Author explores power, pain of mom-daughter tie

September 17, 1993|By Torri Minton | Torri Minton,San Francisco Chronicle

Idelisse Malave was helping her 7-year-old daughter pull on a pair of blue jeans in a store dressing room when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. "Oh, God," Ms. Malave said. "How ugly I look."

It's something women say to themselves all the time, and Ms. Malave was feeling hassled and harried and imperfect that day.

Her daughter, Esti, stared at her. Ms. Malave will never forget it. "You're not ugly, Mommy," she said. "You look like me."

"At that moment I went cold inside," says Ms. Malave, a 46-year-old New York lawyer. "We do look alike. She is beautiful."

It wasn't the first time Ms. Malave had put herself down in front of Esti. "She caught me," Ms. Malave said. "I don't do that anymore."

Those negative mom-messages are just one of the things about the mother-daughter relationship that Ms. Malave became acutely aware of in researching the "Mother Daughter Revolution: From Betrayal to Power" (Addison Wesley).

"The baggage we carry as women is more often than not the baggage we transfer to our children, so we better take a good look at it," says Ms. Malave, vice president of the Ms. Foundation, which gives profits from Ms. magazine to women's projects.

The new book, praised by feminist leaders from Gloria Steinem to Naomi Wolf, offers a plan for mothers to have better relationships with their daughters, to stop passing on self-defeating thoughts, to stop trying to be perfectionists, and to tell the truth and to listen, really listen, to what their daughters are saying.

"If anything, feminism has ignored mothers," says Ms. Malave. "What the book is saying is the mother-daughter bond can be a source of enormous strength and growth for mothers and daughters."

That strength can come from healthy conflict between mothers and daughters, contrary to "the tyranny of nice and kind," says Lyn Mikel Brown, assistant professor of education and human development at Colby College, Maine.

When she was growing up, a good relationship meant being nice and polite and not always talking about what was really going on.

Ms. Brown is co-author of the 1992 best seller "Meeting at the Crossroads" -- which grew out of the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development.

"Mother Daughter Revolution" also grew out of the Harvard research, which found that girls are enormously strong, resilient and confident -- until they hit adolescence.

The new book, Ms. Malave says, is not about blaming Mom.

"Revolution" shows how bold teen-age girls hit the "wall of Western culture," realize their vulnerability and how society restricts them, and lose self-esteem. Mothers teach their daughters not how to break through the wall, the authors say, but how to survive in a man's world.

"The issue is really about the wider cultural message . . . the cult of thinness and beauty and silence and sweetness," says Ms. Brown.

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