Friday, March 18, 2005

Sherry of Semicolon has asked if Virginia Woolf is indeed a militant feminist and hence to be avoided, or if she should take her daughter's advice and read her books. Now, in my somewhat vague mind militant feminism has something to do with bra-burning, so I'm not quite sure how to answer the question... I always take a book with me to work, since there is usually some down time where I haven't anything else to do. The servers, if they're not too busy either, will often come up and ask what I'm reading, and one guy in particular is always very interested. After a phase in which I'd brought in Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, and various other women authors, he asked if I ever read anything written by a man or if I was a feminist. Well, of course I read things written by men, but I didn't really know how to answer him either, partly because I find such labels limiting. Hence my highly articulate response: "Uh...I don't know." Another server standing nearby asked, "Well, do you shave your legs?" "Heavens, no!" said I promptly. She turned to the first server. "She's a feminist." This is the long way of saying I don't really know what a feminist is. I believe in the equality of human rights for everyone--men, women, children--and I think all three have been subjected to injustice over the course of history. If I'd lived--I was going to say during the time of suffrage, but really any time before now, I would certainly have joined in the women's rights movement, and I'm glad to live in a time when I can vote and get a job and support myself if necessary. On the other hand, I don't really want a career or success--just a family and quiet home life. But I think that's the goal of feminism, to give women that choice.

Virginia Woolf was concerned about the role of women in society. She gives examples of the common view of the time throughout all her novels, but I think most shockingly in The Voyage Out. I'd have to speak up too if I heard a real person say what Mr Dalloway does, in reference to suffragists picketing Parliament: "Nobody can condemn the utter folly and futility of such behaviour more than I do; and as for the whole agitation, well! may I be in my grave before a woman has the right to vote in England!" To make it worse, his wife agrees with him. Woolf found it imperative to reveal this idea of women as inferior, and call, in her own way, for equality. She does not claim that men and women are the same, but that they deserve equal basic human rights and acknowledgement.

That said, there's much more to her books than the subject of women's rights, just as there's much more to Dickens than the issue of poverty. I think all authors have some sort of social commentary woven into their writing--it's part of literature and part of life. We can learn so much from fiction that is more difficult to learn from philosophy and theology texts; after all, Jesus knew what he was doing when he told parables. But Virginia Woolf also has much to say, as I mentioned in my previous post, on the progression of life and thought within a seeking mind. Her writing makes me feel more myself than most other books, and more aware of my thought process, growth, and femininity; furthermore, like Jane Austen, I feel her effect on my own writing style. For these things I value her, as well as for her sparkling prose and rich characters.

I just discovered Vita Sackville-West, who is similar to Virginia Woolf (they were friends) in her writing and subject matter. Rebecca West and Willa Cather are also excellent authors of the period.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Thanks. I'll have to try Ms. Virginia for myself. I guess I define militant feminist as someone who believes that women are not only equal to men, but better and should therefore be running everything--if they could just get those stupid men out of the way. I've actually met women who have this attitude, and it's mostly annoying.