Feminism – In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens


In this essay I have intended to outline the movement named as ‘feminism’ in Critical Theory and in our social life first and then to focus on one of the womanist writer’s work which is ‘In Search Of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ by Alice Walker. Its natural development in art, literature or in politics in terms of equal social rights for women has been mentioned briefly to understand this social phenomenon. Actually this movement has various outcomes or effects from humanities to politics and from economy to daily social life. Feminism includes some of the sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference. It is also a movement that campaigns for women’s rights and interests. It has changed traditional perspectives on a wide range of areas in human life from culture to law as well. Briefly, the premises of feminism in these areas as well as the changing perspectives in our life will be mentioned. Then a womanist writer’s work ‘In Search Of Our Mother’s Garden’ has been analyzed through her point of views. My own views, experiences and comments have been added to describe these concepts better. Although I am biologically ‘male’, probably I might have ‘patriarchal’ influences and from time to time I call my wife ‘feminist’ to make her angry, I really share common ideas with respect for the women whose rights – from education to production of artistic works in art, literature, sculpture …etc., from voting to being selected as Members of Parliament, from working as officials to maternity leave – have been taken from their hands and neglected for a long time. As in case of Alice Walker their natural rights of FREEDOM have been captured by the POWER – whoever has been holding in their hands which is worse than the white women’s conditions in Europe. The readers of this essay will go on a journey and see how women got their natural rights in time and in what extend our lives in society have been changed within their effects.

Feminism refers to political, cultural, and economic movements aimed at establishing greater rights and legal protections for women. Feminism includes some of the sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference. It is also a movement that campaigns for women’s rights and interests.[ ]
Nancy Cott defines feminism as the belief in the importance of gender equality, invalidating the idea of gender hierarchy as a socially constructed concept.[ ]
Lois Tyson defines feminist criticism which examines the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women. However, just as the practitioners of all critical theories do, feminist critics hold many different opinions on all of the issues their discipline examines.[ ]
From these definitions broadly we see that it is a movement in politics, culture, economy and social sciences to gain equal rights and to prevent oppression in these areas. In my opinion, like wars, slavery system and unequal rights for women or discrimination or oppression on them anywhere is a great shame of us. This is the shame for everybody or especially for the rule or law makers or the powerful people, countries or systems that have abused their authorities. When we look into their cases it will be much clearer that not only the women but also the weaks and the poors have suffered and still have been suffering in many parts of the world. It’s a great honour for the people especially for the women who have fought for their natural rights.
Feminist activists have campaigned for women’s legal rights – such as rights of contract, property rights, and voting rights – while also promoting women’s rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, abortion rights, and reproductive rights. They have struggled to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape. [ ]

On economic matters, feminists have advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay, and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women. [ ]

Although the terms feminism and feminist did not gain widespread use until the 1970s, they were already being used in public parlance much earlier; for instance, Katharine Hepburn speaks of the “feminist movement” in the 1942 film Woman of the Year.

Feminists and scholars have divided the movement’s history into three “waves”. The first wave refers mainly to women’s suffrage movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (mainly concerned with women’s right to vote). The second wave refers to the ideas and actions associated with the women’s liberation movement beginning in the 1960s (which campaigned for legal and social rights for women). The third wave refers to a continuation of, and a reaction to the perceived failures of, second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990s. [ ]
Black feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together.[ ] Forms of feminism that strive to overcome sexism and class oppression but ignore race can discriminate against many people, including women, through racial bias. The Combahee River Collective argued in 1974 that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.[ ]
One of the theories that evolved out of this movement was Alice Walker’s womanism. It emerged after the early feminist movements that were led specifically by white women who advocated social changes such as woman’s suffrage. These movements were largely white middle-class movements and had generally ignored oppression based on racism and classism. Alice Walker and other womanists pointed out that black women experienced a different and more intense kind of oppression from that of white women.[ ]
1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically; patriarchal ideology is the primary means by which they are kept so.

2. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other: she is objectified and marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values, defined by what she (allegedly) lacks and that men (allegedly) have.

3. All of Western (Anglo-European) civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology, as we see, for example, in the numerous patriarchal women and female monsters of Greek and Roman literature and mythology; the patriarchal interpretation of the biblical Eve as the origin of sin and death in the world; the representation of woman as a nonrational creature by traditional Western philosophy; and the reliance on phallogocentric thinking (thinking that is male oriented in its vocabulary, rules of logic, and criteria for what is considered objective knowledge) by educational, political, legal, and business institutions. As we saw earlier, even the development of the Western canon of great literature, including traditional fairy tales, was a product of patriarchal ideology.

4. While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines our gender (masculine or feminine). That is, for most English-speaking feminists, the word gender refers not to our anatomy but to our behavior as socially programmed men and women. I behave “like a woman” (for example, submissively) not because it is natural for me to do so but because I was taught to do so. In fact, all the traits we associate with masculine and feminine behavior are learned, not inborn.

5. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by promoting women’s equality. Thus, all feminist activity can be seen as a form of activism, although the word is usually applied to feminist activity that directly promotes social change through political activity such as public demonstrations, boycotts, voter education and registration, the provision of hotlines for rape victims and shelters for abused women, and the like. Although frequently falsely portrayed in opposition to “family values,” feminists continue to lead the struggle for better family policies such as nutrition and health care for mothers and children; parental leave; and high-quality, affordable day care.

6. Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of these issues or not.

Alice Walker is an American author and poet. She has written at length on issues of race and gender, and is most famous for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She was born and raised in the state of Georgia.
Her works typically focus on the struggles of blacks, particularly women, and their struggle against a racist, sexist, and violent society. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle.
Additionally, Walker has published several short stories, including the 1973 Everyday Use, in which she discusses feminism, racism against blacks, and the issues raised by young black people who leave home and lose respect for their parents’ culture. [ ]
Alice Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”, which I will be focusing on in detail after all this warm-up information, explains the hardships that black women had to endure and their perseverance in maintaining their creativity throughout.
Men or women are the halves which completes each other. I mean each of them have some superior parts or qualities from born which should be used or let’s say shared by the couples in the family.

Alice Walker’s “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens” is an essay about the hardships that black women have had to endure in the past and their persevering ability to maintain their creativity throughout the years of oppression they have been through. Walker uses a variety of different methods to convey this message and explain in detail exactly how black creativity has survived throughout the most painful and enduring times. Alice Walker states, “In the still heat of the post-Reconstruction South, this is how they [black women] seemed to Jean Toomer: exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era, a century, that did not acknowledge them, except at “the mule of the world”(Walker 232)

Alice Walker uses Jean Toomer’s view on black women in the South to show how abused and ruined these poor women were. They were viewed as solely “the mule of the world”(Walker 232), working women who were nothing more than bodies to be used as tools for work or even impregnation. To the world around them, they had no creativity and certainly no intelligence, which forced their creative thoughts into suppression and their bodies into submission. They were not allowed to have creative thoughts and not allowed to think of art, or anything other than the work they were assigned to do, breaking them further and further away from their creative instincts and deeper and deeper into the forced labor they had to carry out day in and day out. However, even though they were so beaten down and ruined by the world around them, that creativity was still present within them and, given the chance, they could have been the artists they were meant to be, if they could only escape the “evil honey” of the world around them and express themselves freely like so many white men and women of that time period.

Similar to Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, Walker examines women’s ability to become artists, in this case particularly, black women who were denied to have artistic creativity. “How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive,” (Walker 234) Walker asks, “year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a black person to read or write?” (Walker 234) Walker refers to Phyllis Wheatley, a black slave of the middle 1700s, who was highly educated and wrote poetry, in reference to Virginia Woolf’s essay; how was this slave able to become a writer if she not only had no money and a room of her own, but didn’t even own herself? Walker continues with other examples of strong women, most notably her own mother, who ran away at 17 to marry, had eight children, did all the work at home plus labored alongside her husband in the fields.

Unfortunately, women in many parts of the world had been forced to work hard at home and even outside, to look after their children and to please their husbands. I remember my own mother, for instance, while my father had to work abroad, my mother had to run the house, – cooking, washing up, doing the cleaning, and even entertaining the children – had to work in the fields, had to do shopping in short of money, and had to take care of her children’s education. In the village conditions all these works were harder, when we (four children) got ill she was the person who took care of our health, when we got bored she was near us to tell her stories. Although, I listened to most of these stories many times but she never objected to tell them whenever I asked her to tell me a story. She never showed her boredom and she had been giving her positive energy to her all children. Similarly, in case of Alice Walker, probably our mother was the source of our talents in teaching, and creative skills in writing. Walker also states, “But at last, Phillis, we understand. No more snickering when your stiff, struggling, ambivalent lines are forced on us. We know now that you were not an idiot or a traitor; only a sickly little black girl, snatched from your home and country and made a slave; a woman who still struggled to sing the song that was your gift, although in a land of barbarians who praised you for your bewildered tongue. It is not so much what you sang, as that you kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song”(Walker 237).

Walker explains through this quote that even though Phillis Wheatley’s poems seem as if they were written to make white slave owners look respectable, we understand that these were not Phillis’ true ideas, but the ideas that had been forced upon her for so long that she knew nothing else to believe in. Walker exposes the contrary instincts that were imposed on Phillis Wheatley through this quote, and explains that although Phillis Wheatley may have not thought the way that it seems in her poetry, she was forced to conform to these ideas because that was all she had known and was told from the day that she was born. She was conditioned to believe that she was inferior and that white people were in fact gods or goddesses. Even though Wheatley was forced into this kind of thinking and her poems do not reflect the ideas consistent with others of her ethnicity, Walker explains that it was not so much what Wheatley wrote about, but the fact that she wrote and carried on her creativity that is the most important for her and her race as a whole. She persevered through the hardships she was forced to endure and kept her creativity alive, even if it wasn’t the most accurate representation of her or her people it still passed on her creativity and kept that spirit alive within herself and other black women who may have been inspired by her poetry.

Alice Walker also uses her own mother as a method to explain the creativity that has lived on in black women from the post-Reconstruction era on. She explains, “Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and respect for strength—in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”(Walker 243)
This quote shows how Walker was able to find her own creativity by seeing her mother’s creativity in the creation of her gardens. Walker’s mother grew beautiful gardens at every single house they had ever lived in, gardens “…so brilliant with colors, so original in its design, so magnificent with life and creativity, that to this day people drive by our house in Georgia—perfect strangers and imperfect strangers—and ask to stand of walk among my mother’s art”(Walker 241).

These gardens inspired Walker to a degree and by viewing her mother’s creativity she was able to write and find her creativity in writing. This shows that even to this day, black women are keeping their creativity alive and passing it on to each new generation. Walker’s mother kept her creativity alive by creating these beautiful gardens and through her keeping her creativity alive, she has given her creativity to her daughter and allowed her daughter to become the magnificent writer that she is today.

Let me note down a Turkish idiom at this point. “However you are in your 7, you are the same person in your 70s.” [ ] which means people’s basic characters are shaped or formed until the age of seven. So it implies that the mothers’ education given to their children has the most influential effect on us/people.

As we have seen from the definitions, history of feminism, Tyson’s assumptions, and the analysis of Alice Walker’s work “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” women had to suffer and probably have been suffering due to men’s oppression, abuse or patriarchal mentality in people’s minds. In time women activists struggled and surely in many parts of the world they are still struggling to get their natural rights from politics to law, from equal education rights to show off their creative skills in art, literature or in any science. Unfortunately in the past women’s natural rights such as;
1. living; (many small girls at the age of 2-7 were buried alive in the desert in Arabia before the Prophet Muhammad changed this cahiliyye-ignorant tradition.)[ ]
2. freedom; (slavery system)
3. voting; (started in UK, case of suffragettes in Europe)
4. producing artistic works in art, literature …etc; (Women writers, artists have started to emerged just a few centuries ago)
5. working in offices or having any jobs (from being a president or a minister in the parliament to being a secretary or a teacher at a school, they were not allowed to work in many state jobs) …etc.

The number of the natural rights can be increased but what I want to emphasize is that although all these rights even with the ones that I haven’t mentioned, are their rights from born but some of them in some parts of the world by some people have been taken from their hands. And worst of all a lot of women unfortunately have and still have been facing domestic’s violence, sexual harassment, and rape. They are bought and sold like objects. And their bodies are sold for the pleasure of men. I believe that that not only women but true men must fight for the natural rights of women. Women are our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, our nieces and our daughters.

Alice Walker’s mother was great when she explained her children about the different races giving as an example that people have different colours as the flowers have in her garden. Everybody, men and women, have been contributing for the goodness of humankind in the society, we shouldn’t discriminate any group of people just because of their race, gender or even age.

Let me put an end with Tyson’s statements [ ] from her book ‘Critical Theory Today’;
‘Because feminist issues range so widely across cultural, social, political, and psychological categories, feminist literary criticism is wide ranging, too. Whatever kind of analysis is undertaken, however, the ultimate goal of feminist criticism is to increase our understanding of women’s experience, both in the past and present, and promote our appreciation of women’s value in the world.’

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