Feminism beyond Modernism

By Elizabeth A. Flynn | Go to book overview

4
Rich and Walker on Writing and Mothering:
Radical/Cultural Feminist and
Womanist Perspectives

I do not mind being my mother's daughter, I like it even. I like the attention, the way the people who love my mother's writing dote on me and make me feel like I am special, too. Standing by my mother's elbow at the end of the long line of people, I make myself available to them and drink in all of their adoration. They want to touch my mother, but mostly they want to look at me, to search my face for signs of her. Do I write? What do I want to be when I am grown up? Am I proud of my mama?

—Rebecca Walker, Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

Adrienne Rich, like Virginia Woolf, needed to free herself of the influence of her successful father, who was a teacher and researcher in the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and hence to free herself of modern approaches to the family and to education. She also had to come to terms with the Jewish heritage her father attempted to deny. In contrast, Alice Walker, the African American daughter of a Georgia sharecropper, grew up considerably farther removed from modern educational institutions. Both Rich and Walker nevertheless obtained college degrees and had to deal with the challenges and contradictions of attempting to integrate a professional life of writing with the traditional role of motherhood, but they did so in different ways. Rich's writing occurred largely after she had raised her three sons, and the impossibilities of mothering in a heterosexist, patriarchal culture became an important focus of her radical-feminist critique. Walker was better able to integrate writing and mothering, perhaps because she had only one child, though her struggle was sometimes accompanied by depression.

In this chapter, I explore the theme of writing and mothering in the essays of Rich and Walker, arguing that both had strong antimodern-feminist tendencies, though Rich's perspective is primarily radical feminist, Walker's primarily what she calls a womanist perspective, a form of cultural feminism. Both, however, move in the direction of postmodern perspectives as they attempt to deal with

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