Social and Economic Deprivations Have Limited Women’s Literary Works
Since historical times, women all over the world have been deprived of basic prerequisite opportunities needed for them to exploit their full potential, including their literal skills. In most societies, resources have been purposefully and unfairly allocated to men, thus making them have higher chances of succeeding than equally competent but resource deprived women colleagues. Besides the lack of resources, patriarchal society that existed in most cultures limited the role of women, especially in education and the economy. Given the gradual changes in the social and economic imbalance, mostly due the establishment of formal education and enhanced inclusiveness, most women are now starting to realize their literal skills. Virginia Woolf’s discourse, A Room of One’s Own gives an in-depth review on how the lack of social and economic resources, coupled with a highly restraining patriarchal society prevented women from developing their literal skills. Woolf’s exploration of the British Library and texts, as well as her experiences at the Oxbridge University show that for a long time, women in Britain experienced severe social and economic discriminations that prevented them from enhancing their literal skills.
At the onset of her essay, Woolf explores the social and economic disparities that prevented women from realizing their full potential in writing. Woolf’s experience at Oxbridge University shows that women were not allowed to enjoy some of the resources that would enable them to enhance their artistic skills. Moreover, there was outright discrimination against them, which made even the most gifted and determined women not to achieve their full potential. For example, women were not permitted to walk on grass whereas their male colleagues could enjoy themselves on these lawns (Woolf 8). This discriminating policy just points out to the unnecessary regulations that limited women’s social progress. In particular, it indicates that women were forced to adhere to specific prohibitive social requirements, which hindered their personal development, including their literal skills.
Even among academics, there was an undue desire in preventing women from becoming enlightened. In the Oxbridge University, for example, Woolf was prevented from entering the library since she lacked explicit permission from her male colleagues. Woolf writes, “… who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction” (8). This statement shows that even those women who were willing to enhance their literal skills faced both social and cultural restrictions that made them not realize their full potential. Obviously, the strict requirement for accessing the Oxbridge University’s library meant that women could not properly exercise their freedom of reading and writing.
Woolf’s argument that a woman needs her space and resources to become a great writer is further supported by the character of Judith Shakespeare. Woolf asserts that it would have been impossibly difficult for a female writer to attain the prowess of William Shakespeare in the Elizabethan era. In her opinion, the lack of resources, freedom to make personal choices, and the punitive patriarchal society did not allow women to develop their literal skills. Woolf notes that although Judith was as talented as her brother, she received no education. Moreover, she did not have time to engage in private studies, which could have enhanced her writing skills. These challenges coupled with her family’s expectations of her to conform to social roles and norms did not leave her with time to develop her writing skills. Due to her restraining environment, Judith was forced to write her work in secret or burn some of her creations for fear of reprisal. She was also married young, against her will, which frustrated her efforts of becoming an artist. In emphasizing that it was impossible for women to develop their literal skills in their restrictive and resource-deprived environment, Woolf notes, “For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people.” (41). Therefore, the overworking of women, to the extent that they lacked time to develop their skills played a role in making them incompetent writers. Just like in Judith’s case, most potential female writers failed to succeed in literal works since traditional culture did not allow them to be educated or enhance their skills. Interestingly, Woolf experienced a similar denial of access to education and books in the Oxbridge library, which shows that the frustrating women’s learning efforts was a major societal issue.
The environment in which women in the past lived progressively affected their perception, which affected their literal skills. Although some of these women were naturally talented, they did not think a woman should be a writer. Dorothy Osborne, for example, although she was a talented writer, she believed that women should not write. From Dorothy’ letters, Woolf notes she had the potential of becoming a great writer. Woolf states, “…turning over the pages of Dorothy’s letters, what a gift that untaught and solitary girl had for the framing of a sentence, for the fashioning of a scene…”(52). To some extent, therefore, some women had come to believe their society’s biased view of their literal abilities. Furthermore, since these women were not exposed to education, it was easy for them to accept their social norms, such as writing was a man’s profession.
Similarly, the environment in which a woman lived played a significant role in determining her writing abilities. Woolf notes that most of the women writers in the eighteenth century had no children, were aristocrats, or were lucky to have accommodating husbands, who could allow them to write. Lady Winchilsea, for example, was an aristocrat and therefore enjoyed the privilege to write. Winchilsea’s wealth made her have the opportunity to write, thus engaging in men’s profession, despite the fact that she was not a highly talented writer. Similarly, Margaret of Newcastle was an aristocrat, childless, and married to an understanding man. When comparing Margaret and Winchilsea, Woolf states, “They were very different, but alike in this that both were noble and both childless, and both were married to the best of husbands” (51). In part, her childlessness made her have enough time at her disposal, which she could use in writing. Since her husband was understanding, she could write without fear. Moreover, her social status as a wealthy woman gave her the privilege to engage in activities that were perceived as being men’s professions.
In conclusion, although women had the same inherent ability to be as competent writers as their male colleagues, in the eighteenth century, their environment was a major hindrance to their success. In particular, women were largely deprived all social and economic opportunities that would have made them exploit their writing skills. This problem was coupled with a patriarchal society that did not give women the opportunity to be educated, which would have enabled them to enhance their literal skills. Women were also overwhelmed with many duties, which made them not have enough time to write. Woolf’s experience at the Oxbridge University shows that the discrimination against women was prevalent even among academics. Further, her exploration of the British Library and texts showed that this form of discrimination was common in most of Britain in the eighteenth century. Although some women were lucky to write, they were usually from wealthy families, were childless, and their husbands were understanding. Unfortunately, these women were usually not naturally gifted writers. In this regard, Woolf’s conclusion that women need time, privacy, and financial independence for them to become great writers is accurate.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, 2004.