Lady business: A room of one’s own
by Sara French
On the reading list for British and American Lit of the 20th Century are three works by Virginia Woolf, an author whose work I was not too familiar with beyond reputation and had not fully appreciated until recently. By many, Wolf is considered to be a feminist before her time. And in a way, she kind of is a really great feminist considering the context of her life.
In the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” she is given the task to write about “women and fiction.” Instead of writing a traditional essay about what would be assumed as a scholarly analysis of successful female authors, Woolf details the actual realities of a woman trying to make a living as a writer. She says to be a successful writer, a woman must have money and a room of one’s own. In a time where the picture of success is only of rich, educated, white men who are celebrated for their work, Woolf writes how hard it is to be an aspiring female writer during her lifetime.
This is unfortunately something women writers still face today. Joanne Rowling is one of the most successful writers of our time, but she was and still is advised to use the pen names “J.K. Rowling” and “Robert Galbraith” for better sales instead of her clearly female name. She was told young boys would be likely not to read her books if they were written by a woman. And while she has since then gotten recognition as a female writer for her great literature, her rise to fame was built on a masculine pen name to disguise her gender.
Woolf brings up many other valid points on the prejudices of writing and the disadvantage women have at becoming writers and making it as a career. The lack of education women received at her time was astounding and comparable to other countries in the present where women don’t possess the same options as those in the United States do.
One of her most famous hypothetical examples of this is Shakespeare’s sister, Judith. She speaks of the talent and words that a fictional Judith must have been filled with; however, the ambition and promise are lost on the fact that women were not afforded the same education.
Judith in a way reminds me of poor Maria Anna Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s older sister. Evidence from Mozart’s letters to her note that she was a talented composer and musician as well as he, but since she was a woman, she was not allowed by her father to ever have the freedoms her younger brother did. One can wonder what great musical compositions were lost due to restrictions of inequality derived from patriarchal constraint.
We will never know what a play by a Judith Shakespeare could have felt like; but Woolf said that was why she must write, for her and for all women. She insisted that it is worth it to write and persist as a woman even in poverty and obscurity, because it is worth it. If it isn’t obvious at the time, it will be to someone in the future. So I implore you to persist in your endeavors of success and acknowledgement of your accomplishments. I challenge you to be the feminist that Woolf didn’t realize she was, someone who challenges inequality in the workplace and education, but also some who is not afraid to challenge fellow women to be better. And I recommend that you read “A Room of One’s Own.”