Monday, February 4, 2013

2: A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well...I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in...Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my is much more important to be oneself than anything else."

135 years after "A Vindication" we are brought to "A Room of One's Own" - another text I remember as being a short essay and was surprised to find it is actually a slim volume of 114 pages. I have encountered the most commonly excerpted pieces on several occasions, so there wasn't a lot that was particularly surprising, but I think this time, more than any other time, I appreciated the actual writing. I have not actually read any other VW (I know, terrible thing), and this time around I am finally inspired to pick up a novel or two (after I finish my Master's of course, when I'll have time to actually study literature!) just to see how she puts together her sentences and ideas.

The Famous Shit
  • Oxbridge University (fictional male college) vs. Fernham (fictional female college): This is the one, more than anything else in the essay, that makes me want to hurt people who don't believe in feminism or don't believe that women are still catching up from a BILLION YEARS OF OPPRESSION. At the men's college, VW tours the beautiful grounds, eats a splendid lunch, and attempts to look up something in the library...only to be told that single women are not allowed in the library without a male scholar or letter of introduction. Of course. Can't trust women and those pesky independent ideas. Then she heads over to the women's college where there is nothing besides the absolutely essential because it was so hard to even get the essential that nothing could be spared for niceties. Why do women get their own studies? Why aren't there men's studies classes? Why aren't their men's only colleges? Blahblahblahshutup. Or read VW because she has the patience to explain it to you. (Although to be fair we are now more about 'GENDER STUDIES' rather than 'WOMEN STUDIES' so really you have nothing to complain about anymore you men's rights folks). The description of the respective meals she has at each is actually a part of a former Advanced Placement Timed Writing that I use year after year with my students because it is a perfect example of contrasting diction, syntax, and tone, but is subtle enough that they have to work for it - so it was a little like a celebrity spotting to see those sections in the wild.
  • Shakespeare's Sister: In response to "a woman could never write Shakespeare" VW brilliantly writes out the life of Shakespeare's sister and indeed concludes that a woman could never have written Shakespeare because she would have been thrown out, knocked up, and killed herself. Good times. It makes me reaaaaalllllyyyy wish I could use this as an example with my students: It's not that you can't be an uneducated non-degree-having single teen mom and be successful - it's just so much harder. Shakespeare's (fictional) sister couldn't do it, and I don't want you to do it either. Use birth control duckies.
  • Chloe Liked Olivia: This section's subtle nod to the occurrence of lesbian relationships as well as the other complications of platonic female friendships is totally worth a read. It also has an early incarnation of the Bechdel Test (for a movie to pass the test it must have 1: at least two ladies who 2: talk to each other about 3: something besides a man). She highlights how male writers have failed to give women any kind of role except as a sexual companion/interest to a man or a sexual rival to a woman and we really need to see more variety in our female/female relationships in literature despite the fact that often, women do not like women.
  • Male vs. Female Sentences: This section particularly irked me and I brought it up to my class as being problematic. She states that "The weight, the pace, the stride of a man's mind are too unlike her own for her to lift anything substantial from him successfully...It was a sentence that was unsuited for a woman's use...Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it." I am not particularly convinced that there is a particular syntactical difference between the way men and women write (assuming they come from the same language and time period and are utilizing the same form - one couldn't compare a 1920s American male poet's syntax with Austen's syntax for example). The class responded to what I found problematic with a few of their own ideas (one idea said it had more to do with tone than structure, another said it had to do with the confidence of ideas, etc etc). I'm still not buying it, so it's something I'd like to study when I have more free time. Gender Studies Linguists to the rescue!
Overall, it is another must read for anyone interested in this field of study - particularly after reading "A Vindication" as they are so much in conversation with one another. There is also an hour long movie monologue that covers all the essentials if you are a fan of a VW type woman wandering a study in a very masculine outfit while she lectures you about these things. It's kind of hot.

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