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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Room of One's Own

In her book entitled A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf wrote to protest why there was no women playwright or women poet as monumental as William Shakespeare. This rhetorical question led her to read History of England by Professor Trevelyan where she found very bitter facts about women.

“Wife beating was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low . ... Similarly, the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of her parents’ choice was liable to be locked up, beaten, and flung about the room, without any shock being inflicted on public opinion. Marriage was not an affair of personal affection, but of family avarice, particularly in the ‘chivalrous’ upper classes. ... Betrothal often took place while one or both of the parties was in the cradle, and marriage when they were scarely out of the nurses’ charge.”

Similar to Woolf, her contemporary woman intellectual, Anna Wickham, wrote a poem entitled “Dedication of the Cook”

If any ask why there’s no great She-Poet,
Let him come live with me, and he will know it:
If I’d indite an ode or mend a sonnet,
I must go choose a dish or tie a bonnet;
For she who serves in forced virginity
Since I am wedded will not have me free;
And those new flowers my garden is so rich in
Must die for clammy odors of my kitchen.

The two works portray the condition of women very clearly in that era. Women are burdened by family matters and they don’t have any rights to choose what they want to do. Before they get married, they are the properties of their fathers or brothers. After they get married, they are the properties of their husbands (who oftentimes are not their own choice). In “Dedication of the Cook”, Wickham illustrate how women are busy doing household chores so that they do not have time to produce great literary works.


Now, almost a century has passed. The so-called woman movement for equality has come to its third phase. Have all women got what their predecessor struggled?

Sadly I must say not yet. Three years ago I posted a writing I entitled “Mental Depression” (click this site

Just a week ago I met this old friend of mine again. Apparently her life is like in a prison, created by her husband, a husband of her own choice.

I visited her house to tell her about a reunion invitation of our high school. When knowing that the reunion would be held at 7pm, she directly gave me excuses for not being able to come. Moreover when I said, “The invitation is only for one person; we are not allowed to bring along our spouse or kids.” She openly said, “Ah … absolutely I cannot attend it. I cannot go out of the house without my husband or kids. A married woman is not supposed to do that.”

I remember our time in high school. She belonged to the independent type. She enjoyed doing any activities without her parents’ strict control because they believed she could take care of herself. On the contrary, I could not do that.

“Nothing stays the same,” wise people say. “Changes are natural law that will always exist,” I say.

I found the answer why my old high school friend said so when her husband came to join us in the living room.

“What kind of reunion is that? Why are we not allowed to bring along our spouse or kids? When meeting old friends, we are supposed to tell them our status now, right? That we are married? That we have got kids? What is this reunion supposed to mean? What if we meet our past crush? What if that long-lost feeling comes back? This is crazy era where many people have secret affairs. Bla bla bla …”

I got stunned. I had better not respond but laugh exaggeratingly. LOL. but unhappily. :(

I remember one short discussion with a friend about ‘jealousy’.

F: Do you agree with me that jealousy has nothing to do with love?
N: I am of opinion that jealousy shows someone’s inferiority. He or she is not confident that his or her spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend loves him/her.
F: I could not agree more. Jealousy deals with someone’s own feeling, he or she is worried if the one he or she loves will leave him or her. Jealousy is insecure feeling.

A bit similar to what Woolf and Wickham illustrate in their works, I interpret ‘a room of one’s own’ as time for anyone—especially women—to be on their own, to be themselves. It is not necessarily related to be able to produce a great piece of work, but to do what they need to do. Women need their own private time for a change from their routine. To a certain extent, it even can lead them to healthier mental condition.
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