We Are Not All Women Writer Mothers
Several months ago, I joined a new community for women writers, She Writes, and then I never really participated in the site because with all the networking sites out there, I had a difficult time justifying the investment of my time into yet another social networking site.
The interface is a bit bewildering and chaotic but for the most part, the site seems interesting and offers resources and an active community for women writers. There’s a store selling the books of the site’s members, a blog, many different groups catering to many interests and occasional webinars where experts lead workshops and discussions on topics ranging from finding an agent to self-marketing. The eager, extremely instructive/self-help tone of the site seems to juxtapose awkwardly with the genuine depth of talent of many of the site’s members—many of the instructional efforts seem to be in the vein of preaching to the choir.
I understand why women who write would want to create a supportive community where they can talk about writing and the constraints women face as writers but at the same time, I am conflicted. The site, by its very nature demands that as women we place our gender before our writing. The phenomenon of placing a label before the word writer seems to be an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of being a writer who is not a white man. We’re not going to see a He Writes website any time soon, are we?
I’ve also noticed that if you’re a “Woman Writer” that condition is synonymous with “Mommy Writer.” I have nothing against mommies. Mine is fantastic and I know many wonderful mothers and I will some day become a mother if I can overcome a crippling case of selfishness. However, I am not now a mother and I am consistently troubled that the primary conversation about women as writers is consistently tied to motherhood and making time to nurture writing while also nurturing children. That seems almost ironic to me and rather myopic that we cannot discuss gender and writing without reducing women to our wombs.
Women writers who are mothers do struggle to make the time to write. They struggle with feelings of guilt when they write, feeling that such time might be better spent on their children, homes, husbands, or partners. In September, we had a very interesting discussion about this very subject on the PANK blog. I have to believe, though, that there are women writers who are mothers who don’t primarily define themselves as Mommy Writers—that there are women who write who happen to be mothers and that these women are interested in talking about matters of craft in addition to or rather than matters of maternity. In 2005, Ayelet Waldman wrote in the New York Times Modern Love column that she loved her husband more than her children and the small segment of the world who cares about such things collectively gasped at the very notion of a woman who did not put her children at the center of her universe. I have no doubt Waldman knew she was being salacious when she made her comments but at least she had the moxie to state something that in some small way defied convention.
It is incredibly important for sites like SheWrites to exist and to encourage conversations about women as writers and writing but I also believe that those conversations don’t have to be grounded solely in womanhood or motherhood. I also wonder how we might move toward focusing more on matters of craft and publishing without ignoring womanhood.