Are women selfish if we want to write?

Through the years, I’ve read, over and over again, about Virginia Woolf’s quest for peace and quiet and a room of her own. I’ve read about her feelings of guilt for wanting to be left alone to write.  I’ve read about women being silenced. I’ve read about women’s schedules being more hectic than men’s.

The most compelling argument that women find it harder to write than men do comes from the school of thought that says that we are taught to undermine ourselves; that we are taught to doubt our voice, to doubt that anyone would find what we have to say worthwhile; and that our time and effort belongs to others.

I find these discussions about the differences men and women encounter in the writing life discomfiting. I hope they’re not true, at the same time I fear they (mostly) are. I struggle not to give into the voice of doubt in my head. These are the same doubts women writers have fought against for a very long time. From feminist writers such as Carol Gilligan and Louise DeSalvo I learned that we consider ourselves selfish to ask for time to write; selfish to take time away from our families, selfish to want something for ourselves otherwise unattached to personal relationships.

I wonder the extent to which this taboo still haunts women who want to write…. the taboo that whatever we do, we’d better not ripple the waters of our home pond; that if we’re going to ask for free time, it had better be worthwhile. If this guilt still exists, and I suspect it does, I hope women are willing to at least consider writing, and to take time for ourselves to accomplish what we need through the act of writing.

I don’t think these are “feminist” issues. I think these are humanist issues, in that it might be entirely necessary for one’s psychological and emotional health to write (or to create in some way). I think this discussion gets muddied by the feminist dialogue that tends to pull women away from the real issue, which is one’s personal values up against the values of society. If you value yourself, won’t you make time for yourself?

The logical answer is ‘yes,’ of course, but too often, we get dragged into time-wasting, diversionary arguments about feminism. These arguments then degrade into male-versus-female debates, not winnable by anyone, that obfuscate the point. The point is that women in particular do not value ourselves enough to take time away from everyone else to do what we want and need to do. Not without incurring a boatload of guilt, it seems.

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