Emily St. John Mandel noticed back in 2012 that there were many, many books with titles that related to someone’s daughter. “No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon,” she said. “Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Baker’s Daughter, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.” She actually made a spreadsheet of the number of daughter books and came up with over 530. “I don’t mean to suggest that 530 represents the total number of these books,” she added. “Five hundred and thirty was just the arbitrary point where I decided to stop counting, because the project was starting to take too much time. I was only on page 88 of 200 pages of search results.”
Well, I took over her mission and recorded still more daughters that were the subject of books. One of the best known is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Among the others I found were the President’s, General’s, Senator’s, Governor’s, Admiral’s, Colonel’s, Judge’s, and Sheriff’s. And the Bishop’s, Apostate’s, and Vicar’s. Not to mention the Alchemist’s, Apothecary’s, Taxi Driver’s, Merchant’s, Outlaw’s, and Killer’s. There were even ones that recognized that sometimes women had daughters as well: the Harlot’s, the Mistress’s, and the Book Woman’s daughters all came up on the search.
But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. I also found a plethora of books devoted to various people’s wives. The most recent and popular was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but there are plenty of others. Some I found particularly interesting: Zookeeper’s and Tiger’s (two separate books), Nazi Officer’s, Traitor’s, Lightning God’s, Liar’s, Shape-Changer’s, Dopeman’s, Conqueror’s, and Dark Overlord’s. Lobotomist’s (I think I need to read that one) and Anatomist’s and Knife Thrower’s. Lots of occupational ones – Shoemaker’s, Pilot’s (and Aviator’s), Headmaster’s, Optician’s, Woodcutter’s, Centurion’s, Mapmaker’s (a fascinating book that I’ve actually read), Tea Planter’s, Clockmaker’s, Chocolate Maker’s, Restaurant Critic’s, Runaway Pastor’s (no, that’s one, not two), Penmaker’s, and Banker’s wives were all featured. And some that are just puzzling: Salaryman’s, Janitor’s, Centaur’s wife.
That’s where I stopped recording them. I’m not a big fan of spreadsheets.
The reason I bring all this up (there actually is a reason) is that I’m always annoyed (not to say pissed off) when there’s a campaign that defines a woman in terms of her relationship with someone else: Breast cancer could happen to your wife or your mother. Being attacked on the street at night could happen to your daughter, your fiance, your niece. Abortion, stalking, mental and other illnesses – all could happen to a person related to you.
It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of how these tragedies and distressing situations can affect those around you – loved ones, relatives, neighbors. And it’s not like there aren’t a few similar things that could be said about husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends (killed in war or suffering from prostate cancer, usually).
What gets to me is that the afflictions are said to be visited on women in relation to someone else. Isn’t it bad enough when a woman is raped or gets cervical cancer strictly as herself? Why do we have to define her as someone’s something in order for her to deserve our attention?
Even the sisters and the daughters are encouraged to think, “It could be my mother or grandmother. It could be my best friend.” I guess “It could happen to any woman” isn’t specific enough. There has to be an emotional connection to make them worth caring about.
But there are plenty of women without family or community connections who are subject to diseases and disasters – the homeless woman, the one who has always lived on her own, the widow with no children. Why can’t we care about, have sympathy for, and work toward the health and happiness of them too?
Or are they only worthwhile and interesting when they’re daughters or wives?