You know how that thrills me.
Man, I will NEVER get sick of female writers with kids telling other female writers with kids that their way of having kids is superior! And then those writers responding snappishly with equally long essays! After all, this is what we should be doing — judgy infighting about parenting choices that might potentially make you a Less Serious Novelist. Rather than, you know, turning our ire onto male novelists who are critically lauded despite such wholly unironic sentences as "At 32, Denise was still attractive."
Lauren Sandler, the author of the upcoming parenting book One And Only — also an only child and mother of one — penned an essay for The Atlantic earlier this month about how female novelists should stop at one child, lest they become more mother than writer. She cites various iconic writers under that blanket: Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood, Ellen Willis; and suggested if they'd had multiple children they wouldn't have found the time to provide us with the literature and works of criticism that we have now. (Naturally, no mention of male novelists being distracted by fatherhood, which Sandler would probably defend by claiming she's just calling it like it is.)
Sandler has since taken to Twitter to explain that the headline was skewed:
@ayeletw They stuck a bogus headline on a heartfelt essay about how I found inspiration in four female writers. The secret is better policy!
— Lauren Sandler (@laurenosandler) June 8, 2013
The writer Jane Smiley (3 children, 23 novels) commented on the piece that the key was "living in a place where there is excellent daycare and a social world that allows fathers to have the time and the motivation to fully share in raising kids," not limiting the number of kids you have. Ayelet Waldman voiced her annoyance on Twitter. Zadie Smith, who has two children, responded testily to the piece, which appeared in The Guardian on Thursday:
The idea that motherhood is inherently somehow a threat to creativity is just absurd. Dickens had 10 [children]– I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too fatherish to be writeresque? Does the fact that Heidi Julavits, Nikita Lalwani, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison and so on and so forth (I could really go on all day with that list) have multiple children make them lesser writers? Are four children a problem for the writer Michael Chabon – or just for his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman?
The unspoken element here, particularly considering that childlessness is not mentioned in Sandler's piece, is the implication that having a child — just one, obvs! Better stop before there are too many poopy diapers! — is necessary for a woman to be a better writer, somehow more "in touch" with humanity at large, or some other stupid crap like that. Unfortunately, this is not a new opinion. But it is just as obnoxious as it was the first time, so, great.
Nobody should be policed for how many kids they have, or if they have them at all. But nobody should be having one kid, or two kids, or seventy kids with the goal to be "a better writer." In the wise words of Law & Order: SVU's Detective Olivia Benson, "Fidelia, a baby is not a new purse, or new earrings, or a slammin' pair of jeans." I could not agree more.
Image via Getty