Mom & Me & Mom was Emma Watson's November/December pick for her feminist book club, so I picked it up to read over Thanksgiving Break. It is, to my understanding, the seventh autobiographical work written by Angelou, and it focuses on her relationship with her mother and (to a lesser extent) her grandmother, and how these relationships allowed her to grow into an empowered woman despite rocky spots along the way.
I think this book both showed how women can be supportive of each other, and also served as a terrible example for feminism. (Which is, let's remember, about equality, not superiority.)
Over the course of the book, Angelou works on showing how her mother, who sent her away to be raised by her grandmother from ages three to thirteen. While Angelou had a very strong relationship with her grandmother, she obviously didn't have one with her mother when she returned to her as a teenager. She was so distanced from her that she wanted to call her "Lady" instead of "Mother." But over the years, Angelou shows how her mother was there for her during tough situations, and eventually came to be the person that she called upon whenever she needed support. Of course, the relationship wasn't entirely flowers and sunshine; there were fights, rocky periods, stony silences, and even an incident where Vivian hit Maya so hard that it messed Maya's face up--so bad that her brother wanted them to leave. There are also some questionable parenting techniques, like letting her leave school to be a streetcar conductor. Angelou tries to tie lessons to these, but I think some of the lessons are rather undermined by the context that they're in. For example, there's a line about how "A woman needs to support herself before she asks anyone else to support her," but this message is embedded in an episode in which Vivian almost shoots a guy because he cheated on her. Now, if the gender roles were flipped here, would this seem like an empowered individual...or someone who's being abusive towards their significant other? This seems to be the case throughout much of the book. Vivian's "empowerment" often comes as the cost of others, and not in an "equality" sense.
I also wasn't exactly a fan of the writing here. It seems very short and jerky, taking much of the emotion out of the story, and jumps from topic to topic without transitions; this combined with a progressively more non-linear format often made the narrative hard to follow as a whole. Maya Angelous is so lauded by so many that I really expected more here, but from some other reviews I've seen, it seems like maybe her earlier works flowed a bit better than this one.
Overall, I didn't like this book or the message that it put forth. Yes, it was nice to see a pair of women who helped and supported each other, rather than tearing each other down, which women are prone to doing...but then again, this is the way a mother/daughter relationship is supposed to work. And that support often came, at least on Vivian's end, by tearing down other people and toting around a gun in case anyone pissed her off. That's not feminism; that's not being a strong woman. That is perpetuating abusive relationships in which the abuse is perpetrated by the woman, and presenting them as being beneficial to women. It's not okay for men to be abusive (and there are some terrible portrayals of abuse by men here, of physical and emotional varieties) and it's not okay for women, either. Trying to gloss over that is not okay, and I'm very disappointed that's what I found in this book.
1.5 stars out of 5.