I was recently directed toward an editorial from a friend’s post on FB. An author named Amanda Craig decided to criticize famous women writers who were childless. This criticism included the late Maeve Binchy merely days after Binchy’s death.
Evidently, according to Craig, women authors who don’t have children have the emotional intelligence of, well, a man. She contends their writing lacks the emotional depth compared to that of a mother. It seems, in her opinion, that mothers are the only ones who know how to deeply love, while men and infertile or childless women everywhere are absolutely clueless to such great emotional depths. She went on to say the plethora of famous, yet childless, women writers out there would have been better writers had they only had children. After all, only mothers understand the bond between mother and child.
This pissed me off for several reasons.
1. I am a writer who doesn’t have children. Not by choice, but rather by infertility. I dearly wanted my own children, but after failed infertility treatments I gave up that hope. I grieved, for many years, for the children I would never have, and I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone. Not even an enemy. It’s that painful.
I do not think my writing suffers from my inability to have children. I’m sure my readers would tell you that my writing does not lack emotional depth. Just because I don’t have heroines weeping every other page or lamenting about their feelings for paragraphs on end does not mean they lack emotion. It simply means I can convey what I want to the reader in fewer lines without having to pad my books. Of course I don’t write literary fiction either. I suppose that means I’m emotionally retarded, too?
2. I was a child and I have a mother! I also had a grandmother I bonded strongly with who was very much like a second mother. My grandmother passed away two years ago and I grieved for her like a child does for her mother. I understand the bond between mother and child because I have been witness to the unconditional love my mother and grandmother showed me all my life. I have been on the receiving end of that. So I can certainly stretch my imagination to understand that bond because I share that bond with my parents. Not just my mother, but my father as well. (Let’s quit acting like men have no emotions or emotional depth, please!)
3. There are children in my life for whom I’d lay down my life if it meant saving theirs. Yes — I have nieces and nephews who I would do anything for (anything within my power anyway) because I love them that much. If I wasn’t able to help them it would torment me and rend my soul asunder. I also have many friends who have children whose lives have blessed mine. So my life is not devoid of children at all. The only difference is that I mostly get to experience the joy of children rather than the anguish of children (as only parents truly get both sides of that coin). Hey – being an aunt has its privileges. I generally get the well-behaved, brilliant side of my nieces and nephews while only their parents get the moodiness and backtalk.
4. Contrary to Ms. Craig’s belief, I don’t get to go to fancy, expensive writing retreats. Yes, admittedly childless couples have more money, but it’s not like I have some sort of upscale, glamorous career that pays millions. Up until very recently I had a full time day job (in accounting) on top of the full time writing gig. Nowadays I still work part-time outside the home and full-time writing and I still can’t afford fancy writing retreats. Point being that just because a woman doesn’t have children does not mean she has anymore free time than you do (or more money). I don’t have enough money to hire a housekeeper like you do, Ms. Craig. Yes, I looked in to you. You have a housekeeper. I don’t make that kind of cash, my dear. The people I always see going to retreats like that seem to be mothers who can send their kids off to grandma’s for a month in the summer and whose husbands bring home the bacon 100% (and usually good bacon at that).
5. I resent the idea that whether or not I can (or choose to) grow a fetus in my womb and give birth has anything to do with knowing what it’s like to put others before yourself or to be able to experience a full range of deep emotions. I know what it’s like to put someone else before myself. For the last few years of my grandmother’s life, I was one of her caretakers. I have experienced the pain of losing someone I loved very deeply. I have experienced the loss and pain of infertility. I know what it’s like to love. I know what it’s like to be rejected. I know how painful truth can be and also how redeeming. I understand friendship and loss of friendship. I also understand what it means to love someone so deeply that you would do anything for them, including laying down your own life if needed. And I understand all of this because in 40 years I’ve experienced a great deal of both the good and the bad. I contend that men understand all of these things, too, they just express themselves differently.
Not everyone will react to these emotions and experiences like everyone else, Ms. Craig. Who are you to judge who is superior and who is inferior based on their ability for, or desire for, reproduction?
Yes, children are wonderful and parents who love their children are wonderful, but motherhood doesn’t equal martyr, nor are all mothers created equal. Not all mothers are enlightened. Some mothers are downright awful. Just visit any social services office and I’m sure they could tell you horror stories. While motherhood might be enriching for SOME women, I do not believe women who are mothers possess some sort of magical ability or insight the rest of us lack. Sorry, I don’t.
I think we’re all human and all capable of a wide and deep range of human emotion based on varied experiences, and it’s not right to judge someone else’s experience if you don’t know what it is or how it effected them. You can’t make broad and sweeping statements like that about men or childless women without being wrong.
At best you’re a misogynist because your article reduces the worth of a woman to whether or not she can reproduce. You are essentially saying that women who are infertile or who choose not to have children do not make good writers and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Would you dare say men who do not have children do not make good writers, either?
At worst you were thoughtless to make so many assumptions about Maeve Binchy. What a horrible thing for her family (yes – she still had a family even if it didn’t include biological children) to have to see a mere six days after her passing. Maeve Binchy was an infertile woman who suffered through the pain of infertility with her husband, but her life was rich with children and friends. I have no doubt she understood a great deal about love and human emotions – even without the ability to conceive. (Just read one of her books!) She was a great writer and for you, Ms. Craig, to suggest otherwise is both hubris and petty.