Last week the daughter of Alice Walker wrote an article about how radical feminism has failed women. It was reposted on my Facebook timeline several times with comments like, ‘Feminism has had some very damaging effects’ and ‘Right on’. I’ve written before about how I’m frustrated when people (especially Christians) fail to engage thoughtfully with feminism and so I thought I’d add my voice to the discussion of this article with the following comments.
1. Good people sometimes make bad parents. It certainly appears that Alice Walker failed her daughter. But it remains to be seen whether that is because Alice Walker was living out her ‘radical feminism’, or because of another reason (was she a workaholic, for example?). There have been plenty of people who have failed their own families in huge ways while doing very good things (hello, William Carey!).
2. Feminism is interested in the nurture of girls, so that they are able to become strong women. To neglect a female child (actually, any child) is foreign to feminism. In that sense, Alice Walker’s treatment of her child is an aberration of feminism rather than a fulfilment of it.
3. Even ‘radical feminism’ is not anti-motherhood. Rebecca Walker herself admits that her 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.’ It appears, then, that Alice Walker did not reject the notion of motherhood entirely. And while Rebecca Walker experienced her mother as selfish on an individual level, others may have experienced her as incredibly giving.
4. ‘Radical feminism’ ≠ feminism. The things Rebecca Walker accuses radical feminism of having done are the very things feminists today are raising awareness of: ignorance about female reproductive capacity and sexualisation of children. Feminism today also includes a rather vigorous discussion of maternal desire. This is, at least in part, because feminism has shown itself able to evolve — that’s why there’s a third wave of feminism (and possibly a fourth). Walker herself freely calls feminism an ‘experiment’, only to treat the second wave like it was the finished product.
I write none of this to defend Alice Walker’s treatment of her daughter in any way, nor to invalidate the pain that Rebecca Walker clearly feels. Her story is indeed a tragic one.
But my hunch is that re-posting an article like this only encourages Christians to demonise feminism rather than engage with it. This is not appropriate for a people who know grace, and are its ambassadors in the world. Nor is it appropriate for a people of great sin: Christian involvement in the KKK, Stolen Generation, and anti-semitism is well established, and yet we maintain (quite rightly) that this is not ‘who we are’. I figure many feminists would make the same argument about the kind of thing on view in the Rebecca Walker article.
So I’m calling for us to think about ‘doing unto others…’ Let’s give feminism a fair hearing. Have you taken the opportunity to consider (and talk about, celebrate, and re-post) the achievements of feminism? Ask yourself, how many feminists do you actually know? Are any of them Christians? (You know, apart from me!) How do they feel about a story like Rebecca Walker’s?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.