A Room of One’s Own

The below text was written for a class on British Literature, focusing on Virgina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been living the reality that Woolf describes regarding women and fiction – obligations from being a woman, a mom, an aunt, etc, have to be juggled with my schoolwork, my job, my social life, any an personal or free time. It’s overwhelming. And then, I have to decide, what do I prioritize? If women lack the education to write poetry, as Woolf says, should I then prioritize education? But what do I take from? Do I stop performing the  “duties” of my gender? (This is actually what I did—I consider myself non-binary in the first place, the “performance” of femininity never sat well with me, neither did masculinity. Supportive spouses are great.) Does my education suffer because of other things required of me? (If you look at my post history, you’d probably see that I don’t often get time to post, or even to think of what to post beforehand. Full time jobs are pretty much necessary for middle class parents of any gender.) Do I stop working, or take time off, in order to make time for other things? But then how would I get my “£500 a year” to afford life?  The mental labor necessary for finding time, the freedom to be able to write, and to write something that requires as intensive scrutiny as poetry, is still not afforded to women (or even men) at the present time. Prose and poetry are still something afforded to people who have an abundance of personal time, or to people who are willing to sacrifice necessities to make time.

When I write for myself, and not for class, I often write fiction that comes quickly to the page because I rarely have time to return to it. It is primarily my thoughts without influence from others (though I am enby, I am still conditioned to have feminine thoughts: passive, introspective, etc). My concern is to get it on the page as quickly as possible, and not to make sure that I’m going to be reviewed positively. Even now, as I write this, my concern is to get my thoughts on the page clearly, but not perfectly, because I simply lack the time to review. I don’t lack the education (I will be graduating next semester with two degrees), but I do lack the freedom.

Fiction written for the purpose of a career—which at Woolf’s time was a male position, required that the writing fit what was expected and what would receive good marks from critics, publishers, readers. Bad prose meant no pay. Poetry that fits in with the traditional poetry that is lauded and expected of “great” poets requires review after review to make sure that it adheres to the criteria by which it will be judged. Bad verse meant no pay. What woman then had time for that? What middle class or working class person now has time for that? Of course the structure of the written word was male by default, because only men could write. No man would look at literature and say “this is male” because there was no other thing to compare it to. It was “good literature” or it was “bad literature”. What was good was decided by men. Anything that differed was bad. A woman writing as she knew to write or to speak (with other women via letters or in person) would be judged as a “bad writer” not because she was a woman, but because she didn’t match the definition of “good”. (This, of course, did not stop misogynists defining all women’s writing as bad just because it came from a woman.) If a woman doesn’t have access to the education or freedom to learn what is good, as I’m sure all the male critics and writers had time to learn, how was she expected to meet their standards? This was part of Woolf’s point as well—the criteria for “good literature” could never be met by someone who was outright denied from being able to learn the criteria, There needed to be an understanding that literature from different sources needed to have different criteria. This is why we have genres. This is why we have women’s literature classes. (And this is why people who cry out “why don’t we have a straight pride month?” and “why don’t we have a white history month? need  to shut. up.)

Ware poetry was written by men simply because women were not enlisted. Women were not officers. Women didn’t need to convince anyone to join a horrific situation by instituting some sort of “honor” for dying. They didn’t need to convince others to be martyrs in their stead. They didn’t need to convince the general populace that young men were being tortured and dying fruitless deaths for their “king and country” in order to keep morale up and keep people from questioning what was actually happening. Women weren’t there to experience the horrors of being in trenches as rats ate the man you talked to just yesterday, or having to delouse, or having to run over a still-living (but dying horrifically) teenager with your artillery. No woman had to lose her limbs and be sent back home to be ignored but still need constant care. No woman had to do this, and it is not women’s fault that it was only men. This is again the experience and education that is denied to women, as Woolf had explained previously, that keeps them from writing poetry acceptable by men. 

I’ve read “The Wasteland” now for three different classes, and each time, my appreciation for it changes. The amount of time Eliot had to have spent revising it to be as it was published is something not a lot of people at the time could have pulled off. In Dr. Jeffer’s British Modernisms class, I wrote essays on “Easter 1916” and read history on why and how Yeats came to write it. Both of these poems, I believe, could have been written by a woman at the time, and I don’t find the voice to be distinctly male. Neither of them are pro-war, or really glorify the violence associated with “honor” that is expected of men. If they are male voices, it falls to the “male default” that happened to be the standard criteria for “good literature”. 

I’ve written over a thousand words now—far more than I expected, but they feel necessary. 

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