Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dear Women and Men, Readers and Publishers (i.e. everyone)

Dear Women and Men, Readers and Publishers (i.e. everyone),
     I regularly talk with my best friend (who happens to be unmarried) about how to keep (and develop) my identity in the midst of my roles as wife and mother. I have always prized reading as one of the sharpest tools in my do-not-lose-myself bucket. So, imagine my, ahem, surprise, when it dawned on me that some of the titles we are reading may actually be reinforcing the stereotypical identity-loss that comes with wifedom and motherhood.  As I was editing my Goodreads list and browsing my friends' lists, I noticed something interesting, er, disturbing. There are a shocking number of novels out there with titles like "The fill-in-the-blank's Wife." There's The Tiger's Wife, The Pilot's Wife, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Traitor's Wife, The Doctor's Wife, The Diplomat's Wife, The Sea Captain's Wife, The Shoemaker's Wife (seriously? Do shoemaker's still exist? If so, where? I have a pair of busted Nine West sandals that have been begging for repair. I wore them to my sweet 16. I will never throw them out. Nine West is high fashion for someone with as much student loan debt as I've got.) The Saddlemaker's Wife (now this could get good...) and the list goes on and on. In fact, after a cursory amazon search for literary fiction with the word "wife" in the title, nearly 1,200 titles appear, more than twice that if you expand the search to include all contemporary fiction and literary fiction categories. I joked with my own husband that I should write a book titled "The Headmaster's Wife" as it seems denying my own identity or at least simplifying it to be merely based on my marital status is a surefire way to get published. Another quick search delivered the hard news that someone had already beaten me to the punch. Doh! Maybe I'll read The Headmaster's Wife over spring break. The title is generic enough to be based on my life, after all.

 Image Borrowed from A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World
      Now, I am not, in anyway, suggesting that these books aren't great reads or well-written. I actually haven't read most of them. But it is noteworthy that while there are somewhere between 1,200 and 3,000 books on the shelves whose titles define women according to their relationship to a man (I did filter out for lesbian literature, though a few may have gotten past) the very same search on amazon for fiction with "husband" in the title yielded only around 250 results. After a few minutes of glancing, many of these books didn't even refer to the role of husband but rather, were books about women in want of a husband such as The Husband Thief, The Husband Hunt and A Husband for Margaret. It's also noteworthy that most of these "husband" books were not popular or successful titles while many of the "wife" titles were (more than a couple of New York Times best sellers).

     So why is that? I am assuming that many of these titles were chosen by publishers and not by the authors. They must believe that titling a book "So and So's wife" is going to sell more copies. Why? It's subtle, I know, but it seems indicative of a general cultural tendency to have women's identities be cast in the shadows (or if she insists on taking center stage, be relegated to the so-called "Chick Lit" corner- don't even get me started on the degrading way the publishing industry treats books that fall into this category!)
      I love my husband, love who he is, what he does, yes, but I don't want to be simply defined by who he is. But guess what, he doesn't want that either (read: this is why we are married). He doesn't have a blog so you'll just have to take my word for it. Besides, I've asked him. Repeatedly. You know why?  Because reminding each other, and the world, that as awesome as we are together, we are also individuals, is something that takes work both inside the home and out. Because I'm better when I'm more than his wife and he's better when I'm better. Of course, it goes both ways, but somehow everyone gets how great it is when I put something aside to see him further his career (which I have done) but not when he forfeits a goal for a time while I pursue my own (which he has done). It starts with what we say and what we believe and what we choose. It starts with the books we read our children and the books we read ourselves. So, while I'm not suggesting that any of these books be banned from the reading list of feminists, or women-conscious readers (in fact book-banning is the surest way to get a book added to my reading list) I am suggesting that we point out, talk about and debunk myths like this one: the identity of a man (husband) is more important than the identity of a woman (wife), even in her own story.

     In my story, which is both my story and his story, (and our story) who I am is just as essential as who he is. I want my children to see that and know that, and one day, I want my daughter to read that- on the cover of a New York Times best seller.


A woman, a writer, reader, a friend, a business-owner, a mother, a lover, a thinker and yes a wife of a husband (who doesn't feel the need to insert himself here.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A poem for the season of Hope

I wrote this poem during this advent season as we meditate on hope. Hope is often described as this fluffy, light thing; a cloud, a twinkle, a feather, a dream. And maybe the act of hoping is white and bright. But maybe not. Maybe it's dark and scary and risky. Maybe it's like running away from the slave master, maybe it's running toward freedom. I think about hope being the marrow in the bones of runaway slaves. During advent, we light the Hope candle and it shines, but it only shines in the dark.

The North Star

If Christ be not that northern star, 
our beacon not to follow
in vain we make this journey far
and shelter in trees hollowed;
plagued by termites' vicious want --
as we are poured out by the master,
demanding lifeblood for his gain,
demanding reverence for his name.
See these bodies, the shattered alabaster. 
If satan's not the fearsome captor
then why do our feet flee so?
His hounds, they've caught my scent
I feel the River Freedom's undertow;
the lapping warmth, this liquid Lent,
my spirit beat, my body spent.
I'll wait there, wade there, severed from my own.
My fugitive family caught, my son; a bloodhound's bone.
If Christ be not that distant star
that beckons, points and leads,
then he would be the hollowed hole that hides me in the trees.
And he would be that lapping wave that carries on this broken slave,
and he would be my lonely head and he would be my son, half dead.