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Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

Updated December 28, 2021
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Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” essay

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Dylan Moore Jerry Harp Exploration and Discover November 18, 2018 The Endless Fight for Equality In the movie The Imitation Game, after declaring war on Germany, mathematician Alan Turing, joins a cryptography team for the British Government to decrypt the German coded messages. After Turing becomes in charge of the team, he puts a difficult crossword puzzle in the newspaper as a test to look for others who could help break the code. When Joan Clarke, a Cambridge graduate, passes the test and reports to Turing, she is faced with the prejudice of her being a woman and her ability to pass the test is doubted. Even when she joins the team, she is constantly criticized and underestimated because she is a woman. Clarke is seen as inferior to the other men.

These ideas of gender inequality and women’s position in society have many parallels in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In her essay, Woolf examines women’s historical struggle as writers by investigating the social and material conditions that are required for writing. Throughout A Room of One’s Own, Woolf emphasizes the fact that women are treated unequally within her society and the negative effects it has had on women’s writing. Without the means of securing financial independence, women are confined to the world of domestic duties. The narrator writes, ”Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom.

And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time” (Woolf 106). She uses this quote to explain why so few women have written successful poetry. Because women do not have power, their creativity has been systematically oppressed and is implied by the narrator that without money, women will remain in second place to males. She believes that women contend with frequent interruptions because they are often deprived of a room of their own. For the narrator, “a woman must have money” to have a room to their own in which to write, and thus, having money is of the utmost importance for women (Woolf 4). Also, at this time “to earn money was impossible for [women], and…had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned” (Woolf 22).

Because of this setback, women could not afford to provide education for their daughters or themselves. Without money, women must toil day and night at home with no time to learn about “archaeology, botany, anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy, relativity, geography” which were the subjects of men’s conversations (Woolf 21). In A Room of One’s Own, Mary Seton’s mother is neither a businesswoman nor a magnate on the Stock Exchange so she could not afford to provide a formal education for her daughter. Even if she could have earned the money, it would have been her husband’s property. Woolf notes if Mary’s mother had gone into business, there would be no Mary.

Children were financial burdens that had heavy demands, making it impossible for a mother to feed and play with their children while making money. Furthermore, this financial distinction between men and women at the time of Woolf’s writing reinforced the myth that women were less successful writers than men. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf examines how women’s writing has been affected by the poor treatment they receive from society. To accentuate her beliefs, she gave the example of a hypothetical sister of William Shakespeare, Judith Shakespeare. She remarked “It would have been impossible… for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare” (Woolf 46).

The narrator used Judith to demonstrate how society systematically discriminated against women. Judith was as gifted as her brother but received no education except that which she creates for herself in her free time. Because she was a woman, she couldn’t go to school and her parents made her do dreary things like “mend the stockings or mind the stew” (Woolf 47). While she managed to do some reading and writing in secret, it was not enough. Eventually, her parents tried to marry her off but she couldn’t bear to be tied down to a husband and children. So, she ran away in search of fortune in London. She wanted to go into acting, but she was faced with rejection and ridicule because of her gender and eventually took her own life.

Most women in Judith’s circumstances would have followed along with what their society and parents expected from them, as she did, and suffer a similar fate. But in the end, Judith is just a device to aid Woolf in proving her point about why there are so few famous female writers. She felt the discouragement of women as writers negatively affected them. In a predominantly male world of Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, female characters are confined to the domestic circles of their homes, leaving them excluded from the literary world. They are trained to remain silent and passive not only by the males around them but also their family and peers. Willingly or grudgingly, women were confined to the domestic circle, discouraged from the literary world, and were expected to act as foils to males.

In The Imitation Game, Clarke’s situation is similar to what is described in Woolf’s essay. When Joan completes the crossword, which is supposed to be extremely difficult, she is subjected to the prejudice that women are inferior to men and that she couldn’t be smart enough to complete the crossword. Clarke’s contribution to the team was invaluable, but her services were not appreciated by a number of people because she was a woman. This is the same in A Room of One’s Own how Woolf describes women being discriminated against when trying to enter the workforce. In both works, women are treated unequally by their societies and are seen as lesser than men. These ideas are also very prevalent in today’s society.

Throughout history, women have struggled to gain equality with men. In today’s age, feminist movements have advanced towards creating equality between men and women in society and breaking the gender roles between them. Despite this, these prejudices and gender roles are still present today. In history, men were always dominant. Men were the leaders of the household, they were the ones who went to war and voted. Women were housewives who took care of the children, did laundry, cleaned the house, and made dinner while the men were at work making money.

In comparison to that time, women have become more equal to men, but not enough. While today men and women are presented with the same opportunities whether its job related or socially related, some of these prejudices against women still affect them. For example, today women can obtain the same career as men or vice versa, but many top-tier jobs discriminate against work-life balance.

This naturally targets women, who are seen primarily as caretakers of their families. Men and women are still perceived differently when taking care of their families and it is still more socially acceptable for women to be caretakers rather than men. Even though men can now be more open with their emotions and be the caretaker in their family, these issues are still frowned upon by our gender constructed culture. Although gender roles have changed over time, only to a certain point, society has created greater peer pressure for females to assume these positions that are perceived as more feminine roles.

In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, one of the main issues Woolf brings up is the unequal treatment of women in society and how this negatively affected their writing. In her essay, Woolf claims that a woman needs money to have a room to their own in which to write. Leisure time, privacy, and financial independence are important to understanding the situation of women in the literary tradition because women, historically, have been deprived of those basics. Without money, women will continuously be interrupted in their writing and be doomed to difficulty and even failure in their writing.

In contrast to Woolf’s society, today’s society has advanced towards women’s equality and breaking the prejudices against them. Despite this progress, there are subtle tendencies in our societies ideology that portray women as inferior. In order to achieve gender equality, we must first begin with our unconscious biases. Because of the dominance men have had over women in the past, we have to come to accept this in our present society. With these preconceived biases, we have formed these gender roles in society that limit women and view them as inferior to men. Without these gender roles, women will be free and be able to pursue the same things as men in life. While women’s equality has made substantial progress in today’s society, it is still nowhere close to this ambition.

Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” essay

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Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/virginia-woolfs-a-room-of-ones-own/

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