Yes, men are better writers

Recently, I received an email from a literary publication asking me to comment on why ‘women are underrepresented in major publications’. Since I’m a single mother, working six days a week, and I wasn’t going to be paid, I didn’t respond. But I thought I’d reply here, so Overland will give me cash.

It’s simple, really. Men are published more than women because men are better writers than women.

Do I need to say that there are great female writers? Maybe I do, because you don’t know me, and I might just be a misogynist arsehole. And do I need to say that there are boatloads of very bad male writers? No, you can just go to your local bookshop and peruse the new releases to prove that to yourself.

‘Good writing’ does not emanate from the penis but it does emanate from material conditions. Writing takes time – great swathes of clean, empty time, unsullied by children or housework or deep worry about money or skincare routines. To be a writer is to be selfish enough to grab time and spend it churning words around, even though you are not getting paid very much, hardly anybody cares about what you’re doing, and even fewer people think that it’s any good.

Men are better at being selfish than women. They are better at it before the having of children, but they really come into their own after the having of children. While women generally see the immediate needs of the shorties as taking first priority, men are able to keep themselves as the focus and so spend less time and energy bringing up children.

Generally. Do I need to keep on saying generally?

Do most women with creative dreams think that there will be such an unequal distribution of the labour of childrearing before they have children? I doubt it. They are just in love: that state of deranged optimism that makes one think that the will of the romantic couple is stronger than the dominant ideology and market conditions. But once the shorties begin to arrive, it becomes clear that both parents can’t simultaneously get away from the children in order to earn money or write great art or get drunk in the pursuit of material to write great art about. So in the end, it’s the more selfish one that gets out the door first.

So if you want to be a female writer, and you don’t have enough money for a full-time nanny, then it’s probably best to not have children. Or, if you do have children, you might want to give them up, like Patti Smith or Joni Mitchell did. Either that, or you could be a terrible mother, like Jean Rhys, and write fragmented narratives about the essential torment of trying to look after another human being when all you want to do is drink and write and have complicated sex in an attic somewhere. That is, unless you can find a partner will actually share or take the burden of childcare while you pursue a ‘career’ that is at worst laughable and at best poorly paid, one that requires most of your emotional attention and the vast majority of your time. Give me their number if you do find someone like this – and I will steal them away in the most unfeminist of ways.

Actually, if you’re heterosexual, it’s probably best to avoid having a partner at all, especially one that you live with, because you know that you’ll just end up using your time washing his underwear or listening to his stories about how people don’t understand him. Having no children and no partner will not put you on par with those male writers who have wives to clean up after them and look after their children, but it least you’ll be in with a fighting chance. But there’s also a fair chance that you will end up being incredibly fucking lonely. Especially if it turns out that you’re not really a very good writer at all, just a selfish person with a little talent. If there’s one thing our culture cannot abide, it’s a selfish woman who isn’t talented and really, really, really ridiculously good looking.

All I can say is, thank god for cats.

Do I need to say that these are not choices that men have to make? That men take the idea that they are the absolute centres of their life and that their talent is the most important thing as facts? And do I need to say that if we all became as selfish as male writers, we’d end up with plagues of rats pouring from our unclean homes and a whole generation of extremely fucked up kids?

I’m not here to badmouth selfishness. It is absolutely necessary … but not available to everyone. The answer to the underrepresentation of women’s stories in the literary world is not to give prizes for women’s writing or to introduce quotas for literary magazines. That’s putting the money in at the wrong end of the process, and will probably just end up rewarding women who have greater amounts of leisure time anyway, while producing writing that is bit shit and/or relentlessly middle class. As a solution, it seems more like giving grants for women so they can have time off their actually-very-important work of looking after children and houses and other people’s egos. Such work shouldn’t and can’t be abandoned: to value the life of the artist over the traditionally feminised work of caring is dumb patriarchal romanticism.

Of course we need more stories about women’s lives, written by the people who actually live them, so that women’s work can be allowed to be a viable site for artistic practice and aesthetic reflection. In other words, we need to make it possible for women to be a little more selfish, just for a while.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Helen Addison-Smith has been previously published in journals such as Island, Hecate and refo, and was featured in Overland's first e-book Women's Work. She's a reformed chef and a persistent single mother.

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  1. I love the shit out of this. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    (as a parent of ‘shorties’ I can entirely relate, and I don’t know how single parents do it – hats off to you)

  2. Bravo. I fancy myself a passable writer, but yes, I do most of my reflection on my art at the kitchen sink. Sigh.

  3. Love this piece. Glad you said generally a lot though. I’m sure I’d have written and published a heap more if I didn’t have to earn a living or look after kids. And do the washing, cooking, cleaning, etc. But I prefer writing that comes out of the stuff of life, not the ivory tower, whether that tower is presided over by a prince or princess.

  4. You’re right, Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’ is useless without private and personal time to spend there. Helen Garner wrote Monkey Grip on a single parent’s pension with just one fairly undemanding child at a time when that pension covered a modest lifestyle. Fortunately, the book broke the ground for the rest of her career.

  5. i love you. not in a creepy stalker way. just in a you-said-the-thing-we-girls-shouldn’t-say kinda way. i don’t totally agree about the not-supporting positive discrimination thing (yay the stella award) but so so YES supporting women to write who wouldn’t otherwise have the time and space to do so. But … oh dear … isn’t that all of us?

  6. Hence why writing residencies at places like Varuna writers’ House are so popular with women!
    Peter Bishop says, in an article by The Age: “Curiously, the residential fellowships attract up to five times as many women as men. He suspects that women prefer a retreat like Varuna because it is free of the distractions and clutter of everyday life. Among those who have worked at Varuna are authors Drusilla Modjeska and Anne Summers.”

  7. Oh you’re hilarious Helen, I love everything you said especially about stealing partners in “the most unfeminist of ways” and yes, thank God for cats (and small fluffy dogs) thanks for the laugh!

  8. I love your article – I am a full-time writer, Dad, housekeeper, sometimes partner, sometimes solo…When I was attending a writers festival a lifetime ago I heard about an emerging author in the UK who was a single Mum with a manuscript that was possible ‘gold’ but the festival committee weren’t interested in giving her an invitation…6 months later her character, Harry Potter, became a household name worldwide…Ms JKR doesn’t attend most literary events now because she puts her kids first…I like her style, I don’t read her work but I often think of her when I’m juggling my life…

  9. If you look around the world you’ll see everyone is capable of being selfish, it’s not gender specific, and yes, please … “drink and write and have complicated sex in an attic somewhere” … I’m taking up writing, even though it’s multi-tasking and I’m of the more selfish gene.

  10. This is equal parts delightful in its delivery and depressing in its truth. My writing time is currently a few minutes here and there during the day, and then when the children are in bed, I sit down to write, often falling asleep at the keyboard. I guess sometimes I wonder why I bother, but I know without it, I’m missing something I can’t quite get from anything else.

  11. Men are better writers? Good one.
    Have your pens and paper taken off you, be yelled at for spending too much time typing on the computer by a near illiterate male… that’s the threats my author has had to deal with. Persist on selfishly writing, despite him getting physical, then find he knows a trick, because his daddy is a doctor: call the CATT. Have psychiatrists diagnose your wanting to write as a ‘disease’, requiring a chemical lobotomy and you’ll know the stifling goes a bit further than demands of children. The psychiatrists also take your pens and paper off you, via the nurses. It’s insidious. It’s a cruel regime of denial still very much alive. It’ll stop you from writing even when you get your pens, paper and computer back, because the chemicals psychiatrists force on you, for years, make you not able to think, feel extremely sedated, emotionally traumatised and physically disabled.
    Getting away from the illiterate male and getting off the Treatment Order by saying exactly what they want to hear, completing a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, thinking ‘I am a man’, even putting Mr on the telephone bill, publishing some books, through independent platforms, because regular publishers are backward thinking cautious companies that click together with their known quantities of patriarchy, then be diagnosed with ‘delusions of grandeur’ for mentioning that you’re an author, by a psychiatrist doing a check on you, because of the housing you’re in. It can get that nasty, even when you try to think inside, ‘I am a man’, crop your hair, baritone your voice, don’t ever wear a skirt and take deep breaths between short sentences.
    No, men are not better writers, there are just more contracts written for them by publishing companies. Same sort of deal for visual artists, musicians and actors.
    You probably think this is fiction, what I’m saying. It isn’t, any more than Helen’s description of men. Fortunately, I’m now with a man who Helen would like to steal, but she can’t, because that’s the beauty of people who make sense, they’re not selfishly stupid. Gorgeous, intelligent, courageous, beautiful, loving, responsible man with a conscious, he is, who’ll never let psychiatrists poison me again and thinks men and their football are idiots.
    The writing I choose to write, won’t make a profit, at this stage, while the public are hypnotised into denial, be I man or woman, but particularly because I’m a woman. ‘The public’ don’t want my opinion, they deny that, they want what they’ve been told is their own, but they can’t be bothered writing it, because they don’t really own it. So, I’m realistic, people can tell me the skeleton of what they’d like, then I just imposter for a while, for cash. Nice deal that. Nothing that might freak out patriarchy too much. Sure. As long as I’m being paid for writing, I’m a writer. But those over twenty books I’ve written, that haven’t been read enough because they’re not published by a patriarchal authorised publisher, well, I suppose they don’t exist as significant enough to really be books at all, until they man up or something.
    Might be a swing here though: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/women-writers-in-the-ascendant-in-grantas-onceadecade-best-of-young-british-novelists-list-8574168.html

  12. It really doesn’t have to be a choice between one thing and the other. There are many, many women who have a family life and make creative work, with a whole range of different ways of managing the way that these two things can sometimes nurture one another and sometimes come into conflict. Perhaps if this could be recognised and celebrated we could find ways of re-thinking the patriarchal culture of ‘work’ that makes so many people’s lives less enjoyable than they otherwise might be.

    Sometimes things are hard, but I’m yet to meet a parent or a writer who doesn’t have struggles from time to time.

    This book http://www.rdog.com.au/main.php?id=dividedheart takes a multifaceted look at women, family and art-making. I’m also thinking of writers like Olga Masters, and Judith Wright, who produced brilliant work and whose children have grown up to make an important contribution as well.

  13. This is true, but also of no practical help to struggling mothers trying to write. It’s not impossible to write as a parent or a single parent. True, you need a combination of talent, determination and luck, but some of us break through without giving away our kids, starving, or having nervous breakdowns.

  14. Hey, thanks for the love and otherwise. I know that there will always be exceptions, and that some folks will struggle really hard and write great art or Harry Potter, but my point is that female writers, especially those with kids, especially single mothers, shouldn’t need to have to struggle so hard. I don’t really have much time for this ‘struggle is good for you’ rhetoric. It’s based on the idea that humans thrive through competition and adversity, which is a bit pseudo-Darwinist for my tastes and politics. Instead, I would like to see us striving to spread around free time a bit more equitably. I would particularly like that free time spread to, I dunno, just for example, me. I’m selfish like that.

  15. The first arts council grant I got (last year), I specified that I was a single parent and needed the money to put my youngest kid in childcare two days a week so I could finish my next book. I think there does need to be a recognition that money = time. In answer to whether this article applies to all women equally: I don’t think it does. One day I would like to see statistics on how many women writers published within a given year have at least one child under five.

    • That’s really cool and congratulations! I agree, my argument doesn’t apply equally to all women: it’s women with major unpaid care obligations who I reckon are the most under represented.

      • I’m a sole parent, full time uni student, poor-as, — when i heard about that 37.50 a day thing, i thought that was exorbitant, try 20 dollars a week, food for two! You ever try rice and olive oil? Thank-god the government runs the JETCCFA scheme to help single parents who want to study, though they only help for two years, so i had to cram my three year bachelor in to two years. Yes they have scholarships for sole parents (Women) here at Adelaide uni, and yes there are lots of support groups for mothers looking after children on their own, now i sigh and add the punch line, I’m a man, you knew it was coming, and i just finished my first novel — good luck finding a publisher you all say — no matter begun my next one already — looking forward to the next six months of four hours sleep a day! The greats: yes, mostly men, due to economic circumstances, but also most have lived pretty darn hard lives. Think war, imprisonment, poverty, etc., etc., Now, I got other issues too, so I am a pretty-effed up mofo, and yeh guess what, I discovered i can write. My theory, is that, you need to be as messy-in-the-brain-cooked as possible to write, at least according to Longinus, and well what did he know, he was a man; finally: I thank my genes for Testosterone, because it is awesome motivation. Cheerio!

  16. “Recently, I received an email from a literary publication asking me to comment on why ‘women are underrepresented in major publications’. Since I’m a single mother, working six days a week, and I wasn’t going to be paid, I didn’t respond.”

    How hard it must be for you to be asked to comment on an issue! Heaven forbid anyone ask you for your opinion when they are writing a piece, without bowing down, cash in hand. You’re right! We should absolutely be paid for every email we write. #paytheemailers

    Also: you totally misrepresent the facts. It was not a literary publication asking you for a comment, but a young female writer who wanted to write something about gender and publication for that publication. Way to hang her out to dry.

  17. Well, actually, I’ve been asked a few times for comment. I know the email you’re referring to here, and I wasn’t having a go at the writer of that email at all. I’m happy to give comments for free when I have time and have done on many occasions. I simply used the opportunity to make myself some money by writing this article instead because I’m very broke. To make that clear: I am commenting on my own venality rather than the ethics of the email interview. If that writer is upset, I will apologize to her. But I’ll do that privately.

  18. For me, the major effect was, and still is, on schmoozing, rather than writing. That is, going to festivals, meeting people etc. But some of the more desperate networking is fairly revolting to witness, anyway. There is nothing sadder in all creation than an ambitious poet.

    The headline made me spill my tea…Damn you! (-:

  19. While i agree with what you’ve said, I’m constantly reminded of some words from a wise old feminist friend.
    If we want men to do their share of all that boring shit that living creates, it is up to mothers to teach them how to do it and to make sure they understand that looking after themselves, their homes and their families is part of life.

  20. Love the deadpan, don’t give a shit vibe. Love the sentiment. Rock on. While not all female writers will agree, I think what you’re saying is important to air.

  21. Just on a specific point, to clarify because the way it’s put in the article is a bit ambiguous: Joni Mitchell’s baby was born in 1965, Patti Smith’s in 1967. In their respective countries, at the time, there was no financial support available to a single mother and there was still massive stigma attached to being one. Neither of those women would have had a choice. If you were a single mother in the 1960s then no matter how badly you might have wanted to keep your baby, you were forced by the church, the state, your own parents and/or your own poverty to do so, and castigated as monstrously selfish (“Don’t you want this baby to have a better life than you can give it?”) if you did not.

    Obliviousness to that bit of social history is one of the things that make veteran feminists like me roll our eyes to heaven when young women say ‘I don’t need feminism’, in blithe ignorance of (a) what life used to be like for women, and (b) how easily it could get like that again.

  22. “If there’s one thing our culture cannot abide, it’s a selfish woman who isn’t talented and really, really, really ridiculously good looking.”
    This is potential gold. Could you please elaborate on this archetype you’ve identified?! I can’t quite pin it down…

  23. Bravo, Helen! Hoping you got paid more than 10c a word for that gemstone.

    As a writer and mother of four, there are two things I miss desperately since starting a family: selfishness and boredom.

    Money, finishing a conversation, being taken seriously, having a pelvic floor and sleeping more than four hours also rank highly.

    I’d like to see industry value writing as a necessary art form by paying great writers appropriately irrespective of gender. The amount of shit I’ve been asked to write or comment on in exchange for “exposure” could block a town sewerage system. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Unless you’re Lara Bingle.

  24. Entertaining article. But it’s not my experience. I look forward to my day in the week looking after my son because it affords me a little time to write – when he’s asleep and and after the dishes and laundry are done. It’s harder to find the time when I’m working or on the weekend with my wife around demanding my attention. I think the pressure that men feel to provide for their families is just as incompatible with writing as doing the housework. It’s hard to justify financially to your partner. Either way it takes that selfish doggedness. (And I think these days there’s probably more female writers out there, even if the industry hasn’t caught up, which would indicate that looking after kids is more conducive to writing than whatever men are doing.)

    • I don’t deny that some men find it difficult to pursue their creative practices amid the demands of family, but two points:
      – Most women (including those who write books) also work in regular, paying jobs, on top of caring for kids, housework etc and feel the very same financial pressures to provide for their family.
      – Children ask more of their mothers than their fathers; my husband can lock himself away in his room for hours with the kids barely noticing, while “Muuum!” seems to be the constant soundtrack to my life, no matter where I am or what I’m doing
      – I like Helen’s ‘skincare routine’ comment – though it is a choice for women, I don’t see my husband having to waste precious hours getting his legs waxed.
      I agree that once kids are at school, then full-time childcare is arguably more conducive to creativity than being at the office (for men or women writers) – but I wouldn’t assume that’s the situation for most.

  25. Isn’t this a bit of a storm in a teacup? You might as well say that upper-middle-class, white, male writers are better writers. This issue isn’t just about gender – it’s also about class and race. The problem is capitalism – and capitalism is a problem without an overarching solution. The fact that she can get published on this blog puts the blogger – for all the obstacles in her path – in the ‘privileged’ category of human beings – male or female. I’m a struggling male writer and guess what? I’ve been single most of my adult life, and am childless even though I would have loved to have a family, and I’m basically homeless (although I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head). I’ve made these sacrifices gladly to be able to continue to have the freedom to write what I want to write. So we as artists struggle – what’s new? If you’re a woman writer and a single mother and you do not have enough time to write, my message to you is you are infinitely blessed to have a child, so complain if you must, but don’t forget your blessings. And if you’re not a single mother, what’s the problem? I do housework, I work, the only difference between my life and yours would be that I don’t have a ‘facial routine’.

  26. I’m sorry, but I think this is reductive and rather silly. There’s no doubt that writers who choose to have children will have their time greatly impacted, and women may do the bulk of the ‘care work’ (and yes, that’s problematic, and is a wider ongoing societal issue) but there are countless examples of working women writers in Australia who have children, publish brilliant books, and contribute broadly to intellectual culture (through reviews, essays etc.). And no, they’re not all middle class/comfortably wealthy. I think this article diminishes their contribution, and is insulting to their life choices, including their partners. ‘Actually, if you’re heterosexual, it’s probably best to avoid having a partner at all, especially one that you live with, because you know that you’ll just end up using your time washing his underwear or listening to his stories about how people don’t understand him.’ Really?? I don’t spend any of my time washing my partner’s underwear, because he’s a grown up and can do it himself. We’re both also multifaceted. And so selfishness equates to time equates to good writing? I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that. Empathy, for example…

  27. Thanks, you’re totally right. I am reductive and a bit silly as a person and as a writer. I’m reductive because I’m talking about general social trends, not your experience or even mine. I’m silly because I like to be. Silly is fun.

    • I don’t think you should take writing advice from anyone who believes “impacted” is a word.

  28. I can’t believe that this comment thread is so loaded with women cutting down other women – calling their work ‘silly’, using loaded language like ‘women who choose to have children’ (why else insert the ‘choose to’ unless to imply: it’s your fault you bred, you deal with it)…there’s a man accusing the female author of plagiarism (or at least partly stealing the idea for the article from another woman writer), and another random dude saying that caring for his child allows him the time to write. So an article which, okay, may have slightly misfired in some places, becomes comment thread full of the misogynistic vitriol of male and female writers alike. Long live the fucking sisterhood.

    • That ‘choose to’ phrase is the definition of passive aggression. I’ve always thought that.
      But I think you’re overstating the vitriol here, Maxine. It’s not all bad. There are a lot of extremely supportive, considered comments too. Long live the sisterhood indeed.

      • I meant it in a way that was supposed to be open towards the fact some people may want to have children and some may not, and every experience will be different. Of course sometimes it is not a choice, so I’m sorry I didn’t think that phrase through. I never meant to imply ‘deal with it’ or anything horrible like that, quite the opposite.

        I thought my comment was more aligned to the sisterhood than the article (which says that men write better than women)? I guess I’m just reading it differently.

  29. This is the greatest load of rubbish I’ve read in years and defended by the writer as ‘I just like to be silly’. I don’t know what workd you live in Helen, but I live in a world where men and women are struggling to come to terms with the complexity of human relations and raising a family in a modern world. Let me see if I get this right, you basically written off ALL men as selfish, self-centred bastards who expect women to wait on them hand-and-foot. Who’s careers ALWAYS come first and who are just biologically ‘better at being selfish’. And while you might defend your comment as observing ‘general social trends’ I think it’s absolutely the opposite. The general social trends I see are for men to take more responsiblility for child-raising, be more involved, be less selfish, be more considerate of their partners dreams and abilities and aspirations. I’m afraid you seem stuck in a bitter view of an old and, albeit not passing fast enough, but passing nonetheless. And you know what, your words have real impact on real men and as a man who has given up his career to allow his partner to pursue hers and followed her to the other side of the world and raises the kids and cooks the meals and washes the clothes I find your attitude offensive. Even more I find it counter productive. If you want men to change then why collectively write them off as you do.

    • Did I mention the word biologically even once? Of course I don’t think that men are biologically better at being selfish. How would one go about proving that?

      I don’t really want men to change. I don’t want anything from men that they don’t want to give. If you have decided to help out your partner, that is great and fantastic and a statistical anomaly. But what I want is structural support from institutions to help women who are considerable care responsibilities be writers. I don’t care if these instituions are run by men or women, but I do care that the support and income comes from a professional rather than a romantic relationship.

      Actually, the world I live in is one filled with single mothers, who are struggling with their material conditions in a most immediate and pressing way. I have met one single father, one stay at home Dad and know a few men who share care.

      • ‘Who’s careers ALWAYS come first…'(Tim S)thought it was bad enough I wrote ‘idiots’ instead of idiotic’ and kicked myself ten times afterward. You make me feel so much better Tim.
        Good title by the way Helen, reeled them in. Publication happy, I’d say. ‘Silly’, as you call it, works well commercially. You know it.

  30. This ‘silly,’ resentful, teenage-angsty hack article should have been entitled, “Males who are better writers than me (of whom there are millions).”

  31. I took the title of the article to be ironical – and yes, writers are betters writers the more free time they get to write – which I took also to be the point of this article.

  32. This piece is really about the truth that the material conditions of production will always affect the product, but the comments thread (and the piece itself) then take off into side streets about children, housework and gender, topics that always make everyone arc up.

    I think it’s way past time somebody made the distinction between ‘better writers’ and ‘better writing’. Better WRITERS are ‘better’ at writing than other writers: they are the people who see a lot, who see a long way, and who are able to describe what they see and articulate what they think/feel about it in complex or beautiful or unique or emotive or intellectually stunning ways. (I hope I don’t need to add ‘articulate’ or ‘fully literate’. I also hope I don’t need to add that writing is not a democracy, any more than music or visual art: some people are intrinsically better at it than others, and one must suck that up.) Better WRITING is writing that has been made better than it was before, by loving attention and editing, which does indeed take time.

    But if you think that either the time spent on writing or the amount of writing produced are going to guarantee a result of better writing (and indeed if you think that better writing is what will bring you more money) then I have two words for you: Dan Brown.

    • Better writers / better writing – still dealing in indefinite comparatives either way – and timeless value judgements – it’d’ve been interesting had you stated whom you consider to be the better and best writers – and why – and what you understand better and best writing praxis to be – and why. For some good foot soldiers (like myself) just to be writing is a positive.

  33. Way to generalise and cut down on just about man, woman and child, just because you seem to have had a bad experience. Congratulations.

  34. That is a good distinction, Kerryn. Of course time doesn’t make for great writing, but it sure does help. Also, not being exhausted all the time helps.

  35. Surely we can all agree that it is sometimes useful to be intentionally reductive and even a bit silly in order to drive home a point and provoke a debate, much like this one. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of truth amid the generalisations. I have written a lot about mothers who are artists – and almost all would say that a lack of time is the greatest barrier to their art. No, time doesn’t guarantee greatness. But it doesn’t matter how many other qualities you have (empathy etc) if you don’t have the time to make something of them. It’s basically impossible to create anything of worth without a huge amount of time invested in the practice, no matter what artform you work in. There’s plenty of evidence to show that women are still burdened with an equal share of the domestic load – often on top of paid work. But more ephemeral than that is the relationship between mothers and their children that means women do find it particularly difficult to give themselves permission to spend time doing anything that requires them “turning away” from their kids to do something that feels “indulgent” – and children don’t usually make that easy, either! I, for one, would barely have written a word since having kids without the availability of the Varuna writers’ retreat. And so Helen’s argument that women need extra support to carve out time to write certainly resonates with me.

  36. “There’s plenty of evidence to show that women are still burdened with an equal share of the domestic load – often on top of paid work.” I think you mean “unequal share.” But the question is, are there women artists or writers in this generalisation, in this domestic category of women burdened unequally? Are the men in these households writers? Probably not. Just tele watchers. I know plenty of men who are single and writers, and who have made a conscious CHOICE NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN so they can write. Of these men quite a few of them live alone. They cook, clean, do all that needs to be done around the house and work five days a week. They too struggle to find time to write, and yet I never read of their complaints. Who would want to read them anyway? (Probably someone in Overland). They want their writing read, not their resentments, their complaints, so they channel their frustrations into their work, let them play out in the art, overcome them, transform them, get some objectivity on them, or try to. That’s what men do.

    • Oops – yes, unequal share! :/ I agree that it is difficult to find time to write on top of full-time work (and life) for men and women, parents or otherwise, and in fact I would be very open to reading about this situation directly, or indirectly through someone’s work. I also know both men and women in order to write. I think parenthood poses a very particular and fraught set of dilemmas for an artist. That said, I wouldn’t expect everyone to be interested in that – and you have the choice to avoid reading about it. For those of us who are confronted by these issues, it can provide some solace to know that others struggle too. And yes – Overland is a place where these themes can be thrashed out, which is great. That doesn’t mean that Helen, like most writers with kids, isn’t getting on with the work anyway – and that all this becomes invisible in the final book or artwork. No reason we can’t have both, is there?

  37. Oh jeez, I meant: “I also know both men and women who have chosen not to have children in order to write.” It’s not my day… Oh, sorry, no more complaining. Must keep aiming for some masculine objectivity – much more interesting. 😉

  38. The moanings of a tourist.

    The Writing doesn’t care if you’re tired, lonely, broke. It doesn’t care if your legs are waxed or your floors are clean. It doesn’t care about your wrinkles and it doesn’t care about your kids.

    You think men are selfish? Try Art. Art takes Everything – then wonders aloud why there isn’t more. Art is so self-obsessed it doesn’t even care what’s between your legs. Art is a true feminist like that. Art is deeply egalitarian in its commitment to itself, to not giving a shit about every single thing that isn’t itself.

    A proviso … maybe the author of the piece isn’t a tourist. Maybe she just wrote this stuff to get paid, and support The Writing. I’d like to believe that. I’d like to toast her commitment with my breakfast Sazerac as I sit in my twice-mortgaged bedsit and work on my next (seventh) unpublishable novel. The carpet isn’t clean beneath my feet. Later I’ll think about the wife and kid I never had, and write them into still life again.

    The author. Why does she haunt the message board? No one’s paying her to do that.

    I hope she gets some nice pictures.

  39. What is most striking about the article and comments? Is it the energy that surrounds the feminist debate? Does it really tell us anything about the relationship between men and women, or about writing? No, it the quintessentially Australian nature of the whole exercise. Internal to our fractured interactions, stuck in our institutional methods, imprisoned in our paradigms, we bang on forever about our world, oblivious of the many quite different ways (political, cultural, spiritual) of addressing social issues such as these. Australia; still a big small country on the edge of life.

  40. Deborah Levy writes very smartly about this issue in her terrific essay on writing “Things I Don’t Want to Know” (Penguin).

    The distinction she makes—between the social conditions that constrain men and women, assigning them narrow and proscribed roles in relation to parenting—and the individuals trapped in those roles is especially helpful.

    As long as men are asked when they opt to take parental leave: “what are you going to do-play golf?” as a friend of mine was, and women are chastised for not being more productive writers irrespective of their caring responsibilities, the culture has a long way to go in supporting creativity and equality in parenting.

  41. Far too many of the comments on this article demonstrate wosname’s law: “The comments on any article about feminism demonstrate the continued necessity of feminism.”

  42. Just to clarify something you allude to in this article, VIDA has never called for quotas from literary publications. Art doesn’t get made by quota, as thoughtful people know. VIDA is asking editors to consider their automatic, typically unconscious reading habits in relationship to the gender bias women generally experience in many aspects of their professional lives (and there’s plenty of social science data to support the statement). This approach is showing signs of working when you consider those serious literary publications, most notably Paris Review and Tin House, who’ve made it part of their recent practice to seek out and publish more work by gifted writers who happen to be women. More interestingly, there has been no outcry that these magazines’ standards have dropped in doing so. It’s not heavy lifting to bring a more reasonable balance to these magazines’ pages–its finding the will to do so that seems difficult for some. Otherwise, an interesting take on the issue of care taking. I accepted some time ago that my most productive time as a writer wasn’t going to be when my son was very young. But yes, it is a class issue as much as anything else. Add to this that a significant number of people with the means don’t feel good about having their children raised primarily by nannies and you have a very thorny issue for many women writers to negotiate. This is one of the biggest struggles I see for the young women writers I mentor–“Can I actually manage a life as a writer and have kids, too?” And yet I don’t believe this has ever come up directly in conversation with any of my young men. Though, anecdotally-speaking, my guys do seem to avoid longer term relationships, especially with women who are clear about wanting children, fearing those financial and emotional obligations. I have never been able to figure out how those with more than one, or single mothers especially, do it. But I think it’s a testament to many women’s work ethic and commitment to their art that they manage to do so much excellent creative work anyway.

  43. My main problem with this article is its pitting women against women. As a childfree, single woman writer I am tired of people who have kids and partners telling me about all this free time and lack of responsibility I have. In this day and age for the class of people who have time to blog about not having time to write and us people who have time to post comments, having a kid can be just as indulgent and selfish as writing. Both are projects you decide to dedicate lots of time to. In life you have to find what works for you without telling other people what to do or not do with their lives.

  44. I loved this article & found it very enlightening. Writing is always about creative self-expression & anyone feels better when he/she has a voice. This was a humorous satirical piece, which made me laugh. It’s not “perfect” — it’s even a bit of a slap-in-the-face for me. (When I went “Omg… I’m that guy) Okay, I’m single by choice and have no kids but yesterday, I wrote 3,000 words of creative writing & my female friend, who has two small children, was exhausted from her work, and is just starting to think about devoting more time to her poetry. (which I think is world-class).And she introduced me to Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton. Maybe they had to go through some of what they did for a reason… Just sayin’.
    -p.s. please write more stuff!

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