Gender Stereotypes in a Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Most of these two chapters is about the many ways in which women are kept out (of power, of education, of the British Museum, etc…), but there is also a subtle argument being made about whether or not women should really want to get in. Is Woolf arguing that women should be able to to all the things that men can do? Or is her point that there are not necessarily things worth aspiring to?
Throughout the first chapter, some of the ways in which we see Virginia Woolf, being female, is treated differently from men are when she is told not to walk on the grass and rather on the gravel by the lake, when she is told she cannot go into the library without a man, and in her discussion of how difficult it is for women’s colleges to raise money yet how simple it is for the men to do so. When she was pondering some thoughts and staring at a fish in the lake, a man came up to Woolf. “He was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me” (8).
Readers of this common time would see this and think of how cruel that sounds, how unjust it is, but through Woolf’s reaction to the matter we can see how normal of an act it was to the women of her time. It seemed expected and she knew that she was the one at fault. The, a short while later, when she is on her way to the library at Oxbridge, a name that seems to be derived by combining the names of two universities named Oxford and Cambridge, she is told not to enter the library. “Instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of a black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction” (9). She seems to take this rule a bit more sternly as she says “Never will I take those echoes, never will I ask for hat hospitality again” (10). The next time we see Woolf – and women in general – treated differently due to gender is in the discussion of women’s colleges. When talking to her aunt, Mary Seton, she hears her say “Mr — won’t give a penny…. How can we raise a fund to pay for offices” (22)? It is quite interesting how it seemed unnecessary to even include a person’s name in that sentence; the fact alone that this person would have to be a man is enough to convey the point that they women are trying to make about how little power they have in this time. At this part of the story it seems as though Wolf starts wondering what it would be like, had women acted more like men. “If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them… appropriated to the use of their own sex” (23).
The fact that Virginia Woolf is saying this makes me wonder if she thinks women should be able to do things that the men do. However, her argument soon seems to change when she begins speaking about how women can’t work in order to save money to pass down because they are the bearers and caretakers of their children. She speaks to how long a mother must stay with her child and how that prohibits her from working. “In the first place, to earn money was impossible for [women], and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned” (24). This second chapter is when Woolf starts to ask a lot of questions regarding the differences in power between genders and the reasons men write about women and splits them entirely into two halves of the human race. One of the questions she asks is “Why are women … so much more interesting to men than men are to women” (29). At first glance, Woolf is quite flattered by the idea of this but then she started trying to answer the questions. She comes upon the conclusion that men do this to make themselves look better than women in comparison.
Using a professor to represent the male figure at that time, Woolf mentions how he “insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority” (36). Now her perspective on wanting women to be more like men is clearly changing when she says “I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. So imperceptibly I found myself adopting a new attitude towards the other half of the human race” (23). At this point, close to the end of the second chapter, Woolf ends by talking about the bad aspects of life that come along with being a man. They include the “instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and fags; battleships and poison as; to offer up their own lives and their children’s lives”(40) and she ends that by saying “these are unpleasant instincts to harbour ” and comes to the realization that “these drawbacks, by degrees fear and bitterness modified them selves into pity and toleration” (40). After reading this, we can assume that Woolf would no longer want women, including herself, to be like men. It is not worth aspiring to be something that takes along with it such a bitterness and so many disadvantages.
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