said...

Are you so hungry for a messenger on that particular point that you'll snap up anything

Well, yeah, to some extent. It's an ugly story, but how else can we get a first-hand account? I for one am very interested to hear stories like this. Remember Norman Mailer's poor son...

Morath and Miller also had a son, Daniel, who has Down’s syndrome and who Miller insisted be sent to a “home” from infancy, reportedly because he did not want Rebecca [Mailer's daughter] to grow up with “a mongoloid”. Daniel’s mother visited him regularly, his father did not.

These are people who've been revered as intellectual heroes for years. Specifically, Alice Walker has been telling women how to live an authentic life since, what, the 70s? I am all attention when it comes to hearing how the application of her methods played out for her daughter. Sounds pretty horrendous.

knoxwhirled said...

People who think feminists hate children will shout amen and buy her book.

Feminists have had very specific ideas over the years, about motherhood and how much a woman should sacrifice for her kids. To my mind, we are really only beginning to see the results of how these ideas have affected our society. I abhor "family values" debates, but here's one I think we need to have.

Maguro said...

Are you so hungry for a messenger on that particular point that you'll snap up anything?

Hmmm, loaded question. Let me put it this way: What's interesting about the article is that it describes how radical feminist theory is practically applied to a true believer's own family.

What do you know about Alice Walker's behavior that isn't coming from this unreliable messenger?

A better question would be: What do you know about Alice Walker - from her literature and public statements - that is inconsistent with the person her daughter described?

Troy said...

It's always good to hear about the behavior of old-dog feminists. Angry and bitter to the end. Alice Walker's biography was written from the beginning. She'll die angry and alone. (Probably in a room full of people.)

The point is not blatantly obvious to a lot of folks who might think Alice Walker sure is mean and her daughter is a publicity whore. Yes and maybe... BUT these behaviors are very real and very predictable consequences of a morally bankrupt (not to mention impractical) radical feminist world-view. She's the old one on Sex and the City right?

michael farris said...

Just on the basis of the quotes, the daughter sounds like a major attention whore.

I have no idea if that's fair or not, but she runs through just about every cliche from whiny adults who blame their problems on their parents I've heard.

My advice (since everyone is asking).

Alice : maintain a dignified silence and let your daughter make her own choices.

Rebecca : grow up and stop dragging your mother's name through the mud, if you want a relationship with her stop trying to get her to 'acknowledge' your version of history, if not then leave the rest of the world out of it.

SGT Ted said...

Alice Walker gets all kinds of accolades and awards as a "sensitive, insightful" writer and by inferrence, a caring, wonderful human being. When she is anything but that.

AW is a narcissist, doctrinaire left-feminist who shit on her own daughter and disowned her in the name of her political ideology. "Sisterhood" my ass. She deserves to be exposed for the person she is, just like every other pious political hypocrite.

Ann, it sounds like you're upset someone you admire has been exposed to be something completely different from the crafted public persona and mythology. It sounds like you're blaming the victim, Ann.

mcg said...

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.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. I really don't have any sympathy for Alice Walker here. I frankly think that Rebecca Walker is right: to the degree that Alice's own apparent and explicit contempt for motherhood has spread to other women, she has done society damage. Rebecca is right to call her on it privately and publicly.

Mr. Yoshimoto said...

Too many Mother's get off on neglecting and misguiding their children and potentially giving them enough of a mind fuck that they struggle for the rest of their lives trying to shrug off years of shitty advice and guidance. I say too bad for Alice Walker, you reap what you sow.

Fen said...

Just on the basis of the quotes, the daughter sounds like a major attention whore.

Which could easily be a result of her family environment when she was a child...

"asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she'd hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me"

dbp said...

Ann said: "What do you know about Alice Walker's behavior that isn't coming from this unreliable messenger?"

We don't know how reliable or unreliable Rebecca is. I haven't read any of Alice Walker, but if she has written about children as if they are burdensome--it would be pretty natural for her daughter to take that personally.

Just based on what is in the article, resentment is not entirely justified.

"My mother had me - a 'delightful distraction', but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting."

Her mother referring to Rebecca as a "delightful distraction" and of course the fact of not aborting her indicate some interest in her daughter. Alice Walker may not have been a good mother, but all indications are that she had more interest in it than one would expect; given her written output.

montana urban legend said...

Stated another way:

"You are the one trying to undermine her reputation. What is she supposed to do?"

If she's undermining anything, she's undermining her "reputation" as a mother, not as a writer. The mother's response is apparently instead to try undermining the daughter's reputation as a writer.

The problem with these discussions is that they often seem to confuse some rather obvious distinctions between overlapping roles.

Mortimer Brezny said...

What do you know about Alice Walker's behavior that isn't coming from this unreliable messenger?

That Michella Obama needs to slap some sense into that bitch.

Freeman Hunt said...

But isn't this the exact sort of article you asked for in your earlier post?

I'd rather hear Walker tell about that estrangement from the famous writer/mother.

and

Yet there's nothing in this article that connects the mother's feminism to the daughter's estrangement.

Now in this new article, she is talking about the estrangement from her mother and connecting it to her mother's feminism.

Chip Ahoy said...

My friend Toni had this thing about her mother. I heard lots and lots about her. I imagined her to be a monster. When I finally met her, she turned out to be a real hoot. One of the funniest women I ever been around. Sort of like a female Thurston Howell III except even funnier. She was the first person to buy a painting from me. (She has a lot of art and now mine is at the center of it) When we were together Toni persistently objected to some of her mother's best material. That told me the bug was up the daughter's bum, not the mother's, as I had been led to believe. This caused me to become even further perplexed by mother / daughter relationships.

My own mother, who wasn't all that big on motherhood, has two daughters, one angelic and the other nearly evil and more closely resembles her. Weird innit? Us boys thought the girls were like aliens. None have deigned to write books about each other.

I'm back to my original instinct ... Me too.

michael farris said...

"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."

This isn't a request it's a list of demands.
And how is a person supposed to react to it? Especially if it's not their perception that they neglected, withheld affection from or resented the person making the demand? Especially since the normal reaction to such a list of demands is, in fact, resentment?

michael farris said...

In Walker the younger's defense, this is in the Daily Mail which is several steps below the National Enquirer in terms of credibility (it's a guilty pleasure of mine, full of the kind of self-righteous anger I find hilarious).

And, although it's ostensibly in the first person, it's exactly in the same style as everything else in the Daily Mail (down to British 'mummy').
Either she's an awful writer with the same style as the Mail, a brilliant writer who's able to morph her style to fit the surroundings or it's been ghosted/rewritten by a staff goon.

John Stodder said...

That intellectuals and artists can be dreadful people and jaw-dropping hypocrites is pretty well-established by now. Paul Johnson wrote a wicked little book about it.

I guess Rebecca's story matters only insofar as Alice Walker ever sought to change society to fit her ideology. I get the sense she's more revered as a storyteller than a policy guide, so it seems gratuitous.

Maybe Rebecca's therapist suggested this course. Or her agent. It's been a pretty good gig for Augusten Burroughs.

Hey said...

Alice is one of the guiding lights behind "womanism" - an ideology even more vile than radical feminism because it relies on racial essentialism as well as gender exclusivity. Feminism is an unjust construction of the white oppressors and only woman of color can speak to or even comprehend the issues that they face. In other words - relativist authoritarian nihillism.

That Alice Walker is an unspeakably vile person who has intentionally destroyed her own family in pursuit of her own ideological purism is unsurprising but it is a truth that needs to be disseminated.

Any ideology that aims to shout down people based on their gender, culture, or ethnic background is a font of Evil. Nothing of value can come from it and it is just of a piece with other such ideologies. Racism and sexism are not ameliorated simply because the bigot isn't a white male.

Was "Mommy Dearest" the trash work of an attention whore, or was it an interesting and insightful portrait of the hidden side of a "well known" individual? Rebecca Walker is simply reaping the backlash of ante-diluvian feminists who are threatened by the revelation of the truth about the "leading lights" of the movement and the deeply misanthropic nature of the radical's philosophy. Equality of treatment as humans is essential - white, black, brown, prince, pauper, man, woman all are free individuals of inherent dignity, sovereign over their own affairs. Radical feminists and womanists who have tried to deny biology, elevate certain groups above others, and pursue Marxist destruction of Western society are criminals in line with the Taliban, Stalin, et al.

Rebecca is a hero for helping us to recognize and remediate the crimes of her mother and fellow travelers.

vbspurs said...

Yes!

I just read this on my Kindle (woo, Boston Globe free 14-day trial). I immediately thought of Althouse, and sure enough, you posted on it.

Whilst I am no fan of feminists, and I feel very deeply for Rebecca Walker, I have to say that self-involved mums are nothing new to the world.

Ted Williams, the legendary Boston Red Sox player, had a horrible childhood.

His mother was a Salvation Army volunteer, whose mothering and caring of her own family took a very second place to her charitable works.

Consequently, her home was a mess, her children early latchkey kids and Ted felt embarrassed to bring home but the closest of his friends, who wouldn't laugh at the threadbare furniture, and piles of dishes.

This is but one example I can mention. I've read of so many others.

I see a pattern here. It's not about feminism, exactly.

It's about women who feel it is more important to save the world, than to pay attention to their own family.

I presume for them the osmosis of their values or the example they show to their children, is how they view their contributions to child-rearing.

You see, to them, their life's purpose transcends mere banalities like loving and paying attention to your kid every day...

Cheers,
Victoria

Oligonicella said...

So, the neglected child is to "buck up" and keep quiet, never letting others know what their opinion is of someone they see as a crappy parent?

Why?

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

I happen to agree with her assessment. People without family (a happy one is best) will be no more than dusty text in a century. Those with, will live on.

michael farris said...

"So, the neglected child is to "buck up" and keep quiet, never letting others know what their opinion is of someone they see as a crappy parent?"

IMO the neglected child has two basic options: 1) Let others know 2) Try to improve the relationship.
Trying to do both is expecting to have your cake and eat it too.

Now I wouldn't be surprised if Walker the elder wasn't a very good mother in many ways and may have acted gracelessly regarding her daughter's metamorphisis.
(And I wouldn't be surprised if RWalker is rewriting her personal history to make herself feel better about her current life choices.) There's no real way for an outsider to know the real story.

But I think there's no reason to suspect that her daughter would have been any happier with her had she behaved as her daughter wished her too.
R Walker, it seems, essentially wanted her mother to either be a different kind of person with different values (how?) or to have made herself miserable by leading the kind of life the daughter finds fulfilling now which most likely would have made her mother miserable (which would have affected the daughter too).

knoxwhirled said...

It's about women who feel it is more important to save the world, than to pay attention to their own family...

You see, to them, their life's purpose transcends mere banalities like loving and paying attention to your kid every day...


Feminism very handily exploited the phenomenon Victoria describes by telling women that simply the act of going to work instead of staying at home for a few years and raising their own kids is an important and world-saving act.

So you can avoid the banalities of staying at home for a few years child-rearing, and double your household income, all while doing a service for mankind. Convenient.

knoxwhirled said...

But I think there's no reason to suspect that her daughter would have been any happier with her had she behaved as her daughter wished her too.[sic]

Right, because what child needs attention and affection?

Seriously, I agree with you that an unhappy mom is not going to be the best. But even my most career-driven friend would never do the stuff to her kids Rebecca Walker describes. If you choose not to believe her, OK. But don't excuse the treatment she endured.

michael farris said...

"If you choose not to believe her, OK. But don't excuse the treatment she endured."

I don't "choose not to believe her" I profess ignorance of the true situation.
And I don't much like her handling the situation as an adult even if everything happened exactly as she said.

knoxwhirled said...

I profess ignorance of the true situation.

Well, ok, but then... why offer an opinion.

Joan said...

I was going to pull the same quote as knoxwhirled, the one questioning whether Rebecca would've been happier if her mother had acted as she wanted.

I'm pretty sure Rebecca would've been happier to come home to a refrigerator with food in it, and to have a mother that was more engaged in her life than leaving her money and letting her manage her own affairs as a junior high student. Why would Rebecca make that stuff up? If she is making it up, why are we not hearing the other side of the story?

Alice writing and describing their relationship as "inconsequential" sounds heartless to me. Indifference is the opposite of love.

Revenant said...

Just on the basis of the quotes, the daughter sounds like a major attention whore.

Then again, children who were neglected and unloved often grow up to be major attention whores, so that's not inconsistent.

blake said...

Feminism seemed obsessed with the notion that men had the "real" jobs and that women needed to be able to do them, too.

It was, in its own way, an insult to children everywhere.

blake said...

Substitute "allowed" for "able" above.

I agree with the "allowed" part but not the denigration of "woman's work" part.

vbspurs said...

Knoxwhirled wrote:

Feminism very handily exploited the phenomenon Victoria describes by telling women that simply the act of going to work instead of staying at home for a few years and raising their own kids is an important and world-saving act.

Feminism covers an arc of motivations, but what you said is basically their overriding principle.

1- Self-actualise yourself.

2- Be more ambitious than just mothering a child, and running a home.

These are two deadly exhortations in bringing up children with ironically the very sense of self-worth they need to go out and do this.

So you can avoid the banalities of staying at home for a few years child-rearing, and double your household income, all while doing a service for mankind. Convenient.

Chilling.

I'm sure with the aging of the feminist movement, we'll get a lot of these Mommie Dearest memoirs.

Oh wait. Joan Crawford was one of these ladies too...

Heck, she even ran PepsiCo for a while.

Loved her as an actress (she's my favourite), but man, thank God I wasn't her kid.

Cheers,
Victoria

Finn Kristiansen said...

On the one hand there is something small about complaining about one's parents, no matter how bad they were at the task of raising you. We all have issues with some aspect of how were raised.

On the other hand, I have never liked Alice Walker, in part because she was the chief source of my having to sit in a "women's literature" class at Rutgers and listen to a young female classmate assure me that indeed many of my male ancestors probably were very nasty and would resort to having sex with animals when real cooch was in short supply.

Thank you Alice.

So having her daughter giving her a little discomfort is fine with me.

rhhardin said...

I call for a national passive-aggressive day to honor the institution of motherhood.

Joan said...

Passive-aggressive?

I must be missing something. Please explain how the term applies to Rebecca's memoirs, which are directly critical of her mother.

Oligonicella said...

michael farris --

IMO the neglected child has two basic options: 1) Let others know 2) Try to improve the relationship.

Lessee, she tried to share her life with her mother and was rejected (#2). THEN she wrote about it.

Her mother was the one to make the two incompatible, not her.

former law student said...

a daughter who manufactures fame out of expressing hostility toward her famous mother.

Alice Walker seems to be merely reaping what she sowed. Rebecca has enumerated verifiable facts about her childhood. If instead,Alice really baked her cookies weekly, made sure she did her homework, and tucked her in bed every night, she should be able to establish that. If she does not, Alice will leave the impression she was a monstrous egotist. As someone who appreciates muckraking and iconoclasm, I am now inclined to read Rebecca's book.

I await Ann's refutation of Mommie Dearest and rehabilitation of Joan Crawford.

michael farris said...

"Alice Walker seems to be merely reaping what she sowed."

So might Rebecca. Telling the world it's impossible to love an adopted child as much as a biological one is bound to make her own adopted child feel wonder. There should be some interesting repercussions in about 20 years.

knoxwhirled said...

*realized I wrote "Norman Mailer" above instead of Arthur Miller. I always get them mixed up. I also mix Arthur Murray in there too sometimes. Anyhoo, apologies to Norman Mailer.

blake said...

Arthur Murray is the one dancing on tough guy Norman Mailer's grave.

(OK, not, but wouldn't that be cool?)

Tibore said...

As sympathetic as I am to Rebecca's story - and assuming it's accurate, I am very sympathetic indeed - I have to agree with the professor here: This is the sort of situation where bystanders feel the need to avert their glaze. That article spilled a fair amount of private information out, and reading it made me feel like I was witnessing a family argument in a restaurant.

Some family disputes probably should be hashed out in private. There is a level of embarassment in seeing dirty laundry so publicly aired.

Joan said...

There is a level of embarassment in seeing dirty laundry so publicly aired.

If the only reason Rebecca is doing this is to embarrass her mother, she deserves to be ignored or censured. But that's not her purpose, is it? Her mother was spokeswoman for a movement which encourage all women to treat their children carelessly, if they even bothered to have them; to regard children as the last of all priorities. Rebecca is uniquely position to show how the effects of her mother's philosophy put into action.

She's not on her soapbox to whine about how she was treated (although she does do that), she's on her soapbox to refute her mother's work and philosphy, to argue against her. I find her an effective in that role.

Mitch H. said...

This seems like a demonstration of why victimhood isn't morally uplifting. Being a victim is having been done to - the moral agency belongs to another party. Embracing victimhood as a livelihood is a denial of moral agency, and would seem to lead to a crippled inner life - one in which nothing is yours, because you've given all responsibility to some external agent. In this case, a horrific monster like Alice Walker.

Oh, well. Hopefully Walker the Younger finds her way out of the victimhood spotlight and becomes the good mother she says she wants to be - it seems a laudable goal. If I never hear another public word from her, I hope that means that she's found her agency.