Feminist literary theory is one popular lens to explore and interpret literary works. Literary theories are useful tools to help A level Literature students understand and interpret texts and produce insightful essays. As a Literature tutor, I recommend that A level H1 and H2 Literature students familiarise themselves with the writings of leading feminist authors and theorists. Four women come to mind when one thinks of feminist writers – Mary Wolstonecraft, Virginia Woof, Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir.
But in this post I like to write a little about the seminal essay by Virginia Woof entitled “A Room of One’s Own”. This remarkable essay was delivered by Virginia Woof in 1929 to an all-female Cambridge college audience. Woof’s assertion about the reasons for the absymal lack of female authors and the short supply of works by female writers in the past and during her time centred on that the fact that no women could write because they have no “room of her own”. This personal room is the metaphor for the conditions that Woof strongly feels must be present for women to produce literary works. The conditions are privacy, money and education. To Woof, it is the conditions of everyday life that made it impossible for women to write literature. It is not intellectual inferiority, but rather a woman’s life that prevented her from writing. A woman’s conditions – her duties to the family if she is married, her duties to her family (parents, siblings) if she is not married and her lack of education or her rudimentary education if she is literate that hinders her.
Her seminal essay became a torchpoint for the feminist movement to intensify the fight for women’s emancipation. But fast forward to 21st century, the post-feminist era, when women are no longer barred from attending hight education, have voting rights and head companies and lead countries as heads of state, the question that arises is how far have we arrived as fully emancipated individuals in control of our own destiny, driven by ambition and drive, able to attain our career goals and aspirations. Are we still tied to the apron, to the kitchen sink? More than anything is there a reversal or backtracking along the road of female emancipation. Do women really want to be emancipated? Do they really want to be at the top whether it is in politics, commerce, and the arts? But the reality that is worth celebrating is women now have a choice – if she wants to spend her time cooking away, raising a family, then she has the freedom to do so; if she wants to pursue a career in law, she is able to do. It is the importance of choice that makes all the difference.
Women have certainly come a long way. In schools we are reading works by Anita Desai, her daughter, Kieran Desai, Catherine Lim, Doris Lessings, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Pearl S Buck, Arundhati Roy, JK Rowling, etc. And in many fields, women have reached the summit in their fields. Women now have very beautiful rooms of their own now, to borrow Woof’s metaphor.