Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Scholarship and Self-Exposure

While my last post hasn't gotten comments on the blog itself, I've received several responses to it privately.  A common word in these responses is "brave:" I'm assuming this is in response to the final paragraph where I identify the abortion I had in graduate school as one motivation for my turn towards writing about motherhood in my scholarship. I've gone back and forth over whether or not to include that information in the book.  I've decided (for now at least) to do it.  And I want to talk here a little bit about why.

First and most broadly, I have long accepted the fact that there is always some connection between a person's scholarship and his or her life and experiences.  "Objective" or "disinterested" scholarship is a myth: why would someone spend years of their life working on something that s/he wasn't "interested" in for some reason?  That connection, that reason, may not be obvious or clear, even to the person him or herself, but it is there.  If it's not clear, then fine, leave it be.  But if it is clear, as it is to me in this case - years later and after considerable reflection - then why not acknowledge it?  After all, the point of writing is to communicate to other people and acknowledging your self-investment in the work should help that process of communication.

That is particularly true, I think, in this case.   Because I'm concerned that if I don't make my personal circumstances clear, readers will make some incorrect assumptions about me and so about the book: that they will assume that I am a mother myself and am bringing that experience to the writing of the book.  I'm concerned that that could even become a way of dismissing the book: something along the lines of, "well she obviously has kids and so is just projecting her own experience as a mother on to the sculptures instead of doing real scholarship."  Well, no and no.

Of course I could take care of that simply by saying that I don't have children.  I don't have to mention the abortion.  But then I would feel like I was lying or at least being disingenuous.  If I am going to discuss my own experiences in my scholarship, then I am going to be honest about them.

And finally, this is where the scholarly and the personal meet the political.  Women who have had abortions need to acknowledge that fact when the opportunity arises.  I understand not wanting to do so.   It is a controversial topic and so a difficult one to bring up; you can't be sure how other people are going to react.  The legal right to make the choice to terminate a pregnancy rests on the right to privacy, which then defines that choice as a very private matter; something "between a woman and her doctor" and so something not to be discussed outside of that closed context.  But to not talk about it also treats it as something that you are/ought to be ashamed of - as a dirty little secret.  And for women who have exercised their right to chose to not talk about it allows the people who would take away that right to define the terms on which the issue is discussed.  If women who have exercised this right are going to help ensure that other women have the same right to chose, then we need to talk about it.

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