WARNING: GROUCHY SEMI-COHERENT FEMINIST RANT HERE.
So you’ve been warned.
This particular piece has been going around my Facebook and now my LJ. I’m putting up the full link so if you’ve seen it before, you don’t have to Go There.
Read it already? Want to read it? Here’s a hint: if you’re a mother and a writer, you’ve already heard this BS. I can just about guarantee it. Somehow your motherhood either condemns you to writing glowing tributes to Super!Mommy!Life! (oh god, does anyone remember the early days of Joyce Maynard’s columns? or the subsequent implosion which would have made more sense having known more About Her Past Literary Connections?) or you become Supermom With The Single Child who goes everywhere and does everything and Achieves In Spite Of Parenthood.
Yeah. The early years of my mothering life got spent in the late 80s, when Greed Was Good (oh hell yes, I was a complex securities litigation paralegal during that era and I Have Stories) and if you had a child, the mandatory rule was a.) You write many opinion pieces talking about How Wonderful Parenthood Is and How Awful Feminism Is or b.) You Were Total Careerist Yuppie And Nannies Ruled Your Life. And you wrote opinion pieces about that life as well. I started frothing pretty damn fast when reading that BS, because though I was a mother and staying at home with the kid, I was sure as hell writing and still saw myself as a feminist (and was Not Supermommy. Really. I tried. So not me).
I ended up staying at home and taking care of the kid because I’d managed to get myself compromised by working on some of the biggest local securities cases for a couple of litigation support companies which meant I had major conflicts of interests at the time with most of the local law firms–and one of the biggest litigation support companies was on the blacklist for many of the local law firms because they’d been such jerks. Plus, computerization was getting a toehold into the particular specialty I was working. In the course of five years litigation support went from needing many trained bodies to eyeball documents to code and enter into a mainframe to doing the same function on a 386. And that was before search engine optimization happened. So yeah–that profession kinda sorta went down the dumpster, but I had figured that out by observing that desperate law students trying to pay off their law school loans would take paralegal jobs. I had to review resumes for a paralegal job in one position, and realized that–um, well, the future in this profession ain’t what I was told it was going to be, given the number of desperate law students looking for work. Pay scales were dropping from what they had been just a couple of years before, so…
Realistically, at the time, any job I could pull down at the time with my experience level would not have paid for the daycare. I certainly couldn’t earn enough to justify my spouse staying at home, and I really didn’t see where it would gain us anything in that particular career option for me to stay in work and try to advance in the field. As it was, I managed to eke out time between preschool and different daycare options to scratch out enough time to write. Because I’m one of those slowly developing writers (I got bogged down pretty quickly at the almost-good-enough level, still working my way through that), and because I have the ADHD impatience trait in spades, I ended up going back to work off and on once kid went to school. Writing came and went, but that was as much a function of my own frustrations at not being able to break through with the stories I wanted to tell as it was parenthood. I tried writing nonfiction for a while, but it didn’t serve the same jones that fiction did, plus I’d get bored with it as a regular gig.
I find it to be an element of highest irony that the first paid piece I ever sold was “I Am A Feminist Housewife” to a local feminist monthly that went out of business. I think I’m one of the few who got a check from that lovely little tabloid (they paid for the first two issues). I also think I sold that piece two or three more times, with one more reprint. At the time, I was rebelling against the assumption that because I was a stay-at-home mom, I wasn’t a feminist.
And now. Good freaking heavens. You can’t be a writer and manage more than one kid? Um, I suspect that if you look at the numbers of women published during the Fifties, fercrissake, you’d find women without staffs and nannies juggling kids and writing. Good God, Fanny Trollope was far from the only nineteenth century woman who took up writing to support family–and that wasn’t a one-kid setup, either.
What this does mean is that you manage more than one kid but you don’t elevate Motherhood to High Art. After all, that’s what the subtext really is about. With one kid, or so the subtext goes, you can have A Real Life. With more than one–you’re screwed.
To which I reply–baloney. What gets screwed is the delusion that you can work and still be Perfect! 50s! Mommy! The Atlantic piece whimpers about how more than one child would have diffused the focus of the women Lauren Kessler chooses to hold up as the epitome of writing women.
Um. Yeah. Really? Look, when it comes to multiple kid families and anything other than upper class incomes, juggling happens, whether Mom works outside the house or not. I hate to break it to people like Kessler, but these dilemmas happen to anyone who needs to juggle work, family, and an intense passion that isn’t completely funded. The ability to sit and think about something intensely for hours at a time is a luxury that many people–male and female alike–simply don’t possess. So if you want to tell stories, but you don’t have that time because you lack the resources and you have a young family–you either find ways to make it work for you (because everyone’s solution is different), or you stop doing it until your time is clear. Period.
The issue that all of these debates dances around and does not face on square is that time is a commodity, and the cost of time varies depending on its perceived value to the person it’s being applied to. It’s not the issue of parenting plus job plus writing, or parenting plus writing, or parenting one child vs more and writing–it’s about the management of time as a commodity. Time of women is not universally valued at the same cost as time of men. Time of parenting is not valued at the same cost as work outside the home. Creative time is not valued at the same cost as so-called “real work” at an outside employer. Our time value priorities are screwed up, and that’s the real problem.
(And that, my friends, is a longer post than what I probably should continue on, seeing how long this post has gotten).
So yeah. I’m annoyed by this latest piece of baloney about women and feminism and writing, but I’ve seen it before. And, for the record, I am the parent of only one child–but the reason for that has nothing to do with the writing, and everything to do with the reality that I had a horrific time of pregnancy, starting with conceiving while my mother was dying, suffering through nasty morning sickness for most of the pregnancy, then going through a really tough labor while incubating a nasty case of staph and afterwards showing up with an abnormal Pap smear that had me fearing I’d leave my baby motherless.
“You’ll forget all that,” people told me.
They were wrong. I flinch at recalling those details even now. I walked away from my only pregnancy knowing that there was no way I was ever, ever going to put myself through that experience again. I love my son and I’m glad I had him–but one was enough.
And thus endeth the rantage for tonight. Hope it was at least semi-coherent.