Seeing we’ve passed our first-three-months-mark with this blog, I wanted to take a step back and reflect on one of the reasons we are blogging away. Yes, we are passionate and opinionated and it’s fun (even when it’s time consuming). But at its core, At the Gates of the City is meant to be a small contribution to the ongoing project of empowering women by encouraging them to speak up. I’ll let Vera elaborate in her own words in another post, and here share with you my reasons for thinking there is a broader meaning to this.
One of the most influential pieces I read as teenager was Virginia Woolf’s lecture-turned-essay “A Room of One’s Own” (it’s online here – but I’d encourage you to buy a copy and keep it on your book shelf. To flip through from time to time and ponder). Her main argument can be summed up in the sentence
Every woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year.
Woolf is saying that only by letting a woman having a room of her own and a stable income, she can unfold her full intellectual and creative potential. Only with economic independence and the freedom that comes from having a private place and mental space can women attain their (rightful) place in society.
While looking for an online version of the essay, I came across this NYT review from 1929, and reading it I was disappointed. Well, first I actually got really excited that the old reviews are online (you’ll notice I have linked to a Mrs. Dalloway review– another Woolf book – previously). But the reviewer makes light of Woolf’s critique of the sociological embedded factors that prevent women from realising themselves.
Moreover, she escapes from an attitude of conventional feminism by really arguing in this book not for women but for artists. For, of course, all artists, whatever their sex, need, 500 pounds a year and a room on their own. It is only because women have had them so much less frequently than men that a special plea for them has a special force.
I think LOUIS KRONENBERGER is misunderstanding the entire point, and he misreads Woolf. Yes, this is also about artistic freedom (Kronenberger continues his review noting how Woolf is wrong because poor writers make better writers and “genious” is enough – I also disagree with that). But Woolf’s point cannot be dismissed like that. Her point is – and she argues that over and over again in different ways – that certain structural elements in society makes it harder for women to become who they wish to become.
I think part of Woolf’s observation regarding financial constraints on women is outdated. But what I think still holds very true is the need for creating a SPACE where women, young and old, can be women and find their feet. Men surely needs it too. That’s part of the point: Our society is hard on everyone. And feminism to me is really humanism – every human being has the right, as a human being, to grow, live, learn and become who s/he wants to become and do what s/he wants to do disregarding of gender and sex. But since I am a woman, it’s easier for me to fight the feminist battle and crying “Chauvinism!” whenever I see it. Doesn’t mean I don’t recognise there are other battles to fight.
A BLOG OF HER OWN, A VOICE OF HER OWN
Back to this blog: Part of the blog posts are meant to be funny, but there are conscious and serious principles lurking under the surface when I post to say that yes, women can rule governments, fly star ships and run the national stock exchange… Because it is still not obvious to everyone. And it should be.
(Virginia Woolf, not writing, but interacting with her niece Anjelica Bell (1932). Credits: National Portrait Gallery, London
The first step in creating change is realising something is wrong. The next step is verbalising it, honing your understanding of the complexity of the issue, exploring potential solutions and finding allies. Too often however, I hear friends stutter. They hold back, saying that their opinions are less important than that of men. Especially when asked to join the conversations on topics we touch upon here At the Gates of the City. They have rooms of their own and stable incomes, but they don’t have the sense of a right to join the conversation or the understanding that their contribution is vital.
I’m an academic, so believe me, I am an adamant believer in the value of experts and that informed discussion begins with the recognition that some people do know more than others. But when it comes to discussions about women’s place in society and the struggles we face, the voice of personal experience and individual reflexion must be heard. Creating a space where you can test your voice and dip your toes in the waters of debate without fearing to drown or being ridiculed is something I hope this blog also does. As part of this, we’ll start introducing guest bloggers. And I will from time to time add more meta-text explaining what we are trying to do.
Every revolution started around a table. We are not calling for the violent overthrow of any government. But the next step up the evolutionary ladder is a society where every member is valued as a human being and not as a specific gender. And since this is not happening by itself, we are speaking up and demanding change – and putting action behind our words.