Feminism

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“Girl with a pen”: Girls’ Studies and Third-Wave Feminism in A Room of One’s Own and “Professions for Women” Tracy Lemaster

Although Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own ([1929]1989) is a foundational feminist tract for theorizing women’s social and artistic roles, it relies on stories, metaphors, and rhetorics of girlhood. I am the first to recognize Woolf’s stylistic pattern of using the term “women” when theorizing the state of female authorship, but “girls” when fictionalizing scenes of this authorship. Using this rhetorical slippage to query aged identity in the text, the article shows how representations of girls in Woolf enact contemporary debates within third-wave feminism regarding the inclusion or exclusion of girls’ studies in women’s studies. Specifically, it aligns girls’ studies social-science phenomenological research on real girls’ articulations of their sexual bodies and sexual self-consciousness with Woolf’s representations of girls’ artistic/ erotic expressions. Second, the article applies a range of girls’ studies research from neurology, psychology, biology, sociology, and critical theory to reveal girl characters within identities that are critically treated as adult women in Room. It recuperates the allegorical “Judith Shakespeare” as a girl figure, and links moments in her representation to research on real adolescent girls’ neurological myelination, psychological crises, loss of voice, eating disorders, hormonal fluctuations, subversive resistance, teen pregnancy, and global disenfranchisement and disappearance. Through a thirdwave girls’ studies perspective, the article argues that Woolf imbricates girlhood in her artistic imaginary, revealing her unconscious engagement with female adolescence against her more totalizing impulse to argue for a definitive “woman genius.” Keywords: authorship / girlhood sexuality / girls’ studies / interdisciplinarity / third-wave feminism / women’s literature / Woolf, Virginia ©2012 Feminist Formations, Vol. 24 No. 2 (Summer) pp. 77–99

78 · Feminist Formations 24.2

“But my ‘book’ [A Room of One’s Own] isn’t a book—it’s only talks to girls, lectures I gave last autumn, and not for the adult.” —Virginia Woolf1 Although Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own ([1929]1989) is a foundational feminist tract for theorizing women’s social and artistic roles, it relies on stories, metaphors, and rhetorics of girlhood. Referring to girls numerous times in her text, Woolf describes Judith Shakespeare as “a highly gifted girl” (49), Mary Carmichael as “an unknown girl writing” (94), Dorothy Osbourne as an “untaught and solitary girl” (62), and even her famous taxicab scene of a couple as “the girl and the young man” (96). Her fictional persona in “Professions for Women” ([1931]1979) is repeatedly “a girl in a bedroom with a pen” (58, 61). Yet, most feminist interpretations—of Woolf in particular and of feminism more generally—use “woman,” not “girl,” as the term of analysis. What can we learn by investigating the different significations of “girl” and “woman” in Woolf’s treatise on the female writer? Woolf uses the term “women” when theorizing the state of female authorship, but “girls” when fictionalizing scenes of this authorship, a stylistic pattern unrecognized by Woolf studies and contemporary epistemologies that theorize youth.2 Specifically, Woolf’s instances of girls highlight their own narrative framing to dramatize artistic consciousness in depictions of psychosexual struggle in the immediate act of creativity. The girls’ dominance in narrative scenes, and repeated depiction in the act of writing, implies proximity of girlhood to authorship; yet, authorship is theorized only through woman. Woolf’s delineation of girls should be valuable, especially to girls’ studies—a growing interdisciplinary field that seeks to de-homogenize and de-essentialize the category of “the feminine” in order...
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