Has anybody else noticed how competitive the glossy magazine business has become? It used to be the case that I’d pick up a title in the supermarket, read it, recycle it, whatever. Now I’ve got them ringing my house asking if I’ll buy an annual subscription for half price, nay, quarter price, what about a quid for six issues? How about if we throw in a really expensive pot of face-cream made from mashed fairy wings and pasteurised gold? So of course, I fall for this every time (free stuff, what can I say) and now I’m currently subscribing to a squillion publications that I barely have the time to flick through. It’s a problem I need to resolve when I’ve got the time (read: never). So anyway, out of guilt, I decided to make a dent in the pile and speed-read my way through a few of them the other night. The article that demanded my attention above and beyond the thousand others was a piece in Marie-Claire about ‘the selective fertility crisis’! I.e. that women are now having careers which is of course, putting the whole human race in jeopardy. Oops us.
Marie-Claire’s approach was to take one 30-something writer who is debating whether or not she should procreate, and have her interview one woman who swapped her career for children and is happy, one who swapped her career for children and isn’t, one woman who didn’t have kids and regrets it and one who didn’t who doesn’t, got that? Umm anyway, why is this relevant? Well, when I was writing my MA Dissertation on Sylvia Plath I read Susan Van Dyne’s assertion that female writers always have to choose between ‘the production of children or the production of language’. The clarity of the dilemma rang true to me back then and three years on, getting no younger, my imaginary Van Dyne voice has taken on a slightly more urgent tone. Not that I want children now. I’m probably not the best person to put my personal spin on this issue. I have about a billion questions that would need an affirmative answer before I would take the plunge and breed. I have no idea how people just suddenly decide to multiply. But obviously, I’ll soon be in what is officially classified as my ‘late twenties’, so I’d better start thinking about it. Or what? Well I’ll probably just accidentally end up having a career and no kids and society will hate me or something.
Getting back to the point, the echoes between January’s Marie-Claire and female writers from the middle of the twentieth century patently shows that this debate is really nothing new. There were just less women having to face the problem back then because women generally had less options. If you were lucky enough to have a vocation, the dilemmas of the 21st century probably occurred to you a few decades earlier than to the rest of society. I interpret Van Dyne’s words as focussed on the psychology of motherhood on the writer specifically but I believe the sentiment to have broader application. Motherhood, whether you are a writer, a painter, a lawyer, doctor or sales assistant, involves a heavy degree of sacrifice both in terms of time and of self. In most cases I believe a compromise will be naturally reached. Indeed, for writers like Plath, the production of children actually induced the production of an abundance of words. Whilst nursing, she put her hormones and the wee small hours of the morning to work to produce the honest aubades of ‘You’re’, ‘Morning Song’ and ‘Nick and the Candlestick’. So it isn’t hopeless, and wasn’t back then. And not to be self-promoting, but if anybody wants to tell me that it didn’t exactly work out for Plath, then I’d point them towards my paper on Plath’s poetry in relation to her fertility/maternity: http://www.iun.edu/~nwadmin/plath/vol4/King.pdf I don’t disagree with Van Dyne, I think the conceit is demonstrable in so many ways. Anything, any element of one’s life interferes with writing. Motherhood is guaranteed to throw a stick of dynamite in whatever it is that you consider order. However, from chaos and all that…
But what of us post-millenials who are realising that writer or not, we can’t actually ‘have it all’ (if there was an emoticon for furious, I’d utilise it here). Indeed, the 21st century is not conducive at all to the creation of families. When I was a child, and all this adult hand wringing was light-years away, my parents, aunties, uncles (all in their twenties) had their own homes, they were married, they seemingly always had cash to ‘re-do’ the kitchen or whatever. Our generation isn’t up to much at the moment, let’s be honest. Nobody owns their own property or has a clue how to get onto the property ladder (in the sense that nobody has anywhere near enough money), many of them don’t have regular employment. Most are underemployed or underpaid. Most of them aren’t in a position to own a hamster, let alone an actual newly minted human being. And by the way, I include men in this too. They are no better off. So my conclusion is actually that I’ll just keep the words coming, because frankly, everything else looks a bit bleak. When it comes to the ‘choice’ of having a family these days, most of us don’t really have the option.
Work it is then.