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Philosophical Monday: The Happy Feminist Mother

Betty Ellen 2I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to raise daughters with feminist ideals. There are so many examples of mothers who do big things in their careers only to have their daughters turn around and opt not to do the same.

Erica Kennedy, the writer of Feminista, actually wrote a great article on the subject from a single Careerist point of view, in which she talked about a certain Daily Mail feature:

The writer is a feminist who worked hard to carve out a career and she was aghast when she learned that her daughter, a recent Oxford grad, didn’t plan to follow in her footsteps.

Even before I clicked through and read the Daily Mail article in full, I could tell you two things about this writer: she was divorced and she wasn’t able to spend a ton of time with her children while carving out her career. Lo and behold, I was right.

I think what is not be being said about the modern day disconnect between 80s-era feminists and their daughters, is that the disagreement might be more personal than political. While many feminist mothers see themselves as blazing a path and setting an amazing example for their daughters (which they did), I think many daughters see them simply as “never home” and “unavailable” — which to a certain extent, they were. For an extreme example, see this article about the rift between Rebecca Walker and her mother, Alice Walker.

You know how A-List actors are always saying that their kids don’t give two s-words that they’re a big deal? I think the modern day feminist might be running into the same problem. Our kids won’t care if we do big things if it means that we neglect them in the process.

So I’m thinking that it all comes down to balance. If we want our daughters to follow in our footsteps, we’ve got to figure out how to work towards our career goals AND spend a ton of time with them.

While watching Baadassss!, in which Mario Van Peebles tells the tale of how his father,  Melvin Van Peebles, wrote, directed, starred in, and produced the highly influential film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, that would spark the black exploitation era, one thing that struck me was that Melvin seemed to take young Mario with him everywhere. Mario was on set, at financing meetings — all sorts of things. They certainly had their share of father-son issues, but I’m not surprised at all that Mario followed in Melvin’s filmmaking footsteps.

As I’ve stated before, I would really, really prefer it if Betty throws a complete black sheep (like her father and I did with our families_ and totally chooses a different career path outside of entertainment — in simpler terms: I want her to be an engineer or a scientist. But while brunching with my friend Kalimba on Saturday, I did admit to a back-up plan if Betty does decide that she wants to go down the ill-advised path of being a writer.

If Betty really, really wants to be an artist, I will teach her discipline by making her practice her art for at least twenty minutes every single day. I will teach her good money management skills — which in my opinion should be taught in all MFA programs, since we end up needing those skills way more than 9to5-ers. And I will start taking her with me to writing events, so that she can see that this entertainment isn’t as glamorous or “easy” as people are made to believe.

But then as I was telling Kalimba this, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t do the same thing, even if Betty goes with a practical career. If I’ve got to write, why not write with her, while she works on her own projects? If I’ve got to go to a meeting or an interview after she reaches a certain age, why not take her with me? Why not show as oppossed to tell her what being a happy feminist is all about?

In the long run, will a daughter appreciate your experience more if she has to sit around being bored with you while you work as opposed to sitting around being bored at home without you? In a strange way, I think the answer is yes.

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure it all out. But I’m determined to find that balance between career and home. I have a feeling that the future of feminism is highly dependent on what we as feminist mothers do today. But you know, no pressure.*’


*I was going to end my article with “no pressure,” but I feel that I should point out two things: if Betty was a son or if I add a son to the mix, I would and would want to do the exact same thing. I think the key is to raise both sons and daughters with feminist ideals. Second thing: if Betty does decide to go with the purely stay-at-home option, I will still be proud of her and happy for her. I want her to choose the life that will make her happy. As long as her choice is based on her own wants and needs and not societal pressure, I’ll be supportive of whatever decision she makes. After all, I can belabor every point of motherhood as she grows up, but in the end it is her life. Her future belongs to her, and the glorious thing is that she can do whatever she wants with it.