Virginia Woolf’s thesis in her feminist essay, “A Room of One’s Own”, is that a woman must have money and a room to herself to write fiction (Woolf 3). One of the main claims she brought forward was that women are not inferior to men, yet the power imbalance between men and women has been destructive to potential female writers. Everyone needs a certain environment to write “incandescently” (Woolf 42), but due to the patriarchal nature of society, many women have been unable to do so. Woolf addresses the lack of education and jobs for women, claiming that the resulting poverty was a hindrance to intellectual freedom. An important part of the essay constitutes of her thoughts on relations between women. Her own, and in fiction.
Woolf’s thesis that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf 3) has been labelled by some as elitist, especially with claims such as “intellectual freedom depends upon material things” (Woolf 78). However, they do have some truth behind them. In modern day Pakistan, poverty is already affecting majority of the population, with heavy cultural sexism plaguing the lower class. Consequently, the number of females writing fiction is almost negligible. A room to oneself can give intellectual freedom, the ability to think “incandescently” (Woolf 42). Money, on the other hand, gives one the time to write, instead of slaving away to make ends meet. While this isn’t to say that it is impossible for good writing to appear from impoverished areas, it is much less likely to exist without personal grievances, or even to succeed. This is also where Woolf has received criticism, with her directly linking success to one’s socioeconomic conditions. However, in the context of 2019 Pakistan, this can, evidently, be seen. In an article published on the 11 most popular writers from Pakistan, out of the 5 female writers, not a single was born in poverty (Kashaf). They were all lucky enough to receive a fine education, with most graduating from prestigious universities abroad. They had a room to themselves, where they could write peacefully, and money, giving them time to write. While the number of writers in Pakistan is not significant, the success they achieve is almost certainly linked to their social status. It has been 90 years since the publishing of Woolf’s essay and her claims are still largely relevant, giving ground to what I believe to be a very realistic argument, despite it only being in favor of the upper-middle class.
An idea prevalent in Woolf’s essay is that women could not even write if they wanted to, they were denied the opportunity. However, finding a real-life example was difficult when the sole authors of history have been men, so where evidence did not exist, she used fiction to fill in the gaps. Judith, sister of the memorable William Shakespeare, would not be left a word in the history books due to the unfortunate fact that she was born a woman. Despite being just as talented as her brother, Woolf creates a scenario of misfortune befalling her on the path to creating literature, leading to her death (Woolf 35-36). While it is rather specific, the same kind of events could have happened in Pakistan, where the socioeconomic conditions have barely improved since Woolf’s era. With the rising number of ‘honor killings’, a scenario where a woman who wanted to follow her passion in writing, but at the risk of ‘dishonoring’ her family, was killed, is not that far-fetched of an idea. Moreover, the heavy dominance of the patriarchy in Pakistan gives even more ground to such a scenario. Women do not get an opinion, they are forced to marry and become housewives, pursuing writing even as a hobby must be difficult. However, even assuming they could find time to write, they would still need an education. In the rural areas of Pakistan, where 4 in 10 people live in poverty, finding female writers is rare. With a literacy rate of 12% for females living in rural areas, the need for educational, social and economic freedom is clear (‘Women’s education in Pakistan’).
Another topic that Woolf has touched upon is relations between women, and how it is something that is never talked about. She claims that in literature, women have only been shown “in their relation to men” (Woolf 60). The simplicity of female relationships is something that can be seen prominently in Pakistani film and television. Not only are the daily soap operas filled with the same kind of stereotypical content, that is, women crying in every episode and being abused (emotionally and physically), but these dramas also, like Woolf previously said, only show women “in their relation to men” (Woolf 60). They still end up having high viewership ratings, eventually leading to these one-dimensional characters being adopted by the Pakistani society. Girls end up believing they need men in their lives, thinking that men dictating their every move is an act of love. Similarly, their parents think they get to decide who they must marry. The absence of strong female characters is lacking in Pakistan due to the patriarchy, and it reflects in our society. But Woolf doesn’t stop there, she goes on to talk about her own sexuality, her feelings towards women (Woolf 80). This is a very taboo topic in our society, if not most of the world. However, it is an important topic to be discussed. Due to the heavily religious society of Pakistan, simple being homosexual is seen as criminal. The right to express oneself is a basic human right, the fact that someone, male or female, might be killed over it is, frankly, obscene. Talking about this issue is an important part of bringing about change, as Woolf has done.
To conclude, Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” is a prominent feminist text that has several important takeaway, namely the need for social, economic and educational freedom for women. She helped bring ideas about homosexuality into mainstream thinking, from something completely taboo, a feat earning her place amongst the world’s most prominent feminist writers.
- Works Cited
- ‘Women’s education in Pakistan’. Wikipedia. n.p. 01 October 2019. .
- Kashaf. MangoBaaz. 22 March 2018. 01 October 2019. .
- Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1929. Print.