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FEATURES | spring 2006

Ms. Eavesdrops On…Famous Feminist Moms and Their Daughters

Ms. decided to do a little communications research of our own: We chatted with three prominent feminists and their equally impressive daughters, asking them to reflect on aspects of their mother-daughter discourse. The result: lots of laughter, lots of expressed mutual respect and surprisingly few stories of miscommunication.

Faye Wattleton and Felicia Gordon
Faye Wattleton, 63, a nurse by training, had the longest tenure of any Planned Parenthood president, leading the organization from 1978 to 1992. Her only child, Felicia Gordon, 30, is a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation.

Faye: I don’t think I’ve ever said to Felicia, “You’re wearing that?”

Felicia: If anything, I would be the one to say, “You’re wearing that?” [They both laugh.]

Ms.: You get along so well and are such good friends— but was there ever a time someone hurt the other’s feelings and didn’t say anything about it for a long time?

Faye: First of all, I don’t think Felicia would go for years without saying something— that’s my generation. I did go for years and years not acknowledging the things my mother said that hurt me; to this day she probably doesn’t know. But I can remember one instance, Felicia, where I was teasing you on the tennis court, and I said, “C’mon, Principessa, let’s play!” and you considered it hurtful and unfair and disrespectful. I meant it in a lighthearted way.

Felicia: But it was a name my boyfriend had given me in a very loving context, not in a teasing context.

Faye: So I was crossways with another communication pattern, and she was so upset with me she walked off the tennis court and never came back! [They laugh again.]

Ellen Goodman and Katie Goodman
Ellen Goodman, 65, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist known for both her humor and her insightful feminist analysis. Daughter Katie, 38, puts her feminist commentary into Broad Comedy, the women’s performance troupe for which she writes, acts and directs.

Katie: My mom and I had such a good relationship that when we were mad at each other or having a conflict, I always wanted to resolve it.

Ellen: You didn’t slam the door to your room, that wasn’t your mode. Your mode was as exhausting as it could be— to stay in the conversation.

Katie: [Laughing] Negotiate you into the ground! I should have been a lawyer, not a director.

Ellen: When you were in grammar school and the other kids thought you were bossy, I remember saying, “In a little girl they call it bossy, in a little boy they call it leadership. In a child they call it bossiness, in an adult they call it leadership.” You are, without question, a leader. You definitely wanted to make things happen.

Dolores Huerta and Camila Chavez
Dolores Huerta, 76, is revered as one of the founders of the modern farmworkers' movement. The youngest of her seven daughters (she also has four sons), Camila Chavez, 31, works with her at the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield, Calif.

Ms.: Dolores, did the women’s movement impact the way you communicated with your daughters?

Dolores: The feminist movement gives us stronger ties to each other, makes us part of the same “team,” working for women’s equality. It strikes a blow to censorship and the ability to speak openly about women's bodies.

Ms.: Did the way you talked with your daughters differ from the way you talked with your mother?

Dolores: Although my mother and I were open on many issues, sex was not a topic of discussion. Because of my lengthy absences and the intense pressure of our work building the [farmworkers’] union, I suspect my daughters went to their older sisters for information on sex.

Ms.: Camila, what did you learn from your mother about communication?

Camila: To protest! One time, my mother let my brother and his friends go stay in a spooky part of an old sanitarium. The girls wanted to go too, but she wouldn’t agree. So we picketed! As she prepared to leave on an organizing trip for the farmworkers, we surrounded her car and waved signs that said “Unfair!” and “Mami is sexist!” I was 5 and didn’t quite understand what sexism was, so I started yelling, “Mami is sexy, Mami is sexy!