I first read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” as an undergrad during a Woolf class in which we read To the Lighthouse. It was my first ever introduction to feminism, and the idea that Woolf is analyzing here, fascinated me back then and still does today.While this idea is confined here to a feminist perspective, I think the implications are the same ones that apply to the second half of readings as well as to a certain Marxist perspective of material culture.

It is the culture, after all, that denies Shakespeare’s sister a chance to express her artistic talents, simply for being a woman. It is scary to think how accurate Woolf is in claiming that,

“When […] one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen” (898).

The world has surely lost a number of talented artist for their gender or race or color or location or socio-economic situation. Hurston and Gilman are two examples of writers that were almost lost to society because they were not WASPY males.

Woolf’s second piece anticipates some of the arguments that De Beauvoir’s will make. Woolf asserts that women in literature have only been shown in relation to men and rarely does one see two women as good friends. Woolf goes on to say that relationships between woman in literature have been “too simple.” This is a point that De Beauvior takes up with her analysis of woman: “To pose Woman is to pose the absolute Other.” De Beauvior does an excellent job of pointing out the contradictions in how woman have been portrayed throughout, not just literature, but history. This analysis points out Sartre’s limitations. Sartre says that one can only know himself through the other, but then says that woman are mysterious.

DeBeauviour looks at this myth of woman as mysterious, as virgin, as demon, as idealized, and as always absolute other of man. Her claim, which I believe is more astute than Sartre’s, is that woman is no more mysterious than man is mysterious to woman, and that to make these outrageous claims is just lazy and to promote the patriarchy. Making claims such as this goes against the first tenet of existentialism, in which “existence precedes essence.” That is that woman (nor men) have any essence outside of their actions. These idealized and categorical claims men make on women puts women in an absolute, deny women the ability to make themselves and totalizing them. The point should be, rather, that the relations between men and women are reciprocal, a give and take of subjectivity. In the views of men, the Hegelian dialectic of relations between men and women, women are always the slaves to men.

It is this mystification that Woolf is looking at in literature in “Chloe likes Olivia.” Additionally, I feel that in “Androgyny,” Woolf is calling for this reciprocity that De Beoavior wants. For the dialectic not to be dominated by the male perspective, but rather, that there has to be a true dialectic. One in which a synthesis of “male” and “female” is balanced.

I think I will stop here before I go on too long. My problem is that I am reading a Zizek essay in which he looks at the idea of sexualization. He looks at the idea of “femininity” vs. “masculinity” to show how this are constructed categories– which leads back to the idea I started off with: how much of all we are, of all our identity, and of everything we think of as “us” is really just a social construct that we have been duped into believing?

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