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Rebecca Walker Third Wave Feminism Essay

Symbol though she was, Ms. Walker also cultivated a private life, and in her 20s was in a serious relationship with another woman.

Today, however, Ms. Walker, 37, has become what she called a new Rebecca, one who has a male partner, a child and some revised theories about the ties that bind, which she explores in a new book, “Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence” (Riverhead), to be released on Thursday. A review appears in The Times Book Review today.

Its inspiration? Her son, Tenzin, 2, who is named after the Dalai Lama. (Ms. Walker’s father voted for Chaim and lost.)

Ms. Walker and her partner, a Buddhist teacher named Glen (whose last name does not appear in the book), have been living in Maui, where Tenzin plays amid the lush landscape and is pushed about in a Maclaren stroller.

“I feel like I have arrived in myself to where I want to be and who I want to be,” Ms. Walker said in a telephone interview.

Motherhood, she writes in “Baby Love,” is “the first club I’ve unequivocally belonged to.”

The book explores the usual pregnancy topics like food intake, genetic counseling and the doctor-versus-midwife debate, and reveals that Ms. Walker is now estranged from her famous mother.

But it is also unusual in that it is a pregnancy book with a message for women who are not yet pregnant, amplifying a theme Ms. Walker sounds on the undergraduate lecture circuit.

“I keep telling these women in college, ‘You need to plan having a baby like you plan your career if it’s something that you want,’ ” she said. “Because we haven’t been told that, this generation. And they’re shocked when I say that. I’m supposed to be like this feminist telling them, ‘Go achieve, go achieve.’ And I’m sitting there saying, ‘For me, having a baby has been the most transformational experience of my life.’ ”

And so Ms. Walker has become the latest to lend her voice to the long-running debate of work versus motherhood, a trade-off that to younger women probably no longer seems as stark as it did to Ms. Walker.

Jennifer Baumgardner, 36, an author of “Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future,” who also lectures on the college circuit, said that students today do see having children as important. If they are shocked at hearing Ms. Walker talk about the epiphanies of motherhood, it may be because of her image as something of a radical feminist.

“Rebecca Walker is extremely significant for younger feminists,” Ms. Baumgardner said. “She’s definitely a superstar to them, and to me.”

Ms. Walker said she is not suggesting that all women have children, only that those who feel the urge should not ignore it because they fear career derailment or because they had difficult childhoods.

“Mine is the first generation of women to grow up thinking of children as optional,” Ms. Walker writes in the new book. “We learned that children were not to be pursued at the expense of anything else. A graduate degree in economics, for example, or a life of renunciation, devoted to a Hindu mystic.”

Children, she writes, “smelled of betrayal and a lack of appreciation for the progress made on behalf of women’s liberation.”

But Tenzin has since erased her doubts.

The most incendiary notion in “Baby Love” may be that, for Ms. Walker, being a stepparent or adoptive parent involves a lesser kind of love than the love for a biological child.

In an interview, Ms. Walker boiled the difference down to knowing for certain that she would die for her biological child, but feeling “not sure I would do that for my nonbiological child.”

“I mean, it’s an awful thing to say,” said Ms. Walker, who in a previous relationship helped rear a female partner’s biological son, now 14. “The good thing is he has a biological mom who would die for him.”

Ms. Walker acknowledged that her idea of blood being thicker than water runs contrary to her own philosophy in “Black, White and Jewish,” in which she writes that “all blood is basically the same.”

In a 2001 Curve magazine article she said, “the bonds you create are just as important and just as powerful as the bonds that you are born into.”

When asked about this incongruity, she explained: “To grapple with how my parents raised me I had to come up with a philosophy that could sustain me. Having my own child gave me the opportunity to have a completely different experience. So hence a different view.”

That she is altering a belief or two is something that Ms. Baumgardner said is part of Ms. Walker’s contribution to the Third Wave sensibility, not a betrayal of it.

“She reserves the right to evolve, and that’s a good model for us,” Ms. Baumgardner said.

Ms. Walker’s own evolution, from wounded daughter to earth mother, was perhaps particularly significant because “she was raised in a more radical zone,” Ms. Baumgardner said.

There is a tradition of feminist writing about pregnancy and motherhood, but not everyone had such a complex mother-daughter dynamic to process.

Alice Walker “gave to the world this incredible thing,” Ms. Baumgardner said. “But what you want from your parents is parenting.”

Attempts to reach Alice Walker through her literary agent and her daughter this week were unsuccessful.

Ms. Walker and her mother have a complicated love, according to Rebecca. In high school, Rebecca legally changed her last name from Leventhal to Walker because, as she put it in “Black, White and Jewish,” she wanted to link herself to her mother “tangibly and forever” and to associate herself with blackness because she does not feel “an affinity with whiteness, with what Jewishness has become.” (That last sentiment, which is echoed in other parts of the memoir, led several publications to criticize it for reinforcing stereotypes.)

The Walker estrangement was decades in the making. Most recently, Ms. Walker was saddened by what she called her mother’s lack of enthusiasm to the news that she was pregnant.

During that time they exchanged e-mail messages, with Rebecca demanding an apology for years of hurt, and her mother responding that she had apologized plenty, Rebecca writes in the book. A cousin later tells Ms. Walker that she has been cut out of her mother’s will.

But what if Tenzin wants to meet his grandmother — the writer, the social activist, the matriarch who helped to shape his own mother?

“Yeah,” Ms. Walker said gently. “Sure. I mean there’s only so much I can do. I can explain the situation and help him understand. But I’ve always been and I always will be open to reconciliation with my mother, you know? I love my mother.”

Continue reading the main story

For other people named Rebecca Walker, see Rebecca Walker (disambiguation).

Rebecca Walker (born November 17, 1969 as Rebecca Leventhal) is an American writer, feminist, and activist. Walker has been regarded as one of the prominent voices of Third Wave Feminism since she published an article on feminism in 1992 in Ms. magazine in which she proclaimed "I am the Third Wave."[1]

Walker's writing, teaching, and speeches focus on race, gender, politics, power, and culture.[2][3] In her activism work, she helped co-found the Third Wave Fund that morphed into the Third Wave Foundation, an organization that supports young women of color, queer, intersex, and trans individuals have the tools and resources they need to be leaders in their communities through activism and philanthropy.[4]

Walker does extensive writing and speaking about gender, racial, economic, and social justice at universities around the United States and internationally.[5]

In 1994, Time named Walker as one of the 50 future leaders of America.[6] Her work has been published in venues including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Salon, Glamour, and Essence and has been featured on CNN and MTV.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

She was born Rebecca Leventhal in 1969 in Jackson, Mississippi, the daughter of Alice Walker, an African- American writer, whose work includes The Color Purple; and Mel Leventhal, who is Jewish American and a civil rights lawyer. Her parents had married in New York before going to Mississippi to work in civil rights.[8] After her parents divorced in 1976, Walker spent her childhood alternating every two years between her father's home in the largely Jewish Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City, and her mother's largely African-American environment in San Francisco. She attended The Urban School of San Francisco.

When she was 15, Walker decided to change her surname from Leventhal to Walker, her mother's surname. After high school, she studied at Yale University, where she graduated cum laude in 1992. Walker identifies as black, white, and Jewish, which is also the title of her memoir, published in 2001.[9]

Emergence as a leader in feminism[edit]

Walker first emerged as a prominent feminist at age 22 when she wrote an article for Ms. magazine titled "Becoming the Third Wave".[10] In her article, Walker criticizes the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, an attorney he supervised during his time at the Department of Education and the EEOC. Using this example, Walker addresses the oppression of the female voice and introduces the concept of Third Wave Feminism.[11] Walker defines "third wave feminism" at the end of the article by saying "To be a feminist is to integrate an ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of life. It is to search for personal clarity in the midst of systemic destruction, to join in sisterhood with women when often we are divided, to understand power structures with the intention of challenging them."[12]


The Third Wave Fund[edit]

After graduating from Yale University, she co-founded the Third Wave Fund, a non-profit organization aimed at encouraging young women to get involved in activism and leadership roles. The organization’s initial mission, based on Walker’s article, was to "fill a void in young women’s leadership and to mobilize young people to become more involved socially and politically in their communities."[13] In its first year, the organization initiated a campaign that registered more than 20,000 new voters across the United States. The organization now provides grants to individuals and projects that support young women. The fund was adapted as The Third Wave Foundation in 1997 and continues to support young activists. In the wake of the November 2016 presidential election in the United States, the organization received more than four times the normal number of requests for emergency grants.[14]


Walker views teaching as a way to give people the strength to speak the truth, to change perspectives, and to empower people with the ability to change the world.[15] She lectures on writing memoirs, multi-generational feminism, diversity in the media, multi-racial identity, contemporary visual arts and emerging cultures.[16]


Walker concentrates on speaking about multi-cultural identity (including her own), enlightened masculinity, and inter-generational and third-wave feminism at high schools, universities and conferences around the world. She has spoken at Harvard, Exeter, Head Royce, Oberlin, Smith, MIT, Xavier, and Stanford.[17] She has also addressed various organizations and corporations such as The National Council of Teachers of English, the Walker Art Center, the American Association of University Women, the National Women's Studies Association, Out and Equal, the National Organization for Women, and Hewitt Associates. Within the United States, she has been featured on various popular media outlets such as Good Morning America, Oprah, and Charlie Rose.[18]

Books and writing[edit]

Major works[edit]

Her first major work was the book To be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1996), which consisted of articles that Walker compiled and edited. The book re-evaluated the feminist movement of the time. Reviewer Emilie Fale, an Assistant Professor of Communication at Ithaca College, described it: "The twenty-three contributors in To Be Real offer varied perspectives and experiences that challenge our stereotypes of feminist beliefs as they negotiate the troubled waters of gender roles, identity politics and "power feminism".[19] As a collection of "personal testimonies", this work shows how third wave activists use personal narratives to describe their experiences with social and gender injustice.[20] Contributors to the work include prominent feminists such as bell hooks and Naomi Wolf. According to Walker's website, this book has been taught in Gender Studies programs around the world.[21]

In her memoir, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2000), Walker explores her early years in Mississippi as the child of parents who were active in the later years of the Civil Rights Movement. She also touches on living with two parents with very active careers, which she believes led to their separation. She discusses encountering racial prejudice and the difficulties of being mixed race in a society with rigid cultural barriers. She also discusses developing her sexuality and identity as a bisexual woman.[22]

Her memoir Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After A Lifetime of Ambivalence (2007), explores her life with a stepson and biological son, against a framework of feminism. She discusses traditional pregnancy topics, such as diet and preparing for labor. Given Walker's own experience, she encourages young women to understand that motherhood is possible even when they have a career or if they resist it because of having had a difficult childhood.[23] She says that the book addresses the 'work versus motherhood' trade-off that women of her generation and younger face after growing up in a social landscape that believes women must make a choice in order to have children.[24] She said that she was inspired to write the book by the birth of her own son, Tenzin. Her rearing of him has changed some of her views on motherhood and family bonds.[25]

Walker was a contributing editor to Ms. magazine for many years. Her writing has been published in a range of magazines, such as Harper's, Essence, Glamour, Interview, Buddhadharma, Vibe, Child, and Mademoiselle magazines. She has appeared on CNN and MTV, and has been covered in The New York Times, Chicago Times, Esquire, Shambhala Sun, among others. Walker has taught workshops on writing at international conferences and MFA programs. She also works as a private publishing consultant.[26]

Her first novel, Adé: A Love Story (2013). It features a biracial college student named Farida who falls in love with Adé, a black Kenyan man. While the young couple plan to marry, their plans are interrupted when Farida gets malaria and the two must struggle through a civil war in Kenya. The novel was generally well received by critics and lay people alike.[27]

Complete list of works:

  • To be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1996) (Editor)
  • Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2000)
  • What Makes A Man: 22 Writers Imagine The Future (2004) (Editor)
  • Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence (2007)
  • One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love (2009) (Editor)
  • Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness (Soft Skull Press, February 2012) (Editor)[28]
  • Adé: A Love Story (2013), (first novel)


In the 1998 film Primary Colors, Walker played the character March. The movie is a roman à clef about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

In March 2014, the film rights for Adé: A Love Story (2013) were reported to have been optioned, with Madonna to serve as director.[29]


Walker has also received an Honorary Doctorate from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Walker is featured in The Advocate's "Forty under 40" issue of June/July 2009 as one of the most influential "out" media professionals.[32]

In 2016, she was selected as one of BBC's 100 Women.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Walker identifies as bisexual. She had a relationship with neo-soul musician Meshell Ndegeocello, whose son she has helped raise even after the adults had separated.[34][35]

At the age of 37, she became pregnant during her relationship with her partner Glen, a Buddhist teacher. They had a son together named Tenzin, born in 2007.[36]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Curry, Ginette. "Toubab La!": Literary Representations of Mixed-race Characters in the African Diaspora. Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Pub., 2007 [1].
  • Official site
  • Official Myspace page
  • Rebecca Walker on IMDb
  • Third Wave Foundation
  • Rebecca Walker, Excerpt: Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, The Multiracial Activist, 1 December 2000
  • Book Forum article
  • Editorial Work, Greater Good Magazine, Summer 2008
  1. ^Walker, Rebecca (2011-10-27). "Anita Hill Woke Us Up". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  2. ^"About". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  3. ^Rosenbloom, Stephanie (2007-03-18). "Alice Walker - Rebecca Walker - Feminist - Feminist Movement - Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  4. ^"About". Third Wave Fund. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  5. ^"Speaking". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  6. ^Miller, Zeke J.; Rothman, Lily (5 December 2014), "What Happened to the 'Future Leaders' of the 1990s?", TIME Magazine, retrieved 17 August 2015 
  7. ^"Full Biography". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  8. ^Ross, Ross (April 8, 2007). "Rebecca Walker bringing message to Expo". Pensacola News Journal. Retrieved April 8, 2007. 
  9. ^Rebecca Walker (2008-05-23). "Rebecca and her mother". London: Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  10. ^Walker, Rebecca (1992). "Becoming the Third Wave". Ms. Magazine. 11, no. 2 (2): 39–41. 
  11. ^Walker, Rebecca (2011-10-27). "Anita Hill Woke Us Up". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  12. ^HeathenGrrl's Blog: Becoming the Third Wave by Rebecca Walker. Heathengrrl.blogspot.com (2007-02-28). Retrieved on 2012-05-07.
  13. ^HistoryArchived 2012-10-07 at the Wayback Machine., Third Wave Foundation. Retrieved on 2012-05-07.
  14. ^"Welcome to Third Wave Fund!". Third Wave Fund. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  15. ^"Speaking". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  16. ^"Speaking". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  17. ^"Full Biography". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  18. ^"Full Biography". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  19. ^"To Be Real". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  20. ^Fisher, J. A. (2013-05-16). "Today's Feminism: A Brief Look at Third-Wave Feminism". Being Feminist. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  21. ^"Full Biography". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  22. ^Rebecca Walker. "Nonfiction Book Review: Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self". PublishersWeekly.com. Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-169-6. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  23. ^Rosenbloom, Stephanie (2007-03-18). "Alice Walker - Rebecca Walker - Feminist - Feminist Movement - Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  24. ^Rosenbloom, Stephanie (2007-03-18). "Alice Walker - Rebecca Walker - Feminist - Feminist Movement - Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  25. ^Rosenbloom, Stephanie (2007-03-18). "Alice Walker - Rebecca Walker - Feminist - Feminist Movement - Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  26. ^"Full Biography". www.rebeccawalker.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  27. ^Laurie Schultz. "Review: Adé: A Love Story". www.nyjournalofbooks.com. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 
  28. ^Staff (December 12, 2011). "Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness. Edited by Rebecca Walker.", Publishers Weekly.
  29. ^Kellogg, Carolyn (March 25, 2014). "Madonna to film Rebecca Walker's 'Ade: A Love Story'". Los Angeles Times. 
  30. ^Women of Distinction Program. Retrieved on 2012-06-26.
  31. ^NOW's First Annual Intrepid Awards Gala: Rebecca Walker. Now.org. Retrieved on 2012-05-07.
  32. ^"Forty Under 40", The Advocate, June–July 2009, archived from the original on January 16, 2010, retrieved April 7, 2011 
  33. ^2016, BBC, Retrieved 26 November 2016
  34. ^Maran, Meredith (May 28, 2004), "What Little Boys are Made of", Salon, retrieved April 7, 2011 
  35. ^Rosenbloom, Stephanie (March 18, 2007), "Evolution of a Feminist Daughter", The New York Times, retrieved April 7, 2011 
  36. ^Krum, Sharon (2007-05-26). "'Can I survive having a baby? Will I lose myself ... ?'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-04-20. 

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