Motherhood: Still Women’s Most Valued Creative Contribution to Society? by Ivy Helman

I’m expecting…

The stork is delivering as we speak!  I hope you can join me in celebrating this joyous news  – although you should know, the stork is the United States Postal Service, and I am expecting my first book, not  my first baby!

It sounds somewhat crass (even to me whose book this is) to even try and pass off a book in the same way in which women announce they are expecting baby/babies.  Sadly, writing books, which is one use of a woman’s creative energy, does not seem to be as valued as a woman’s ability to procreate, another use of a woman’s creative energy.  Among the circle of friends I grew up with, children still seem to hold a more cherished place.  On, my “friends” post weekly updates as to the progress of their babies, pictures of their “baby bumps” and pictures of their newborns.  Just through reading comments, the excitement is palpable.

Following suit, I’ve been announcing my book and its stages of creation both on and in person.  There is not as much excitement.  At least it doesn’t feel that way.  I do get congratulatory comments, even “likes” just as expecting moms do.  Most people want to know what it is about and when they can get their own copy.  They are happy and interested but in a way that seems very different from the reception my sister and friends have received when they have announced their pregnancies.  Unlike the announcement of a pregnancy, my book elicited no jumping up and down, no screaming, no OMG’s!

Aren’t women supposed to be valued for more than just having babies?  Shouldn’t I get a few screams of excitement over the news?  It is no secret that I screamed and jumped up and down when I found out the good news.  I have also put a lot of time, energy and thought into my new creation.  To me, that has to count for something.  The reception I have received over my book has made me wonder: does society still value women only for their procreativity?  Or better put: are we, women, valued more for procreativity than other uses of our creative faculties?

At the same time, I know what having a child would do to my career at this point.  I am a female religious scholar.  In the publish-or-perish world of academia, books need to be written; careers depend on publication and other scholarly endeavors.  It seems that most women in academia, whether partnered or not, still must choose between children and careers; if they choose both, I am convinced that they must have some kind of supernatural power.  Honestly, I don’t know how I could publish, teach, grade, advise, prep, research, do housework, wash the clothes, take out the dog, feed the cat, prepare meals and care for children all at the same time.

It has been years since I read the feminist insight that women should be valued as much for their various creative endeavors as their procreative power.  This idea has traveled with me because it has resonated with me.  In the end, I must say that while I haven’t yet, I’m optimistic that I too will experience the benefits of this creative process.  Much like babies do, I imagine a day will come when my book will take on a life of its own.  At least, I hope it does.  As I count the days before my book is available for public distribution, I wonder if society has really reevaluated the worth of non-procreative, yet creative, woman’s work.  Maybe, one day women will not have to choose between babies and books to stay in academia.  Maybe, one day there will be screaming and jumping up and down for woman’s publications as much as there is for pregnancies.  For now, it is a wait-and-see situation.

Ivy A. Helman, Ph. D.: A feminist scholar currently on the faculty at Boston College teaching in its Perspectives Program and an Adjunct Lecturer at Merrimack College.  Her most recent publications include:  “Queer Systems: The Benefits of a More Systematic Approach to Queer Theology,” in CrossCurrents (March 2011) and Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents(2012).

Categories: Academy, Catholic Church, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Motherhood, Reform, Social Justice, Vatican, Women and Scholarship

Tags: , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. I just took a peak at your new book and read the available pages online. Congratulations! Congratulations! I hope “your baby” will find her place in the world.

    I felt as you do when I began my career. It was not until I saw it stymied by the fact that I had cut of my chances for advancement in my career by not being Christian, that I thought of having a baby instead of another book. It didn’t happen.

    I agree with you that the women who have it all probably have more than the average amount of energy, luck, and money.


  2. I really enjoyed this post!

    When I was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I took a class called Race and Gender in the Italian Renaissance. I bet you would have loved that course, Ivy! Anyway, something we discussed at length was the choice most women of any stature had to make during this age…that once they were of marrying age (which was very young at that time, as you know) they had to decide between being married off and soon after attempting to bear children, or going to a convent. Even if a young woman had no interest in living as a nun, if she wished to continue her education, this was the choice she had to make, because mothers had no place in academia. At the time, I was in my early twenties and this situation really spoke to me and where I was in my own academic career.

    Not much has changed…not really. Even though women today are free to pursue an academic/professional life and also be mothers/wives, it is difficult to do everything “right” and to feel respected while doing it. The flip side to your blog post is that women who are highly educated really do receive a high degree of criticism for taking time away from the academic/professional world to have children or focus on family concerns. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told that staying home with my daughter while she was a baby was “wasting away my education”. What I have found during these years is the exact opposite…that having a fine academic background has helped me to be an excellent parent and teacher to her, and has no doubt had an impact on her own intelligence.

    Regardless, the beauty of feminism, which many of us seem to forget when we get wrapped up in our own personal situations, is that women have a right to choose their own path. What makes the path we select an easier one to walk is the support of other women, who respect our choices, even if they are different from theirs.

    Being truly accompished at anything takes work, whether you are a scholar, or a parent, or so many other things. It begins as a seed, and as it is nurtured, it blossoms. As you nurture this “thing”, this “passion”, it becomes a part of you, and you become attached to it…because you know how much of your time, your efforts, your “self” you have contributed to make it grow. This is why having children is such an earth shattering experience…but you can certainly get this same feeling from accomplishing other amazing fetes…things which are so challenging, yet so rewarding…for if they are not difficult, the satisfaction of true success probably isn’t there…and I would argue thins “thing” is not being done right.

    I think it’s amazing that you’ve written a book, Ivy! I truly respect your path, because I know that like my own, as a mom, it’s not always easy…and that’s what makes it so satisfying.

    I know that women like me, who nurse babies while writing their master’s thesis at 2am, are many. We’re not supernatural, and our faults are many. We’re the product of our mother’s brand of feminism. We’re told we can do it all, so we’re going to die trying, even if it just isn’t practical. We refuse to go to the convent! But there is nothing at all wrong with those who choose one or the other.


  3. Ivy,

    Thank you for your post. While I entered academia AFTER giving birth to my children (they are still school-aged) I can relate to your analogy. Though I have yet to complete my first book or complete my dissertation, the process I went through to complete my M.A. Essay felt like endless labor. I would often joke that I would rather go through labor again, because at least there is an end in sight (and I naturally birthed twins). The process of authoring a book and/or dissertation is probably at a magnitude that I cannot relate to, but hope to experience.

    Conceiving an idea and following it through to birth is something to be quite proud of. Most conceptions in the scholarly world never reach full term, and sometimes do not last past the first trimester. Congratulations on your accomplishment!



  4. It strikes me that it is also true that someone else having a baby doesn’t make most people feel uncomfortable, but someone else writing a book makes most people feel uncomfortable, because most people can’t imagine ever doing that themselves. I know in my family and among some friends there is both the “she is so much smarter than I am and I can’t relate to her on that level” reaction and the “who does she think she is” reaction from the patriarchs.


    • I totally agree with Carol, and can relate to you Ivy. Most women look into their future and can see themselves with a bump, can imagine screaming at that significant other, legs spread and ready to go, “You did this to me!”

      Most people cannot image sitting alone in an office, slumped over a keyboard, stressing out over the delete button. They certainly can’t imagine doing it every day for however many months/years it takes to write a book! When they say “Ohhh congrats!!!” for the baby, they are expecting that when they get preggo, that first person will do the same for them. Ah, the social animal. “Here, I congratulate you on your baby and then when I get pregnant, you can congratulate me on mine!”

      I too am in the end stages of publishing — have a stack of first pass pages staring at me as I type this — and hesitate to write about my excitement anywhere. Certainly not Facebook, land of babies and Farmville requests. (really? Why!?)

      When I do speak about the writing process with friends, family, blahblah, it can be as awkward as the actual process of writing. It’s like pulling my own teeth at times, and then other times, when the words do flow, I feel like maybe something is wrong. Have I said too much? Are they be bored? Am I babbling? I feel like children are relatively easy to create, given all the right parts, processes and that special, instantaneous union of sperm and egg. Don’t drink, smoke, starve yourself, or eat raw fish. It all seems fairly straight forward. Yes, you will be faced with challenges, a crying, crapping little red squishy thing that will grow into a crying, crapping tall thing with a delayed prefrontal cortex but…. A cohesive, comprehensive, readable book? So much work! After the nine months your body spends on a baby, you have eighteen years to help shape him or her. That feels like a much more manageable allotment of time than a D&A date and pressing send on the final changes of a manuscript.

      Congrats on the book Ivy. Big things. Big things.

      (and I love that your dad posted on here, and that he said OMG! So cute!!! Yay dad!)


  5. OMG!!
    Congratuations Ivy, you are a gifted and a wonderful women. It is not who you bring into this world it is what you make of your God giving talents. Creation requires nurturing, love and commitment and I know you have all three. You have and always will be one of my great creations, continue to be you and your OMGs will surround you.


  6. Thank you so much for this post. As a female scholar surrounded by family and friends who don’t really value my work, I could really resonate with your concerns as well as your excitement for your new “baby.” I have been cooking my quals in the “oven” for the past six months, and I am overjoyed that this “baby bump” in my head is going to be birthed. I am also looking forward to the dissertation process. I must say, my academic pursuits earn me respect in my various circles, but it certainly isn’t the same type of respect as procreative processes. I know there are some who do value women for their other creative contributions to society, but in my life, those types of people are few and far between. It seems I have just found one in you Ivy; so thanks. It’s always nice to know you are not alone.


  7. Thank you Ivy for this post. First I’d like to express my congratulations for your baby. This post brought me back to my roots when I started publishing my academic essays and more… and then “suddenly” the question of family did compete against it – none of my supervisors backed up my idea of doing both. An “academic baby” and having a family. To make it short … in the end I decided to go my own way and had my essays published with GRIN: – I could go at my own pace and in the meantime I already got positive reaction on it and had been invited to more than one round table to discuss my academic research. Ok it is not (yet) the academic career I dreamt of, but that way I could have both – my wonderful daughter and a kind of an academic career.
    I wish you all the best for your way and am looking forward to read more of you.
    Sincerely, Mary


  8. ivy– what a great creative post…as my “adopted academic daughter” i could not be more proud of you!!


  9. I don’t have a lot to add, I just want to say: I like your post. I wish that there wasn’t that Either/Or. I hope that one day there can be a Both/And, because I want to write books AND have babies. And I am definitely one that thinks thinking/writing/publishing a book is worth screaming for. Congratulations!


  10. I can relate to your use of the birthing process in the recent launch of your book. I too used the analogy of ‘giving birth’ on the completion of my PhD. I try to remember that everything we do ‘gives birth’ – potentially to a healthy, nurtured and loved/loving ‘child’ – which is experiencing the Mystery on a daily basis. I have to say that for me, the most profound experience of the Mystery has been giving birth to my son, now 24. The Mother as pro-creator in all of Creation is for me the centre of my spiritual understandings, based on my own experiences, starting with the physical experience of giving birth.


  11. Belated congrats, Ivy, on your book! I’m excited for you … still! LOL The analogy is appropriate, as is your entire article and all the great comments add some more frills to the cyber-shower. (I popped over to this article from today’s “literal” post.)


  12. i like this post and i do only disagree in opinion that the 2 should be seperate. not to hurt your chances or working but because jobs and money come and go but family is eternal. i like your post alot. i will probably buy your book. i was worried women would not fight for thier kids and would not make up their own opinion on fair treatment other than following like drones. feminism is still needed but it is approaching a time of being just as bad as hitler regime. worse than our old government view of the people more useful as sheep, they still had a choice in the matter though.



  1. How literal is too literal? My Experience with Tallit Katan. By Ivy Helman « Feminism and Religion

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