Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Surviving the holidays with your mother

Many women have close relationships with their mothers. Some even feel they're spending their whole life trying not to turn into their own mother, particularly when they're in a relationship (becoming their partner's mum) or once they have children.

Nancy Friday wrote a book about the mother-daughter relationship, and particularly about the daughter's search for identity. Its title is My Mother, Myself. Originally published in the 1970s, it's just come out in a new edition, which goes to show just how relevant it still is today.

I read this book when I was twenty, and I remember that it was one of the most important books I'd ever read. A bit like with Wifework and Femininity, I felt as though this books really had a profound impact on the way I felt about things.

Some feminist books are like that. When I first learnt about feminism, I talked to my aunt and she said that, when she first read Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex -a life-changing book for a whole generation of women- she remembers feeling really angry.

I don't think I felt angry after reading My Mother, Myself, but it put a lot of things into perspective. Feeling the need to compete with other women is one of the issues discussed in the book as a type of behaviour mothers teach their daughters. I thought this was a really really important section, and I think it might have helped me get over this sick competitive mindset that so many of us women share. Thought I think that what helped me eradicate it completely was a simple experiment I did for a few days, and which I'll write about in my next post.

Feeling comfortable with one's sexuality is another thing Friday discusses. She argues that, as children, we pick up on our parents' emotions more than on what they actually say. So when a mother talks to her child about sexuality, she might do so in enlightened terms, but her child will more likely pick up on the discomfort she feels when discussing sex. Friday thinks that this is why it takes several generations before feminism's lessons really take root and become 'comfortable'. Because there is necessarily a generation which learns about feminism but knows that it goes against all the morals they have learned, and they will transmit feminist lessons to their daughters together with a mixed bag of emotions. Their daughters will grow up in a world or more relaxed morals, so they will feel less uncomfortable about discussing sexuality with their children, and so on...(by the way, I don't want to imply that parents shouldn't transmit feminist lessons to their sons in equal measure!!!)

Most people who know of Nancy Friday do so because of her bestselling collection of women's sexual fantasies, published under the title My Secret Garden (1975). I don't know what that book is like but it seems to have hit the spot.

Anyway, I'm going to stop writing about My Mother, Myself for now, as it's been a while since I read it and I mostly remember that I found it important, but I don't remember all the details. It's sitting on my shelf, however, and I'll endeavour to have another look through it. Particularly with regard to body image and menstruation, because that was a real eye-opener!

Happy holidays to all!


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