Who's Your Momma? Probably Not a Famous Author.
Why are there so few mothers among our favorite writers? The numbers are not good. The bylines, by far, go to the men, as do the literary prizes, the biggest advances, the upper echelons of the canon, the spoils. Although noting tipped scales when it comes to men and women writers has been a common move..
Why are there so few mothers among our favorite writers?The numbers are not good. The bylines, by far, go to the men, as do the literary prizes, the biggest advances, the upper echelons of the canon, the spoils. Although noting tipped scales when it comes to men and women writers has been a common move since first wave feminism lapped on our shores, the subsequent four or so decades have done little to alter the situation. We who tally and note these things tend to simply sigh these days, rather than picket or rail. We shrug our shoulders. Too often we forget to make the point (after all, we think, they'll just think it's another whine, and doesn't everyone know this all already?): women are greatly underrepresented amongst the ranks of writers, fiction or non.So it is with fatigue that I welcome (and I do welcome it!) Elaine Showalter's new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, as well as Laura Miller's excellent review-essay about the book, "Why Can't A Woman Write the Great American Novel?" in Salon (which begins her ennui with
articles about the dearth of women writers).And it is with fatigue that I read Javier Marias recent article in The New Republic titled "Love The Art, Hate The Artist," an article about how artists are often unpleasant people. Fine, interesting enough. Only, that is, if you can get past the subtitle, "Why are creative geniuses always portrayed as insufferable louts?" Wait. Lout is a gender-specific term, isn't it? Could that have really passed without notice through author and editor and copyeditor? Just to make sure, I look up "lout" and sure enough, Encarta World English Dictionary confirms: "lout: an offensive term that deliberately insults the behavior and attitude of somebody, especially a young man (informal insult)." (And since I know you are now wondering, the synonyms are thug, hoodlum, vandal, hooligan, yob, ruffian, oaf.) Yob?And, so exhausted I could just cry while reading, I stumble (as in "to fall") upon a blog post by D. G. Myers on the dearth of literature about parenting, in which he points out that the thirty-seven writers included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1914–1945, had, in toto, forty-nine children. (Or, as he puts it, " a child-to-writer ratio of 1.32, the fertility rate of a former Soviet Bloc country"). Of the twelve women included in that group of thirty seven, nine-count ‘em, nine of twelve, twelve of thirty-seven-had no children. Zero. Zip. (Or, as Myers does it, they get big goose eggs after their names: "Willa Cather, 0; Gertrude Stein, 0).And then, just to be cruel to myself, I polled some literary friends of mine. "Quick," I asked them. "Name a favorite writer who was or is a mother." Pause. "Virginia Woo…? Nope." "Dickinso…? Nope. " "Louisa May Al…? Nope." Then they thought harder and little curls emerged at the edges of their lips. Do not despair, Anne, those smiles promised. "Mary Shelley! Toni Morrison! Joan Didion!"And not a single lout!I know that now, at this point in the article, after evidence-gathering, I am to shift gears, and analyze the significance of what I have found, crunch the numbers and parse the names to figure out why this age-old imbalance has not gone away.But-oops! Could it be 2:57 already? I have to run and pick up my son from school. Alas! No memorable argument, elegant interpretation or paradigm-shattering claims today. I haven't the time.