Writing and Motherhood: Are We There Yet?

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I recently re-read Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1988 essay on mother writers, titled “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter.” It’s been a few years since I read it in a college literary criticism class, but I never forgot it.

Le Guin writes about how society has long preached that women writers are unnatural, and mother writers even more so. Society’s reasoning being that either the children or the books would suffer if a woman attempted to fulfill both callings. Le Guin argues that it can be done, without anyone putting anyone’s head in the oven (a la Sylvia Plath). Exhibit A: Le Guin herself has written books and raised children, quite successfully. The essay a very encouraging read.

As a woman who hopes to both have kids and get published, I started wondering: are we there yet?

As a society, have we stopped marginalizing mother writers?

I think of J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, and Shannon Hale right off the top of my head. I think of all the women I know personally who are mothers (or plan to be mothers) and who are writing books. I haven’t heard anyone tell them they can’t do it, or they’re not suited for it. I haven’t been told any such thing myself. The only bar I can see today to being both a mother and a writer is the one that has always existed: that pesky limit of only 24 hours in a day.

If anything, society now says it is unnatural to be a mother without some other profession, or for women to hamper (pun intended) their potential by being mothers at all.

I think we can safely say the pendulum has swung. Thanks to Le Guin and others, mothers and other women writers have stepped out of the margins and onto the page where they were always meant to be.

The only downside is that the pendulum may have gone a bit far. Now the fight is for motherhood itself to be an acceptable occupation for women.

Moms, women, writers–your thoughts?

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8 thoughts on “Writing and Motherhood: Are We There Yet?

  1. Great post Julia! I don’t think it will be easy to be a mother and a writer but I know that’s what I want to do. I recently read an article where Shannon Hale was quoted about being a writer and a mother. Shannon said, “I made a list of all my priorities in order. First was God. Second was my family. And third was writing. That means writing trumps sleep, food, laundry, housecleaning, and anything else that might need to be done.”

    I think that’s a good way to look at this calling as a writer. Those kinds of priorities can really help us to get things done.

    • I like that quote a lot! Thanks for sharing. It basically sums up my life during NaNoWriMo. *as I eat my breakfast off a tupperware lid, so I don’t have to add another plate to the pile of dishes* XD

  2. You’re right about working mothers now being the norm. Although the more I hear about harassment at cons and uppity professors who don’t believe women are worth reading, the more I see that there is still some marginalization of female writers going on. That’s not going to stop me from writing what I love though, and I do hear rumbles of change.

  3. Hrm…there is still marginalization of female writers, mom or not – because it’s still a thing for publishers to suggest women use pennames, even if it’s just using first-name and perhaps middle-name initials, so that they can attract a broader audience. Because. Despite everything else, who wants to read a book by a woman? We all know they can’t write. Despite the evidence.

    No, seriously, this is still a thing – this was brought up several times at LTUE by published authors, men and women alike.

    I think because women are expected to work, child or not, no one cares that much if you have a baby and a book. I saw a lot of mom authors at LTUE, too. (Their babies and small children were super cute!) But people still care if you are female at all or not.

    Say, why wouldn’t anyone care if a guy was a dad and a writer? Because in all likelihood, he’s a dad, an employee, and a writer – that’s three things instead of two! No one says anything about that.

  4. I’ve never felt that I had to choose between being a mother and a writer. I will say right now that my experience is that I need to choose carefully what I spend my energy on (and baby ain’t even here yet! This will be an adventure…), and yes, it might come down to housework or writing. Time management, I suppose?
    On the other hand, the marginalization I hear from society at large is “why would you want to be a writer?” or that writing isn’t a “real” career. I’ve never felt or seen the marginalization of women writers but that’s probably because, since a large portion of what I read is by female authors – Levine, Moon, McKinley, Austen, and Rowling to name a few – I can ignore anyone who rather ignorantly assumes women can’t write.
    So would that mean that being a mother and a writer is two things that a large portion of society don’t look at as real jobs? Because that, I think, is a problem, as both are large time and energy commitments and supporting yourself and your family through writing is no less honorable than any other job. In fact, I suspect that it allows you more opportunities to have better family ties than most careers, and more inspiration and knowledge of the human experience and empathy for others which will improve your writing than it would hinder you.

  5. I’ve got it. As mothers, we’ll introduce our sons to all the great women authors. It sounds to me like if publishers want male pseudonyms for women writers so they can “reach a wider audience,” it’s because no one taught boys that books by women are in fact amazing.

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