When I first found out I was pregnant, I worried how motherhood would influence my future as a “serious writer.”
Some causes for my concern were obvious. Having Henry has placed limits on my available time, available money, available freedom to travel, go for broke, take high risks. Most of these limits have proved surmountable, however, and in some ways, beneficial. The imposed time restraint has taught me discipline. The financial stress has led me to pursue more seriously a career in writing (as opposed to just writing for myself).
But there continues to exist an underlying worry regarding my fate as a mom/writer that is more sinister, less apparent.
Check out these graphs at the Vida website. Oh yeah, and the ladies are in blue.
For those of you who don’t feel like clicking, I’ll summarize. The disparity between female-authored books reviewed in 2010 versus male-authored books reviewed is startling, almost painful.
The New Yorker reviewed 9 female authors and 36 male authors.
Boston Review reviewed 14 female authors and 41 male authors.
The New York Times reviewed 59 women authors and 306 men.
You get the picture–but this is old news. Last summer, Jodi Picoult caused a stir, when she tweeted her response to the wild critical applause Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom caused:
NYT raved about Franzen’s new book. Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.
The controversy was on. Was the New York Times Review a White Boy’s Club?
In an essay for The Atlantic, entitled “All the Sad Young Literary Women,” Chris Jackson wrote,
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor. I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman? And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes. It was a pretty shameful moment. . . I can’t speak to the specifics of the Picoult/Times dispute but I can say that the frustration Picoult expressed is shared by a lot of women (and men) who write or work in the literary world. In my experience … it’s clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women. And while I’ve never seen it quantified in any way, there’s definitely a feeling out there that men–even when writing about frivolous subjects–are taken more seriously as literary writers and are more likely to be presented to serious readers by the various literary gatekeepers.
There are honestly too many blog posts, articles, and essays on the topic of gender inequality inside the literary who’s who to quote here. Go ahead and Google it, if your interested. You could whittle away hour after anxious hour reading (especially if you’re a female writer).
There was a Boy’s Club in my college. I wanted to belong. They accepted me, but my gender was always there, between us. My inconvenient body. Oh, it was true.
I wanted to conspire, I wanted to stay up late smoking, I wanted to drink whiskey and talk literature, art, philosophy (what little I knew at the time). I didn’t want romance. Or love. Even though I was a girl, I did not want to become “a poem.”
“You are a poem though your poem’s naught,” Ezra Pound had said to H.D. while courting her in Philadelphia at the beginning of both their poetic careers.
I wanted to be taken seriously. Sentiment was my worst enemy. While it can make a poet out of a man it can completely destroy a woman artist’s credibility. I had to think about these things.
Still do, and motherhood has been the whammy of all whammies. I’ve talked baby talk and framed footprints and acquiesced control to my, at times, horrifyingly messy body (It was difficult for me to feel dignified while giving birth) (though yes, it is wonderful and amazing and primitive and magnificent and all that).
One comment on one essay lamenting the discrepancy in attention given to women as opposed to male authors suggests that more women use pseudonyms. Tempting, but I don’t think that’s the right direction.
I wrote my college thesis on the role of the contemporary female writer in western society. I titled it, “Joy on the Margins.” Here is the first paragraph:
To attempt to assign the role of the contemporary female poet [and writer] in Western society is to attempt the impossible; however, it is possible to elucidate the contexts, challenges, and strengths available to her. I wish to argue that women as poets [and writers] operate within a context or paradigm that they are especially competent to change. Female poets, due to their place on the margins of the poetry establishment, hold an especially influential position in the transformation of poetry and the direction it will take. The woman as poet, her transition from voiceless to voice, object to a subjective source of reality, claims an especially influential place in literary development, which is consequentially also helpful in the development of an new paradigm or healing reality.
However, before female writers can inhabit the power in their marginal position, they must first resolve several personal conflicts. The woman writer must discover a way to develop on her own terms. She must find her own psychology, her own significance, her own authentic definition. The woman writer must discover her own language, articulate her own feelings, and discover her own perceptions.
She must no longer accept the definitions handed to her.
Those numbers, those graphs don’t scare me. They excite me. We’ve got so much further to go, and I get to go. I get to be apart of this worthy trip.