Motherhood & Words

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.

Susan over at Two Kinds of People has a wonderful response to this article. Here is an excerpt. Please head over to her blog for the whole post.

“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.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Leightongirl on March 17, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Years ago I said I hated the word "mommy blogger". Today I hate it even more. Thanks for reminding us of the power of words, and expressing so eloquently why we need to pay attention, always.

    Glad your funk lifted, but always remember to give yourself permission to stay there if you need to.

  2. onlyoublog on March 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Imagine the day when perhaps the word "Mother" or "Mommy" can actually *add* value as opposed to detract from it! If only the word motherhood held as much esteem as "Leader" or "CEO" does. I hope that day does come. That is why I think you are doing such important work, Kate! There will be power in numbers.

  3. kate hopper on March 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you, Vicki and Cecilia!

    And Cecilia, thank you for your wonderful post on the subject. People, you can read it here:

  4. unfinishedportraitofsam on March 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    amen amen amen. the same comments go for "chick movies," some of which, i admit, i don't care for. but if it pushes tears out of you or scratches deeply into an emotional topic, it seems an easy target for the "chick movie" label.

  5. cath c on March 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    yes, agreed on all accounts.

    and just what is so wrong with writing about domesticity, anyway? it is the joy and ruination of all of humanity, don't you think? foibles, relationships, human failing abound.