Today I read this piece in the Daily Mail (I really can’t call it journalism). My first thought was that if this is true, Alice Walker used feminism as an excuse to be a shitty human being and a bad mother.
I say this because I was raised by a working mother and a feminist and she never made my brother or I feel we weren’t absolutely her first priority.
It could be a class thing, working class women have always worked and fitted that around husband, children and house. Both of my grandmothers worked, my maternal grandmother in Harrods, no less and my paternal grandmother pretty much did everything, mostly cleaning because my grandfather was a git. (The impression I have of my ‘Nana’, my Dad’s mother was that she died because she was worn out what with the many children and drunken husband.) All of my aunts and most of the mothers of the kids I went to school with did some kind of work, mostly part time dinner lady, working in a shop stuff but they worked. My mother was slightly different because she had a 9-5 job in a building society, at a time (1970’s and 80’s) when despite or maybe because we had a female prime minister, married women with children didn’t generally work full time.
For all that, I never felt that my brother and I weren’t Ma’s first priority. She was at all the school plays, all the parents evenings, she helped with homework, took us to Brownies and Cubs, we ate proper home cooked food, ok we did eat McDonalds one night a week, that was the night she left work, picked us up from play centre at 5.30pm and had to get me back to school for Brownies at 6.30pm so was all a bit of a rush. (There was a girl in my class, who also came with us and I realise now, would have wondered around for an hour between the two things with no dinner, if Ma hadn’t paid for her to have McDonalds with us too).
During the time we were small, Mum was up at 5am every day to ensure that clothes were sorted, lunches made etc. If you ask her about this time, she says that nothing comes easy and that when you have children, they come first and you can’t have it all. I had a father with a drink and a temper problem, my mother went back to work mainly because she couldn’t rely on him to pay the bills but I also had one of the most secure childhoods I know.
As an adult, I am aware of all the stuff my mother juggled and the sheer amount of work she did but as the time I didn’t have a clue. Two stories that demonstrate sum up my childhood really well:
- As a 7 year old, for my first communion class, I was asked to define what the members of my family did to help one another, like almost all of the other kids, I said that my dad earned money to buy food and my mum cooked the dinner and looked after me. I think by this point, my mum was earning all the money to buy food and pay all the bills and she was cooking the food and looking after us. Was I aware, nope she genuinely made it look effortless.
- When I was about 12, I lost my house keys. I was a very dramatic kid, so in tears and I also didn’t know what to do. So in tears I turned up at Mum’s work. She came down, dried my eyes, gave me her house keys and the bus fare home. She also gave me some money and told me to go the the key cutters and get a new key cut. Best lesson ever, she would always be around for me and help but I could sort it out and she trusted me to do what needed to be done. (Of course next time I lost my keys she made me pay to have the new key cut and the time after that she made me pay to have the locks changed – she was huge on taking responsibility, another vital lesson for a teenager!)
So this is my point, some people are good parents, who, whatever their parenting style, understand that children can and should change their life and that being a good parent often requires sacrifice but that’s the choice you make. Some parents are bad parents who shouldn’t have children and will use all sorts of excuses (sometimes feminism) to justify their selfishness.
Both sorts of parents have jobs and stay at home.
Rebecca Walker’s issues have nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with bad parenting, so while I am sorry that she had what sounds like a terrible childhood and now has an awful relationship with her mother, that wasn’t feminism’s fault, it wasn’t because her mother worked, or her parents divorced, it was because she had awful parents who didn’t put her needs before their own (I notice that her father is never blamed for allowing the bizarre custody arrangements or any of the other stuff that happened).
Feminism didn’t cause that, her mother and father did.
So, please, lets stop blaming all women and ‘feminism’ generally for bad parenting.