Friday, October 30, 2009

Comparing and Contrasting Wollstonecraft and Woolf

Although Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf write hundreds of years apart, both recognize the patriarchal system governing their societies, seek balance within the unequal standards set for men and women, and advocate their points using logical arguments. Both address a different audience, accept or deny different aspects of their cultural society, and offer women different options for status improvement. However, Wollstonecraft and Woolf both agree education is necessary.

In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft addresses a male audience. She shows men an accessible, ideal, and educated woman. Wollstonecraft asks to be educated alongside men and clarifies the benefits. These benefits include woman as a better companion to man and a fit mother capable of educating her children. Wollstonecraft examines women's role as wife and mother, she accepts her culturally appointed gender role, but hopes to reform the ideals. Wollstonecraft also argues for increased rationality as a societal benefit. An uneducated and fearful person displays negative, unwanted characteristics more often due to their inequality. However, an educated person has the decision-making abilities to form opinions from knowledge they have acquired therefore living a happier, more conscious life. Wollstonecraft explains, "let the dignified pursuit of virtue and knowledge raise the mind above those emotions which rather imbitter than sweeten the cup of life, when they are not restrained within due bonds" (127). Speaking of "bonds", Woolf refers to women’s oppressed status within the patriarchal system (27). This system does not allow free unemotional thinking therefor leading to increased irrational decisions. Mary Wollstonecraft supports women’s education to improve aspects of her social role and increase rationality while using logical arguments.

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf speaks to a female audience addressing women's status based on opinions in literature, women's status in the economic sphere, and the psychology of anger. While addressing her female audience, Woolf often asks her readers to consider questions she has pondered herself. This forces readers to be conscious of women's position and actively conclude opinions. In chapter two, researches the truth behind women's lower status. Seeking her answer in reference books, Woolf realizes the literature is written by men with vastly differing opinions and little authority to theorize on woman's status. During her research, Woolf examines the psychology of anger. She sketches a picture of an angry male writer, but later realizes it displays her own displaced, complex anger. Finally, she revisits the professor’s initial anger and determines his emotions negatively influence his writing. She asserts, "If he had written dispassionately about women, had used indisputable proofs to establish his argument and had shown no trace of wishing the result should be one thing rather than another, one would not have been angry either" (34). Woolf seeks the rational argument against emotional thinking as Wollstonecraft does. Like Wollstonecraft, Woolf recognizes woman's role with man, but instead of seeing the value of befriending man, Woolf sees how this inflates man's ego and gives him a greater sense of power. She expresses, "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (35). Man’s power attained from woman's supportive role subordinates women. Illuminating this point from logical thought, Woolf explains, "[Men] insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge" (36). Woolf offers women the advice to obtain wealth and a room for themselves to attaining creative freedom.

After reading A Room of One's Own, I examined my life situation realizing I do not have a room of my own write without interruption. My boyfriend has a music studio; however, I "have" a desk in the living room, the kitchen table, a window seat, or an outside bench. None of these spaces exist for me to be creative alone. Additionally, I recently stopped my friend's home. His girlfriend moved in and the initial spaces are now rearranged with different functions. While giving a tour of their newly arranged and cleaned home, my male friend announced, "at least I still have a man-cave". This is an area in the garage where his personal posters are on the wall, instruments are strewn about, and a desk and mini fridge are present. This is a place for my male friend to explore creative musical endeavors. I did not notice and area for his girlfriend to explore her artistic endeavors. Having “a room of one’s own” is still a significant issue today. This concept is awesome to me, and I honestly do not think it should be that awesome. Maybe I will set up shop in the attic. Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf both advocate for balanced standards for men and women and their arguments remain relevant.


Woolf, Mary. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt. 1921. 25-40.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Right of Woman. On Moodle.

No comments:

Post a Comment