How Does Woolf Understand the Relationship Between Literature, Sex and Gender in a Room of One’s Own?

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5. How does Woolf understand the relationship between literature, sex and gender in A Room Of One’s Own? The relations between literature and gender are historically complicated with issues of economic and social discrimination. Woman’s writing is still a relatively new area, and Woolf examines how their creativity has been hampered by poverty and oppression. Women have not produced great works like those of Shakespeare, Milton and Coleridge, and she see's this as a result not only of the degrading effects of patriarchy on the mind but of the relative poverty of the female sex. A woman ‘must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ Men have historically fed money back into the systems that keep them in power, and made it legally impossible for a woman to have her own money. The narrator’s two meals at ‘Oxbridge’ illustrate the institutional sexism in the education system, with the poorer woman’s college providing a mediocre meal compared to the one at the men’s. Furthermore, a woman’s traditional role as a child bearer leaves no time to earn; and without such independence, women are shut up in the houses of their husbands or fathers without the privacy needed to write without interruptions. Woolf demonstrates such interruptions within the text as the narrator’s thoughts are often hindered; she has an idea which is ‘exciting and important’ which is forgotten as ‘the figure of a man rose up to intercept me.’ She is forbidden to enter the library, a strong symbol of the denial of education and knowledge to women. In considering the extent and effect of these inequalities, she discovers that she has been thinking not objectively but with anger. Although ‘one does not like to be told that one is naturally the inferior of a little man,’ she is aware that anger disrupts what should be a clear and rational mind. However, it appears that the men in power, the ‘professors,’ are also angry. They insist quite aggressively upon the inferiority of woman, but Woolf believes that the professor is in fact ‘not concerned with their inferiority, but with his own superiority.’ Without confidence we are but ‘babes in the cradle,’ and the quickest way to gain this invaluable quality is simply by ‘thinking that other people are inferior to oneself.’ Thus the narrator see’s the professor’s degradation of woman as a ‘looking glass’ effect, with a woman serving to reflect the figure of a man ‘at twice his natural size. ’ With her five hundred pounds a year, the narrator has a personal and creative freedom which allows her to be detached and objective. While woman in fiction tend to be of ‘utmost importance,’ in real life they are ‘completely insignificant.’ In order to believe in himself the patriarch must not have his power challenged; and this accounts for the wider societal hostility towards the woman writer. Like Currer Bell and Mary Shelly, women are forced into anonymity by the sense of chastity dictated to them. For society met the woman writer, unlike the male, not with ‘indifference but hostility.’ Such brutal hostility is indeed why it would be near impossible for a sixteenth century woman to write the works of Shakespeare. Woolf uses a hypothetical example of a fictional sister of Shakespeare, Judith, to illustrate this. She has the same gift as her bother, but she wouldn’t have been send to school. She would have been told to mend stockings when caught reading; she would have to hide her work. To escape a forced marriage, Judith would run away, and at the stage door when she said she wanted to act, as her brother had, ‘men laughed in her face.’ Alone and now an outcast, she would have inevitably ended up with child, a broken chastity which severed completely her from the wider world. Driven to madness and then suicide, she would die in obscurity. Indeed society’s outcasts are often such women, who, suffering with their gift, are taken to near madness as that figure of a man always rises to intercept...
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