Thank you for your kind comments on yesterday’s post. I’ll keep plugging along, I promise.
And because I’m going to keep plugging along, I have a few things to say about how women’s writing is described.
So often in our society, writing by a group of people is lumped together and dismissed. This has certainly been the case with motherhood literature. In 1976, Adrienne Rich began Of Woman Born with this: “We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood.” Three decades later, we have made some headway: a few literary journals featuring motherhood writing have emerged, motherhood scholarship has found a place in some academic settings, and a number of books about motherhood have been published. Yet, motherhood literature and motherhood memoir, offensively christened “momoir,” is routinely dismissed.
The names people use to describe literature or movies—or anything—have an impact on how those things are perceived. And when you categorize books as “chick lit,” “mommy lit,” or “momoir” you are making it easier for people to discard these books. They are viewed as less serious, less important. (I wrote a long post about “mommy lit” here.)
I like what Kate Trueblood, author of A Baby Lottery, says about “chick lit”:
“What concerns me is not that this genre exists, but that there is an increasing tendency to pull all women’s literature into that category. If all women writers are all classified that way, what happens to the female writers of social protest and other difficult social questions?
I believe that the blanket classifying of all women’s writing as chick lit goes back to the age-old notion that women only write about small, domestic matters. Lumping female literature together like this prevents the serious questions from getting asked about what it’s like to try and combine life with a partner and a career and children. This is something that obviously a lot of young women are thinking about. I am not opposed to chick lit, but I think it is important to be mindful of distinctions that matter.”
You can read the whole interview with Kate Trueblood on her website.
All you have to do it tack “mommy” or “chick” onto something and it loses value. So imagine my dismay when I read the recent New York Times article “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.” As if women blogging about motherhood need any more flack.
“I guess it’s the language that gets to me, because I’m picky about words. Words are powerful — they carry weight and meaning and subtext that is both subtle and profound. “Mommy Blogger”, like “Soccer Mom” before it, carries a wide range of connotations, as illustrated a full year ago by the social media guide Mashable, which posted a list of 10 Misconceptions About Mommy Bloggers.
Most style guidelines advise using gender-neutral language whenever possible: server vs. waitress or waiter; manager or executive, not businessman; actor, not actress. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “actor” was originally used for both sexes (1581); we didn’t see “actress” introduced until 1666, 85 years later.”
Words are powerful. I wish people would use them more carefully.