The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism

The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism

by Christina Looper Baker, Christina B. Kline
     
 
The first book to take an honest, in-depth look at the difficulties and rewards of being a feminist mother and to ask prominent feminist daughters whether their mother's vision was successfully or unsuccessfully transmitted to them while growing up.

Sisterhood, not motherhood, has been the focus of American feminism for the past twenty-five years. In fact, during

Overview

The first book to take an honest, in-depth look at the difficulties and rewards of being a feminist mother and to ask prominent feminist daughters whether their mother's vision was successfully or unsuccessfully transmitted to them while growing up.

Sisterhood, not motherhood, has been the focus of American feminism for the past twenty-five years. In fact, during the 70s many feminists viewed motherhood as a hindrance to women's progress toward equality, an attitude that alienated legions of potentially feminist women by ignoring—even disparaging—the needs and concerns of those who were mothers.

Nevertheless, many of those women had daughters who now have come of age and are reshaping the women's movement to suit their needs. The passing of the torch has not been entirely smooth, however. As young women define an agenda of their own, they also find themselves having to assess the legacy of their foremothers—for better and for worse.

In The Conversation Begins, Christina Looper Baker and her daughter, Christina Baker Kline, draw on talks with a diverse range of over sixty women of both generations, asking provocative, often painful questions in an attempt to bridge the gap between them. Revealing first-person narratives based on interviews with twenty-two sets of feminist mothers and daughters—including Paula Gunn Allen, Letty Pogrebin, Naomi Wolf, Barbara Ehrenreich, Marilyn French, Tillie Olsen, Joy Harjo, and many others—comprise the heart of this magnificent testament to the strength of American feminism and the bond between feminist mothers and daughters.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Mother-daughter team Baker (In a Generous Spirit: A First-Person Biography of Myra Page, Univ. of Illinois, 1996) and Kline (Sweet Water, LJ 5/15/93) interviewed other mothers and daughters, one or both prominent second-wave feminists. They then edited the material into first-person narratives, a technique they admit some participants objected to (a list of the questions asked is included in an appendix). Initially, 65 women were selected, of whom 44 permitted their stories to be published (after extensive editing and in some cases omission of material). The results are curiously bland. Somehow, the experiences of such diverse women as Tillie Olsen, Patsy Mink, Alix Kates Shulman, Barbara Seaman, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Eleanor Smeal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Wolf, Paula Gunn Allen, and Joy Harjo have come to sound too much the same. Some of the material contradicts questionable suggestions made in the introduction (the notion that feminists of the 1970s seldom addressed the subject of motherhood, for example), though overall the work provides some valuable biographical details about leading feminists. For comprehensive women's studies collections.-Beverly A. Miller, Boise State Univ. Lib., Id.
Donna Seaman
Are feminist values passed down from mother to daughter? The radical feminists of the 1960s opened many doors, but in an effort to shatter gender roles they often devalued motherhood. Today's feminists tend to be less restrictive in their politics and more concerned with integrating career and family. Baker and Kline, a mother-daughter team (Baker is a teacher and activist, Kline the author of a novel, "Sweet Water" [1993]), invited more than 30 "real-life mothers and daughters to tell the story of their relationship to feminism and to each other." The key criterion was that one of the pair must have "made a public contribution to the contemporary women's movement." The candid and diverse participants include writer and activist Tillie Olsen and her daughter, women's health advocate Barbara Seaman and her two daughters, and feminist scholar Deborah Wolf and author Naomi Wolf. Predictably, and intriguingly, their conversations reveal as much about the mother-daughter dynamic as they do about feminism.
Booknews
A mother and daughter team present revealing first-person narratives based on interviews with more than 30 sets of feminist mothers and daughters, including Naomi Wolf, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eleanor Smeal, and Helen Rodriguez-Trias, among others. The authors pose provocative, often difficult questions in an effort to identify the specific stresses and rewards of feminist motherhood and to chart its effects on future generations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A revealing yet comforting overview of the generational passage of feminism that discloses as much about elemental family conflicts as about the future of the women's movement.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553096392
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/01/1996
Pages:
228
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.13(d)

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