The daughter of famed novelist Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker found her own way of living out her beliefs. After graduating from Yale University in 1992, she spearheaded the Third Wave Direct Action Corps, an advocacy group that has crisscrossed the country registering inner city residents to vote. To date, the corps has registered about 200,000 people and tackles other issues-such as drug rehabilitation, homelessness and computer literacy in inner cities-by teaching children how to use the Internet.
Walker delivered the March 4 keynote speech for Women's History Month titled "Being Real: Women and Men Tell the Truth and Change the Face of Feminism." She read from her book, To Be Real, a collection of essays on feminism and other related topics, and talked about her beginnings in activism and feminism.
Walker decided to start the youth-oriented Third Wave in response to several events and trends, including the Rodney King verdict, the Bush administration and the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. "The established organizations like the NAACP and NOW didn't speak my language," Walker said. "It didn't feel like me somehow."
In the process of her work with Third Wave and her discussions of feminism with others, Walker noticed something. "People would appreciate what I was doing, but they weren't comfortable with the term feminist," she said. "Feminist wasn't a bad word for me, but I heard what they had said.
"There's this split between generations," she continued. "A link needs to be forged. I decided to do this book because I wanted to bridge it.
"Simultaneously, I was starting to question what my own feminism was going to look like. I knew I'd embody feminism in a different way from my mother, and that was scary for me."
Reading from her introduction to the book, Walker explained her personal conflicts in developing a personal feminist perspective. "A year before I started this book, my life was like a feminist ghetto," she read. "Every vision had to measure into my feminist vision. My existence was an ongoing state of saying no to the universe."
This conflict led to "the guilt of betrayal"-Walker felt she "wasn't strong enough to be a feminist." A collection of images came to her when she thought about what it meant to be a feminist. "You had to live in poverty, hate pornography and must always be devoted to the uplift of your gender," Walker said. If you enjoyed other activities, such as "being spanked before sex, being treated like a lady or getting married-you couldn't be a feminist."
The need for a new and diverse feminism was called for, she thought. "We have a different vantage point on the world than our mothers," Walker explained. "Many young men and women just bow out altogether. The people in this book have not bowed out. They talk of their own ideal and add their own voices to the feminist dialogue." Voices are important, Walker believes. "If feminism is to be radical and alive [it needs] to respond to new situations, needs, desires and incorporate all those who swear by it."
Walker read from several of the book's essays that described differing views of feminism, including a perspective on feminism and developing violence, the thoughts of a female hip-hop lover and a man's exploration of the need for bachelor parties.
"I wanted to show there was no monolithic feminism," Walker said. "I knew the writers would all disagree with each other, but that ideological diversity seemed important to me."
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