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This landmark addition to the literature of the American women's movement probes one of the most intimate and complicated relationships of a woman's life--that between mother and daughter. Based on interviews with more than 60 prominent mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins is a timely, important, and often controversial look at feminist motherhood, its triumphs and challenges. Photos. 416 pp. National ads. Author publicity. 12,000 print.
In 23 sets of interviews and personal statements of second- wave feminists and their daughters, Baker (English/Univ. of Miami) and novelist Kline (Sweet Water, 1993) probe each woman's growth as a feminist and the effects of her beliefs on her family. Interviewees range from politician Patsy Mink to social critic Barbara Ehrenreich to poet Joy Harjo to Holocaust survivor and lesbian anthologist Evelyn Torton Beck; the variety of their childhoods, ethnic heritages, and economic backgrounds demonstrates that feminism is not simply a white middle-class phenomenon. Yet common touchpoints emerge: Friedan and de Beauvoir were profound influences; the interviewees were often driven into activism and feminism by the experience of personal injustice; their children were the center of their world and are now more free to make choices than they. Most daughters of feminist leaders cite an increased confidence—a feeling, as Lori Smeal says, "that I could do anything." There is also an understanding of the costs of being a superwoman; says Abigail Pogrebin, "Maybe it's just not possible to have a husband, kids, career, and toned body all at the same time." Yet most daughters appreciate their mother's commitment, and some, like Wendy Mink, continue the activist tradition. Surprises in the book include the frequent examples of active two- parent childrearing, equitable marriages, and children facilitating their mother's emergence as a lesbian.
Read as a blueprint to the next wave of feminism, the interviews offer only partial views: More must be done, today's problems are different and perhaps more subtle. But as a collection of discrete stories of a social movement and of the eternal bond of mother and child, this is an impressive book.