Get a Room: Why Women Have to Create, According to Virginia Woolf
by rosie lovoi
I read Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own for the first time a few weeks ago for a class. She was one of those writers that I’d always been told I would like, but I never got around to a book of hers. Reading A Room of One’s Own only made me wish I’d gotten to her sooner.
When I was little, I always wanted to be a writer. While that exact dream has changed, my general field of interests hasn’t: books, and the stories they contain, are still my absolute favorite things. When I read Woolf’s essay, which is adapted from lectures she gave to women at Cambridge on the topic “women and fiction,” I was reminded why writing and other creative acts are such important pursuits, especially for women. The title comes from her main claim, that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” or produce any other art for that matter. She goes on to argue that having a steady source of your own money is necessary to be independent, and it’s impossible to truly be creative for creativity’s own sake without that independence; otherwise, your art is tainted by feelings of anger and defensiveness. You also need your own space to be creative in; without that, you’ll constantly face interruption and judgment.
The way Woolf talks about this feminist topic is so matter-of-fact; she asserts her thoughts like they’re the most obvious things in the world, because they should be. She goes to do research on her lecture topic at the British Museum, and she’s totally shocked by the number of books written by men about women; she hilariously points out the different kinds of male writers included in this: “Sex and its nature might well attract doctors and biologists; but what was surprising was the fact that sex – woman, that is to say – also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not women.”
These lectures were given in 1928, but the question should still be asked today: why is it so okay for men to profess their ideas and opinions about women, but the reverse is not acceptable? An example of this can be seen in Taylor Swift. I’m personally not a huge fan of Swift as a personality (although I’ll admit I think her music is really catchy, don’t judge me), but she seems to be criticized to an outrageous degree for using past relationships as inspiration for her music. Isn’t that what musicians are supposed to do, use their own experiences as a way to infuse their work with real meaning and passion? And aren’t there plenty of songs, even whole albums, from male writers inspired by break-ups or new romance? So seriously, what’s the big deal?
Woolf saw that there was a major difference when women started being paid for writing. When an art moves from being a hobby to being financially beneficial, it suddenly becomes legitimate. The problem is that women have a much more difficult time getting to that level than men do; they are taken far less seriously. What will it take to get to the point where women will automatically be considered serious in the art they make?
One of the best parts of the essay is when Woolf talks about reading a novel by a woman that is just really bad, she feels guilty saying. But she keeps reading and hits a profound moment in which one female character, Chloe, says that she likes another woman, Olivia. There is no jealousy or distrust or battle for a man. There’s just fondness, genuine friendship between two women. “Almost without exception, [women] are shown in their relation to men,” Woolf says, but that shouldn’t have to be the case. I saw a tweet the other day that said something along the lines of, “every cool girl is only into cool things that her exes were into, so if you date her you’re just dating all her exes.” I nearly laughed out loud, then nearly cried. I mean, how ridiculous and backwards is that statement? When will women be taken seriously for their own interests and the pursuit of those interests? Women are individuals, with passions and aspirations that have nothing to do with the men around them, and those passions and aspirations should be celebrated and encouraged.
"...we’ll create a bigger, safer space for future women to work in, so they won’t be held back by the judgment and standards that limited Woolf in her day and still in many ways limit us now. "
Woolf finishes the essay by imploring all women to make a statement for past women who couldn’t by acting on their creativity and paving the way for future women. She says that the past artist who didn’t have the independence to create “lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight,” and as women it’s our duty to “have the habit of freedom and the courage to write (or create in any way) exactly what we think.” If we can do that, even if we don’t get recognition for it immediately, we’ll create a bigger, safer space for future women to work in, so they won’t be held back by the judgment and standards that limited Woolf in her day and still in many ways limit us now.
author, rosie lovoi
Rosie is a member of the Gold Hand Journalism Team
Hi!! My name is Rosemary - Rosie for short - and I’m one of Gold Hand Girls’ new bloggers! I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but moved to Indiana to study at the University of Notre Dame. Of all the things in the world, I love reading the most, but after that probably comes anything sweet (see picture for proof). I’m beyond excited to be writing for Gold Hand Girls. Spreading support for creative girls is so important to me, and I’m thrilled to be part of that mission. Stay tuned for posts on cool girl bands, books, and more!
graphics, hannah cunningham
Hannah is a member of the Gold Hand Graphics Team
Hannah- also known as goose. A silly one who was built to roam. Lover of stargazing and singing in the shower. Avid Dr. Dog listener. She comes in colors everywhere.