A Vague, Subconscious Prejudice

By Kaitlin Barker Davis

I wasn’t around for the original Kristin Lavransdatter reading that inspired this project, but her aftershocks rumbled through my MFA program long enough that there were still tremors by the time I started at the following residency. A titter here about how unbearably long the book was, a whisper there about how unbearably boring, just loud enough to mark me with a vague, subconscious prejudice. 

Now, memory isn’t perfect, and by that point I was hearing the reviews secondhand, but in retrospect I think most of the grumbling about Kristin did not come from women. (No offense to any of the men in the program. I’m sure plenty of you were entirely open-minded about Kristin). It just makes me wonder: Why wasn’t I more skeptical about a majority-male critique of a book about a woman written by a woman? Why did I allow that opinion to banish Kristin from my future reading list? And how often do we form preconceived notions of a book based on the gender of the author and/or the supposed gendered topic of the story?

Before I became a mother, my primary identity was a traveler. Travel was my world, so that’s what I wrote about. Now I have a 4-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son, so motherhood is my world and primarily what I write about. I’m working on a proposal for a book about travel and motherhood, and I find myself preemptively defending the worthiness of motherhood as a literary topic, arguing all the reasons why readers beyond mothers might—or should—care about it. Pretty much everything I write boils down to women’s experiences in the world, as mothers, as travelers, just as humans. I believe those stories—motherhood and otherwise—all deserve the same literary treatment and respect as men’s experiences in the world. And that we shouldn’t have to debate why. 

So when Callie and Melissa invited me to join Project Redux, I knew I had to accept. As a woman, and as a writer, I owe Kristin and her author (Sigrid Undset) the chance I never gave them. The definition of “redux” is more than just a re-do. It means brought back; revived; restored. Kristin’s reputation was tarnished before I gave myself the opportunity to form my own opinion, so for me this project is about restoring that reputation and opportunity. But this project is about something else too—it’s a place to read and write, to think and create, in community with other women writers. To engage with stories together, to see how they intersect with and inspire us to tell the stories of our own lives. 

Kaitlin Barker Davis is a writer, traveler and mother from Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in Nowhere Magazine, Narratively, The Rumpus, CNF Sunday Short ReadsThe Best Women’s Travel Writing (Vol.12) and elsewhereShe has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Seattle Pacific University and is at work on her first book, a memoir-in-essays exploring uncharted territory in travel and motherhood. Find her on Instagram at @kaitlinbarkerdavis or online at kaitlinbarkerdavis.com.

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