Pregnancy is a rich, if slightly uncomfortable source of metaphors, especially for men. For example:
The most interesting aspect of pregnancy metaphors is the difference between male and female attitudes towards them.
The late David Foster Wallace seemed acutely aware of the discomfort men experience around the subject. In a Charlie Rose interview he said (of his huge 1000-page plus books):
“Feminists are always saying this. Feminists are saying white males say, “Okay, I’m going to sit down and write this enormous book and impose my phallus on the consciousness of the world… if that was going on, it was going on on a level of awareness I do not want to have access to.”
This is curious to me. As a private experience, the process of creating a huge work over an extended period of time is more like pregnancy than insemination. On the other hand, on the scale of all human history, even the most influential 1000-page book can be no more than a generative drop, and the insemination metaphor seems apt.
I resonate with the idea that men are perhaps more driven by the restless urge to create (anti-flame qualification: more, not necessarily better) because the nature of life cuts them out of truly consequential roles in perpetuating the species. An all-female species could theoretically survive with a few sperm banks, or perhaps even without, through parthenogenesis. Even when males are an important part of biological reality, alpha males like Genghis Khan are the only ones that truly matter. This, perhaps is the thought behind an idea I read on a blog a few weeks ago (I can’t remember the source):
You either give birth to yourself, or to somebody else.
Men don’t really have this choice to the extent women do. Yes, men can teach, or become devoted fathers, but in the development of others, there is no way men can matter as much as women can. They can matter to themselves though. A big creative endeavor is basically like giving birth to yourself. You are at once mother and baby, transformed and transforming. Lest you take this too egoistically, B. F. Skinner reduced this apparently solemn human urge to a farce, in his behaviorist essay, On Having a Poem (I could not find this online).
Why is giving birth an experience of value, outside of the value created (the baby or novel)? Some, including Francis Fukuyama, have speculated that the value lies in the fact that childbirth brings you face to face with death. Women can access this experience viscerally if they choose to. Men must be violent and find reasons to fight wars. Or they must create at a level that involves nearly killing themselves. I wonder if women, once they become mothers, view their pre-motherhood ambitions of writing novels, say, as being trivial.
For men, the fundamentally inconsequential nature of their existence is at once liberating and tragic, and the source of much of their shaping of history. Interestingly, for women who choose to become (only) mothers, the consequential nature of their decision at genetic-historical scales can be overshadowed by a sense of being inconsequential and trapped, against the backdrop of immediate realities. Perhaps women, historically, have been enslaved by the selfish gene, rather than men.
(A misguided reference to Y-combinator was deleted, and a typo was corrected, thanks to Xianhang Zhang’s comment below. Thanks!)