10 June 2008

Myth, myth

I read with interest this morning the Salon feature "the mother daughter wars", about Rebecca Walker's "denunciation" of her mother Alice Walker. Hard to turn away from anything involving mothers, daughters, and writers, eh?

The thing that struck me most, however, of all that author Phyllis Chesler says, was this:

Yes, and Alice (author/activist Alice Walker) did all the things
that women like Judy (Rebecca's more traditional, stay-at-home step-mother)
don't want to do and can't do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to
world work, crusade for human and women's rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman
really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one

(italics mine).

I completely resist that statement. It has nothing to do with myths. It's about what you want to put in your life, and what you don't. Personally, I want to include in my life as much as possible. I want to have meaningful work, and I want to be a meaningful mother. I believe, with varying degrees of success, I am actually doing this! It is no great trick, believe me. It's called having a full life. It's called being a complete person. It's called not falling into compartments of either/or, traditional/non-traditional.

Also Chesler sets up quite a divide: the words "great", "devote" and "crusade" apply to Alice, but check out the words she uses to describe Judy:
Judy, who bore five children and found meaning as a stay-at-home or ever-available
mother. ..." [A] traditional mother. ..."

Not exactly power-words there!

Chesler is wrong. Wittingly or unwittingly, she's propagating a whole other sort of myth-- the myth that you have to choose, the myth that you have to exclude. It's so limiting....and so unnecessary.


  1. I think you have to choose and I think you have to exclude, but, and it's a big but, what you wish to exclude is totally up to you. It's not "choose 1 from N options", it's "choose M from N options" where M is anything you feel either comfortable with or personally necessary.

    Whatever; the important thing is that you decide.

    One last point; it seems to me that doing something has intrinsic merit. Success can be measured in many ways.

  2. Success can be measured in many ways

    Important when you're English :-)

    For example this

  3. I agree, sgl... And I think you should post your comment to the comments on the original article at Salon as well!

    Of course it is fundamental that I/we (me/other women), get to decide -- that is, neither one route or the other is forced upon us.

    Thanks to the hard work of a lot of people who came before us.

    Since we have this level of personal/reproductive freedom, my main point here is that we don't need to fall into other people's/some feminists' line about how to live our lives.

    There seems to be a lot of instruction out there about how women should live their lives, and it almost always is presented in terms of either/or.....

    I don't see why we should buy into those parameters!

  4. "I get up every morning determined to both change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult"

    - E.B. White

  5. CHOICE,
    Life is all about choice and having the option to choose what and what not to do/be/say... Each person does have to decide what is success and to be successful. I do not want any person telling me what is the "right" way to live my life, be a wife, mother...

    Look at how different our lives are J? Would you consider either one of us more or less a success? and if you do dont tell me :-)


  6. It's interesting you mention this. Today I've been having one of those days when I hate myself for being unable to do everything. Running round the flat with a vacuum cleaner going 'I live in a disgusting pig-sty, why are there crumbs on the carpet??', while thinking guiltily of all I haven't read, or written, today. Hating myself for not being a successful writer who earns enough to pay someone to clean her flat, hating the inexorable roll of fat round my stomach that expands with every good meal or glass of wine, hating my disorganisation and hating that I feel like a drudge, and that I'm displacing my dissatisfaction onto my boyfriend, hating him for not tidying up more. He, on the other hand, gently exhorts me to relax. He doesn't give a damn about the crumbs, hasn't even noticed them, and why should he? They're not important, he's quite right. It's just something inside this woman's brain that says 'You SHOULD... be thin... have a clean house... get up early... write morning pages... write as many books as possible and get them published... concentrate on one thing at once... and by the way, are you going to have kids, or what?' I have this horrific sense of turning into my mother. She would drive herself into a nervous breakdown because the kitchen needed cleaning, and then she'd drag me away from something much more interesting - and I sincerely believe more important, - such as reading or playing, to help her scrub the cooker. 'Relax,' I said, out loud or in my head, 'The cooker doesn't matter! Who cares if there's encrusted soup on it? Not us, the family you tell yourself you're cleaning it for.' Nowadays, my mum runs three jobs, rarely getting in before 9 pm in the week, and spending half the weekend on work. She can't sit still if she doesn't have something to do. My dad does nothing but watch TV, potter in the garden, and sleep. Which of them has it right? I really don't know. I just hate that I seem doomed to consider myself a failure no matter how much I get done. Do men have this pressure?
    Leila (one of the 10 readers! :))

  7. E, if you are happy about 60% of the time then you've made some good choices! I agree I don't want someone saying, "you have to do it this way or that way" ...

    Leila, it sounds like your mother is someone who needs to be/likes to be busy and when you have children that can manifest itself as cleaning, because you are (or can be) tied to home and hearth so much! It's very hard to do most other things with your kids around.... And this makes me laugh because I sometimes do involve my 2 girls in the cleaning. We put on the music and have a cleaning party. Note, however, this happens about 2x a year, don't look at our stove...

    No, men don't have these pressures, they are wired differently. Of course, they have other problems which we can't get into here ;-)

    Btw, you are absolutely not a failure -- you're a published author with another book on the way!

    Excuse me now... sadly I have to go and collect the laundry!!

  8. PS
    Just got back from the laundry and it struck me: Lowering the standard of what one considers "filthy" must surely be one of the top 7 secrets of success of the modern woman. It's really quite liberating. I highly recommend it.