Do you need to give birth to be a successful female writer? The very short answer is, “No.” Just plain, “No.” I suppose I could stop there but I have a couple hundred words to fill in. So let’s start with the context.
Maeve Binchy, the famed Irish authoress who wrote Circle of Friends, Scarlet Feather, and Tara Road passed away at the end of July. Largely considered one of the best writers to ever come from the country, her passing has been mourned by all of Ireland and readers all over the world. After all, her work has been translated into 37 languages. I would think that there is little to question about Binchy’s legacy or success.
And yet, one writer thinks that Binchy could have done more. She could have been better. Amanda Craig, British novelist and children’s literature critic, wrote a piece in The Telegraph titled, “If Maeve Binchy had been a mother…” And just like you’re guessing, the article talks all about how Maeve Binchy could’ve been a better writer if she had just experienced the amazing, life-changing event of childbrith. Craig sums up her opinion succinctly in her closing paragraph.
“Binchy, whose first novel was about a 20-year friendship between two women, didn’t need the experience of motherhood to write about love and friendship in a way that charmed millions. But she might have dug deeper, charming less but enlightening more, had she done so.”
It would be really easy to name all of the amazing female writers who didn’t have children and hold them together as an example of Craig’s oversight. It would be natural to get hyperbolic and offended on behalf of writers everywhere, who are not made great by their family size or composition, but by their talent. But instead, I’m going to try to be thoughtful about Craig’s argument.
As a mother, I do believe that I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned to love something more than myself. I’ve learned that responsibility isn’t just stressful, it can be amazingly rewarding. As I’ve said before, not everyone needs parenthood to learn these things about themselves, but it’s helped for me.
I obviously use my experience of motherhood in my writing. It’s a topic that I discuss on a daily basis. But every writer uses their own life as part of the basis for their viewpoint. We all have circumstances in our lives that shape our voice, our stories. Who is to say what certain life experience has more of an effect or more value in terms of one’s perspective.
Maeve Binchy didn’t have children. That was a part of her. And that influenced her writing in it’s own way, making it special and important for her outlook. And there are so many different things, outside of the number of little ones you do or do not have, that have the ability to give someone more depth in their opinion. Every person you meet, every minute of your day can be filled with inspiration if one is looking for it.
I don’t mean to get overly sentimental about writing in general. It’s really not even the career itself that we’re talking about here. What Amanda Craig is suggesting is an opinion that parents often share without really thinking it through, saying that parents are able to feel more than non-parents. That’s false. And it’s a completely false set-up all together. No one person “feels more” than another. They feel differently. They communicate differently.
This idea of motherhood helping writing to become more thoughtful is wrong. It suggests that the only meaning of “thoughtful” is “child-centric.” Craig apparently just wanted Maeve Binchy to write about children. But not everyone needs to, and not everyone should. This writer isn’t any less because she didn’t have kids, she’s simply not sharing the viewpoint of Amanda Cummings. And thank goodness, because Maeve Binchy had her own stories to tell and her own voice to share.