The Woman Observer
Instructor: Ilham Shayegh
I think great literature has immensely big power to inject a person with enthusiasm and love and amazement. A literary work that I felt suddenly connected to with excitement and admiration was the extended essay by Virginia Woolf’s called “A Room of One’s Own”. Woolf lived during the transition period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when the ideas of the modern society were rapidly changing under the industrialization, labor mechanization, and spreading communication tools. Woolf is considered one of the leading writers who spoke about women and especially about women writers and brought to light the miserable mental and psychological conditions under which women kept their existence, playing the role, which society wanted them to play. In “A Room of One’s Own”, Woolf addresses the question of literary and aesthetic poverty of women: “…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” The essay again highlights how dependency on her family or husband hinders a woman from writing and creates in her the fear of ignominy and of not being accepted (Greenblatt and Abrams, 2012). When searching for historical accounts of women writers in the British Museum, Woolf finds only negligible information about the life and characteristics of women mostly written by men. In the next chapter, Woolf narrates the story of William Shakespeare’s imaginary sister Judith Shakespeare who struggles as a highly intelligent woman without opportunity to get into the theatre industry, a struggle that ends in her death. Concluding her work, Woolf highly recommends that women get involved in creating a literary history of their own and encourages them to act and to change the future of their writing.
When reading Woolf’s essay, I could connect to it in a personal level, as I was always willing to write down my thoughts on certain life issues. From a young age, I learned from the Armenian society that women are not capable of existence and of creations on their own, and a superior man should always accompany us. I could see women were not treated equally in society, they were criticized for trying to make their voice heard and for any attempt to take control of their lives, applying for job, becoming politicians, or publishing their works. Isn’t it awful that in the twenty-first century women were not even entitled with the right to choose their husbands? When is a marriage a decision between the elders of two families? When I was a teenager, I remember submitting two short poems about women to my school magazine, and shortly learning that entries concerning women issues were not reviewed for publication. I felt the discrimination at school and at home. I never had a room for myself or even a desk to write and study on. My parents and grandparents required me to help them in various occasions when I was studying, telling me that the girls of my age have already been married. When my little brother went to school, my parents brought a special set of stationary equipment for him, and asked me to help him whenever he asked for something. I could not understand their different behavior and treatment of us. It was so inexplicable and unusual for me, as I did not even think about the traditional role of a housewife that was imagined for me.
As a person who highly values human right and cares about women, I feel very familiar with the problems that Woolf puts forward in her essay. My vigor to fight for woman, to learn their rights, and to defend their personal values are appreciated by Woolf’s work: in her, I see a woman that a hundred years ago had the courage and bravery to speak up for other women. Woolf’s discussion about the scarcity of materials regarding women draws me back to my society where one could hardly find any statistics or personal information about the household life and worries of ordinary women. Her notion regarding the dependency of women has its reference to my society where women are not entitled to make decisions and take action without their husbands and families’ agreement, as if we are incapable of making the right decisions. Especially the line about woman having her own room was very painful as I remembered my past fighting to have my own desk and my own room and my own time to express myself and to work freely and calmly. I have indirectly been weakened by a society treating me not like a human being, but like a woman, a subordinate creature.
I would like to highlight the significance of the word “room” in the context of the essay. My personal and emotional experience suggests that the word “room” should be understood as an umbrella term. A room is everything that a woman needs to be able to work, and to feel accepted. A room is a place where a woman can speak freely and not be afraid of shame and humiliation: a place where a woman knows her values and her rights to feel comfortable to fight for them. A room is a place for a woman to feel simultaneously alone and surrounded: alone from prejudices and faint opinions and surrounded with her power, intelligence, and dignity. The importance of having one’s own room is Woolf’s main concern, and nowadays, it continues to alter my own values and pushes me to work for every woman to find her only and personal room.
Woolf, Virginia. “A Room of One’s Own.” The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012. Print.