Virginia Woolf on the Patriarchy

We live in the remnants of a patriarchal society.

There are many people that still believe that women have no place in the workplace. Maybe that’s not a common idea in the West, yet it still remains.

My Friend That Won’t Talk About Politics

We may experience the reality of the patriarchy in different more trivial ways. Let me give you a personal scenario of mine from the other day:

A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who is also a girl. We started talking about politics, war, and how close we are to annihilation due to nuclear threats and how the leading governments seem indignant to this possibility (mainly the U.S.A., Russia, and China) from a historical standpoint.

After a couple of minutes I started feeling guilty, because I was getting louder and more intense as one normally does with these sort of conversations. Then, I realized that I would not feel guilty if I was talking to a male friend.

And then I realized that talking about how she’s “feeling” would be much more appropriate. I didn’t want that to be true, but it was.

Why is it that I feel guilty for not talking about emotions with this friend?

Why is it that I feel guilty for discussing Religion with my girl friends?

I think women should form opinions as quickly as men should (and whoever else for that matter). It does not matter what your sexual orientation is.

One of the pioneers of feminism discussed this problem in much more detail. Let’s turn to her for some guidance.

Virginia Woolf & Oppressive Features of Patriarchy

This blog post examines oppressive conceptual features of patriarchy in the Victorian era which are presented in Virginia Woolf’s essays and speeches , concerning feminism and how gender discrimination was a constant feature in society.

Woolf provides precise characteristics and psycho-analyzes the psychological effect of patriarchy that undermines what women were really capable of.

Additionally, Woolf addresses underlying factors contributing to male superiority. More on this elsewhere.

Short Biography

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Virginia Woolf is an English writer who is considered to be one of the most influential feminists of the 20th century although she never identified with the feminist movement.

She was born into a large family as the second daughter of Leslie and Julia Stephen in 1882. She suffered from mental illness at a young age. Her mental breakdown happened to her when her mother died early at the age of 49. Her father later became abusive; this change particularly shaped Woolf’s personality in an unpleasant way.

Woolf also had a mental breakdown about 10 years later due to her father’s death and sexual harassment from her half brother, George. She experienced an intolerable amount of stress and lived in a state of despair, which led to her attempt to commit suicide by jumping out of a window. She managed, however, to find herself a way to deal with the pain.

Despite these personal traumas, she developed a literary career and spent her life exploring the inner lives of women from the late 19th century to early 20th century.

In her work, Profession for Women, she delivers a speech to the Women’s Service League in 1931 to transmit an important message to men and particularly women (Showalter 207).

“Writing was a reputable and harmless occupation. The family peace was not broken by the scratching of a pen. No demand was made upon the family purse. For ten and sixpence one can buy paper enough write all the plays of the Shakespeare — if one has a mind that way” (Professions for Women).

In other words, Woolf implies that women were able to achieve success in a literary career over other professions because it did not require women to invest or spend on a large sum of money to be a part of this career.

The lower the cost of the occupation, the easier for women to enroll into it.

Woolf later on addresses this in a different way, calling women a sort of “phantom” and “angel.”

Woolf & the Angel in the House

One of her characters called the “Angel in the House” is the innocent and morally pure heroine who sacrifices herself for her husband in Coventry Patmore’s fiction story which consists of four sections with long narrative and lyric poem.

As Woolf recalled, this young woman floated over her when she was writing a review of the book written by the famous male author and she whispered to Woolf:

“My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all of the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure” (Smelstor).

Importantly, the “Angel in the House” contextualizes what was occurring with women at the time and thus retains two important aspects: the Angel and the House symbolize women and domesticity.

Woolf came to realize that the only way she can express what she truly thinks of the novel written by a man was to kill what the Angel in the House represented in herself.

Here is how she put it; “Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing” (Professions for Women para. 3).

Having said that, Woolf empowered the necessity of getting rid of the submissive image of women as they were personified in this culture run by men, in order for women to have the same social status as men.

Woolf expresses similar views in her book, The Waves. The idea that women need to sacrifice themselves for the family, husband or society, is deeply implemented in our culture.

It is interesting why we used to hold these views — I honestly still know people that hold them today.

These views are incorrect and bad for society as a whole. Why should women sacrifice their dreams in order for men to pursue theirs? In an age of equality, we should not expect more from women than we do from men.

Woolf does a fantastic job at exploring the different characteristics that women are “supposed” to have through her works. Feminist today, no doubt, stand on her shoulders.

Further Reading:

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I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers and until next time,

keep reflecting.

Written by

Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official

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