Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

The Oppressed Gender

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“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.” (67)

During our class discussion today, this quote really struck me as something quite important and imperative to the point that Virginia Woolf was trying to make through her writing of A Room of One’s Own.  On the previous pages in her novel, Woolf explains that women should write in the style women, but then goes on to say later that when writing, a woman should not think of her sex while doing so.  At first these two ideas seem very condescending, but when analyzing them further I realized that Woolf’s ideas actually complement each other.  A woman cannot choose one or the other; in fact, she can do both at the same time while still keeping her identity.  I think that what Woolf is trying to say is that a woman should not write in a particular way that hinders her personal writing style.  Back in the time when women were just beginning to explore their writing talents, their writing was filled with anger and resentment; resentment toward the male population that kept them from fully living out their lives and exploring their true potentials.  Women thought that they had to write in an angry and frustrated fashion simply because they had been repressed for so long by the men in their society.  Forced to live a life filled with motherhood and domesticity, women were not given the option to have a career path of their own and earn their own means of living; they were to strictly rely on their husbands for financial dependency.  Woolf states that “…in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned.” (26)

When women finally began to break out of their shells and create careers of their own in writing, the built up and previously unspoken resentment toward the male population came pouring out throught their writing.

“But there was another element which was often present and could not immediately be identified.  Anger, I called it.  But it was anger that had gone underground and mixed itself with all kinds of other emotions.  To judge from its odd effects, it was anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.” (31)

The above quote sums up perfectly the type of anger that women during this time expressed through their writing.  Their anger was spontaneous and wild; impulsive and uncontrolled.  Women wrote as though they are finally able to truly express how they felt about being oppressed and restricted for basically their entire lives.  But it is this anger that hindered their ability to be taken seriously.  I feel as though all women writers during this time thought that their writing had to contain the angry and frustrated elements that were previously mentioned in this post in order to be taken seriously as an author; almost as though there was an expectation for them to write in such a manner.  The key is that there was no reason for them to feel the anger and pain in their writing, unless that was the angle that they wanted to go for.  To be taken seriously as a writer, their stories and other writings just simply had to be good and enjoyable to an audience.  Going back to Woolf’s point about writing like a woman but yet not thinking of sex at the same time, I think that it was important for women to write in a way that a reader would not be able to tell whether or not the story was written by a man or woman.  This goes with Woolf’s statement about be “woman-manly” or “man-womanly”.  Woolf expresses her opinions about being open to thinking outside of the typical gender expectations.  There is this sense that both sexes should identify with both genders in order to be successful.  There is a unity of mind, one that suggests that whether a person is male or female, they have the qualities that are suggested in both genders.  Woolf tries to explain in her final passages that women should step aside from the typical gender roles and write pieces about things that they are passionate about rather than what is expected of them.

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“For now that Aphra Behn had done it, girls  could go to their parents and say, You need not give me an allowance; I can make money by my pen.  Of course the answer for many years to come was, Yes, by living the life of Aphra Behn! Death would be better! and the door slammed faster than ever.” (47)

Woolf links the oppression of women during this time period to the steady growth of insanity and thoughts of suicide within women.  Women had obvious feelings of neglect and oppression by the male population of this time, and it reflected in their works.  This passage was very interesting to me because I could not tell if Woolf is simply being sarcastic and over-exaggerating the situation in order to show the reader the struggle of women writers, or if these types of things were actually said during this time.  This article that is linked to the word “suicide” above is very interesting because it does link the suicide of three famous women writers, including Woolf, to their struggles of being writers.  Did mothers and fathers really believe that it was easier to be dead than to be a working women in society?  If things like this actually occured in the home during this time, I feel as though pressure from the parents to be domestic also fueled female’s anger and bitterness.  Aphra Behn was a very influential woman in the writing community, but yet parents would rather have their daughters dead than have them base their lives off of Behn’s accomplishments.  It makes me wonder how a woman like Behn was able to break the stereotypes and pain of the female community during this time when women like Judith Shakespear were so willing to take their own lives instead of trying to push forward.  I guess that is one point that Woolf is trying to make, that women were strong enough to stand up and take charge of their own power and destiny, rather than listening to the dismal thoughts of others.

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