Tag Archives: daughters

Whose Daughter? Whose Wife?

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 DaughterThe Baker’s DaughterThe 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?

Tip Jar

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.


When Life Gives You Daughters…

Dad wanted sons, it’s clear in hindsight. What he got was me and Lucy.(1)

Being a good dad, he never said – at least within my hearing – that he really wanted sons. He never said it to my mother within my hearing either.

But there were subtle signs. He gave us boys’ nicknames, for example. Lucy was Buddy and I was Cubby, after the cute little boy Mouseketeer.(2)

Dad would roughhouse with us. He took us to the rifle range and taught us to shoot. He wanted me to grow up to be an engineer. Lucy was determined to be either a jockey or a veterinarian neither of which was a realistic goal, but he left her to her fantasies and decided that I should follow in his footsteps.(3) My mother finally convinced him not to try talking me out of my goal of being a teacher, but by the time she succeeded I had already given it up.(4)

Dad was no feminist though.(5) He just wanted children that he could engage in his guy pursuits with. He wasn’t a sports fan, but he encouraged – no, positively enabled – any interests or hobbies I had that were even quasi-military.(6) I liked archery, fencing, and martial arts. He would buy me all the equipment or accessories I needed. One Christmas he even gave me a Black Widow model slingshot. It had a spiffy wrist brace so that you could get a steady aim and a stronger pull. I don’t think I ever used it, but if I had wanted to I could have put a ball bearing through the side of the garage.

Lucy and I were what they called tomboys back then – me more than Lucy.(7) My mother still got a chance to indulge girlier whims. Every Easter would find us dressed in ruffled pink organdy with frills and itchy headbands adorned with fruit or flowers. Little white patent leather shoes and little white ankle socks were also required, as was the taking of pictures in front of the house.(8)

Despite the occasional attempt at girliness, Lucy and I were not indoctrinated into the prevailing feminine ideals. For example, neither of my parents ever even hinted that I should hide my brains so as not to scare off the boys. In fact, they encouraged me to show off my smarts in some fairly obnoxious ways. I always knew college was my destiny, but I never got the impression that marriage and motherhood were also expected. It came as a surprise to everyone – most of all me – when I did acquire a husband.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that husband turned out to have a combination of male and female traits himself. He bonded with my father by replacing his shocks and with my mother by gardening. He has a background in private-duty nursing and has often had women for bosses.(9) I don’t know that much about his upbringing, but I do know it left him flexible and understanding about the limits of gender roles. I know even less about Lucy’s husband, but I think it’s probably significant that he drives for Meals on Wheels, another sort of caretaking.

In a way I feel sorry for the girls I see who are raised to be princesses in pink. It’s so limiting. We were raised not as girls, not as boys, not as girly boys or boyish girls, but as children (10), who came from male and female, and carried bits of both inside us. And I can’t speak for Lucy, but I think the experience has served me well.

(1) That’s not her real name, but I may occasionally say unflattering things about her and want to cover my bets. And my ass.
(2) Admittedly these were better than the nicknames one guy on a reality show gave his little daughters – Truck and Tank. But ours were still just a wee bit butch.
(3) He was an industrial engineering technician, and since I was destined for college, that made me the obvious choice. I suppose I could have become an engineer, but I would have been a very unhappy one.
(4) There were much more exciting things to be, like a bus driver, a chemist, an FBI agent, or a poet.
(5) When I decided to keep my own name – well, his name, really – after marriage, he quoted that bit to me about the man is head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23).
(6) He considered “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” to be a fun, catchy children’s song.
(7) I don’t know what they call tomboys now. Just girls, I think. Or maybe children with non-conforming gender identity norms. If you’re a sociologist, I mean.
(8) Some of these pictures may still exist, but you’re not going to see them here.
(9) Not to imply I’m bossy or anything.
(10) It could have been worse. When we were out and about in the neighborhood Dad would whistle to call us back home. I suppose we could have turned out to be dogs.