Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

Alice Walker and the "Man Question"

Pia Thielmann

During the Marxist-Socialist revolution in Europe, the "Woman Question" was relegated as secondary vis-à-vis the primary goal of a classless society liberating everyone from various injustices. Though solving the "Woman Question" was put on hold, an unequal status between women and men was recognized. When issues of gender inequality are not recognized--are glossed over or frivolously redefined--and if women's oppression merely subserves a revolutionary dynamic instead of inspiring it, women's unchallenged subordination is absorbed as necessary solidarity "in light of the more pressing unified front." Imamu Amiri Baraka's position on this issue is a case in point. This member of the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960s in the United States expressed his conviction that the African American woman's role is to instill a positive racial consciousness based on Africaness in children. To Baraka, African American men are the teachers of African American women; they determine what women are allowed to pass on to their children. In his view they cannot be equals but are complements. Thus, the African American woman is supposed to remain man's helpmate to build a black nation, wherein the African American woman is one-half and the African American man the other half. However, the man is the more important half of the two ( Baraka 7-11).

The resulting dilemma for African American women--of being expected to choose one cause over another--was a part of the discussion in the broader Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as well as part of the feminist movements since. In contrast to Baraka, the African American feminist, civil rights activist, and co-founder of NOW, Pauli Murray, has argued that African American women cannot afford to ignore any facet of their triple discrimination--racism, sexism and classism--and especially not sexual exploitation, from which they have suffered due to stereotypes about African American women's sexuality (87-102).

When African American women do not conform to ideas such as Baraka's, and share Murray's argument, they often get into trouble. One nonconformist who got into trouble is the African American novelist, Alice Walker. Walker addresses this issue of self-empowerment versus subjugation of women in Part Two of her essay collection In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (117-228). It mirrors her experiences with and reflections on the Civil Rights Movement and its effects on

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