Women in Fiction: Telling all the Stories

I have never been dedicated to the feminist cause in a militant way.  I believe in equal rights for all sexes.  I believe in equal pay for all sexes and I’d be willing to march for it, to sign petitions for it, and maybe I’d be willing to fight for it on a grander stage than that.  But I am not, and never have been, a lighthouse looking for breaches against the seawall of womanhood.  I refuse to see the world in terms of Her versus Him.  I refuse to see any sex as the enemy.  I like to think we’re all equal in value but different in expression, in parts, in personality.

There are a lot of familiar stereotypes of womanhood based on what exists as the truth for the majority of women divided into nice clean identifiable groups.  There’s the fecund version of women who want to have lots of babies, as many as they can muster, or maybe even just one, but it’s vitally important to give birth.  There’s the career woman who doesn’t want children if it gets in the way of her career, she has so much more to offer than children and is (according to many of the fecund version of women) rather selfish in her preference for self aggrandizement over children.  Then there are the women who always wanted children and cherished the desire in their breasts for the great holy union between man and woman but who never cracked the code to creating that life or finding the man.  This woman pines for lost opportunity to have babies.  Next there are the women who want everything and arrogantly (according to some) think they can distinguish themselves in the professional world and turn around and pop out well adjusted babies.  Everyone who isn’t this woman hates this woman.

There’s another archetype of woman.  There’s another story to tell.  There aren’t many people telling it.

There are the women who are nurturing and caring and love children but who don’t feel it’s important that they give birth to have this experience.  There are women who aren’t particularly career driven, who aren’t bitter spinsters, and who like children and have the nurturing spirit but who feel no drive to express this with their own wombs.  There are women who just don’t have any urge to have children but who are absolutely womanly in every other conceivable way.

I realized recently that I can never tell the story of women longing to have babies.  I can never tell the stories of women devastated because they aren’t able to have them.  I am not the person to tell the stories of women who see themselves as high powered executives too busy and important for children.  I don’t relate to any of these people.  I can’t tell the story of women who mourn their reproductive services shutting down during menopause because everyone is already telling that moving story.  There’s another story.

It is tedious to me to read yet another story about yet another woman LONGING to have babies.  I don’t think it’s ignoble or stupid or bad to have babies.  Obviously I succumbed to the hormones that incite a woman’s body to produce offspring.  I can never be sorry for having had my son.  I never dreamed of babies.  I did plan on taking over the world at some point but other than that I wasn’t even career driven.  It wasn’t a question of babies getting in the way of my ambition.

The thought of  being pregnant was horrifying and terrifying to me.  The reality of being pregnant was also horrifying and terrifying to me and wholly unpleasant.  It took seven years for my baby hormones to dominate all my intellectual objections to having a child, giving birth, bringing more people into the world, the selfishness, the fucked up family I’d be bringing a being into, and the enormous lifelong responsibility I would have to that being.  My hormones won out and though I’m glad they did, they have never since been stirred to recreate the event.  I have come to understand that I only had a child because Max needed me for a mother.  Otherwise, I was not meant for motherhood.  I don’t have that desire, the pangs, the thrumming uterus that so many women seem to have.  All these years after having a baby I still relate much more to women who chose and are choosing not to than anyone else.

A woman’s inherent womanliness is not dependent on her having or wanting to have children.  There is so much misty emotional driftwood about women  being women because of their need to mother, their need to constantly nurture, to pop the goddamn babies out and when her children are grown she becomes a shell of herself because she’s been in service to children and husbands for decades and it’s all she ever wanted so when her children leave she focuses her hopes and dreams on grandchildren.

Either that or, so it is suggested constantly in popular culture, she rejects all that to be hard as a man who has no nurturing spirit, who fucks and makes money and watches football and is filled with the bile of ambition.  What’s amazing is that women with incredibly sharp brains and the desire to rise can do so and be fierce and stand up for all women to say that what we’re capable is limitless.  Yet, these women are often depicted as nothing more than men with vaginas.  Other women see them as unnatural.  I know this view has been slowly changing over the last two decades but I notice we’re a long way from understanding that these women leading their industries aren’t flukes and they aren’t unnatural, that they’re women who’ve spent their time following the lines of passion and hunger that do us all credit.  Some of them have children, some of them don’t.  They’re all women to be proud of.

I don’t, as I’m sure it often seems I do, look down on women whose true and most close desire in life is to have babies.  I think this is a legitimate and honest and wonderful choice to make if it’s an actual choice.  There’s no denying that I have a difficult time empathizing with this life choice.  I don’t relate.  I don’t empathize much, even though I keep trying.  I don’t give up.  I do, however, resent the belief that motherhood is the most sacred calling for any woman.  That’s such total rubbish.

The life choice so few women acknowledge, write about, talk about, or revere is the woman who has no desire to give birth to her own children.  As modern as this country of mine likes to think it is, there is still a very strong prejudice against women who don’t want to have children.  Women who don’t feel the ache in their uterus at the sight of babies.  Why is this such an untold version of womanhood?

I realized recently that the two heroines I’ve written so far are women who have no desire to procreate but who are unambitious for power.  In other words, they are women who simply don’t want babies, not that they’ve traded in babies to have a career or to do something else.

It feels like new language.  I can’t tell any other story because every fiber of my being screams that babies are not necessary for fulfillment in women’s lives.  I don’t see anyone telling this story and it pisses me off.  It alienates me.

What’s great about being a writer is that  I have the power to write what I know, what I think is important.  I can give voice to the unheard or underrepresented.  There are a lot more stories to tell from a woman’s perspective, many more than I know of and I fell sure that over time other writers will present stories I have not thought of or been much aware of and the more that happens, the more we veer away from the major archetypes the more truth will be revealed.

If all I ever do in my life is show a different side of being a woman, showing that our stories are diverse and multidimensional, I will feel I have done something worthy.

I’m pretty sure Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman will not be fans of my fiction.

I’m completely at peace with that.

4 comments

  1. falacedar says:

    I agree with you on a lot of this, and this sort of topic is one I’ve ruminated on off and on through my grown-up years.

    I think, for me, I’ve never been very interested in being a mom because I’ve never grown out of kid-hood. I think I relate more to children than adults (which might explain my choice of very goofy, kid-like husband) and I’ve never felt especially “female” or “male”, but “in between”. The reality is, I wasn’t meant to be a mom, and that’s okay. Unfortunately, when you’re a childless woman and have no great ambitions in life, society truly views you as less than worthless. There’s no allowance for that “in between” place. Being a decent person simply isn’t enough these days.

  2. angelina says:

    I say there IS a place for women to lead great lives between the extremes. That’s what we need to talk about more, read about more, see in films more. I actually know quite a few women like you. I’m actually a LOT like you but with one child. But you’re so right that people (both women and men) don’t give much respect to those who don’t fit those more common female roles. I’m sick so I’m not being eloquent at the moment but I’m so happy you commented!

  3. falacedar says:

    I’d argue that no one wants to read those stories because, by their nature, they lack conflict. And a great life, typically, is one with many highs and lows and in the end, some sort of triumph. I’ve come to understand very recently that my value as a human being is not mine to determine, and that I only have value if I can contribute something tangible to society, be it a child, beauty, some sort of commodity that makes people happy, money to help others, etc. And if a person, a woman especially, doesn’t have any of those things, then she is worthless. I think a lot of women feel the same way I do — useless, worthless – and so, they want to read stories about women who do have something great to give to world, because it gives us that vicarious pleasure of seeing life through the eyes of someone we’re not like, that we’ll never be like. The flip side of that are wildly popular books with wishy-washy, useless “heroines” who are little more than inert puddles of self-loathing and yet somehow garner the intense love and desire of multiple characters, which is another kettle of (aggravating) fish altogether. Both types of stories are lies, but sometimes entertaining lies are what people need to make it through the day.

    Of course, I’m speaking in a general sort of way here. Personally, I like stories that are small and thoughtful. 🙂

  4. angelina says:

    I think you’re wrong because those things (babies, beauty, commodities that make people happy) are extremely subjective. People give birth to monsters, to reprobates, to liars and thieves just as often as they give birth to good people, useful people, etc. Beauty is EXTREMELY subjective, and so are commodities that make people happy. Based on that criteria I’d say you are just as qualified to know your own worth as anyone else. But I also happen to disagree with anyone who believes that’s what a person’s worth is based on. But I have been using my own yardstick to measure my worth for many years because if I didn’t I would have killed myself as a teen.

    I also don’t think there’s a lack of conflict in anyone’s lives. Everyone has a source of interesting conflict. Maybe women who don’t need or want children and are leading happy fulfilled lives without them don’t feel any conflict in themselves over the choices they’re making but you know there’s conflict between them and others and even the person leading the most fulfilling life in the world has conflict. Sometimes it may be from surprising or unexpected sources, that just makes the stories more interesting.

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