Can you imagine how different (and better) the world would be today had women always enjoyed the same opportunities as men to freely exercise their creative genius and influence humanity through their works of literature?
In her celebrated book “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), Virginia Woolf lectures us on the injustices women writers suffered before the nineteenth century when it came to creating and producing fiction.
It also protests against how women were portrayed as characters in fiction books written by men. Remember, books were mass media back then and the negative descriptions of women further influenced how they were treated.
Puzzling to Virginia Woolf is why women were completely absent when it comes to the creation of extraordinary literature during the times of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), considered to many the most splendid age in the history of English literature. A period which also witnessed the genius of William Shakespeare.
But during that time, the archaic mentality of men was such a deterrent that they deemed impossible for any women to have the genius of Shakespeare.
And so it is here where Virginia Woolf debates this argument by creating the imaginary figure of Judith Shakespeare to masterfully address this terrible injustice. The hypothetical scenario of what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully talented sister demonstrates a contrasting parallel among the two.
In those times, the Shakespeare brother William would have easily sought fortune in London and would have freely practiced his art surrounding himself with everybody in the industry. Access to the royal family would have also been attainable.
On the other hand, his extraordinarily gifted sister Judith would have unfairly remained at home. Despite her genius and her unusual creativity, she would have never been sent to school. A monumental loss for humanity.
Without a doubt, a plethora of extraordinary talented women existed then (as they have always had), and it would be delusional to think the contrary.
But men, in their opposition to women emancipation, created a hostile environment where they would have ridiculed, humiliated, and made life a living hell to any woman who dared become a writer.
I absolutely agree with Virginia Woolf when she says, “Genius needs freedom; it cannot flower if it is encumbered by fear, or rancor, or dependency, and without money, freedom is impossible.”
That is precisely what her title “A Room of One’s Own” refers to. Give women a room of her own and the financial comfort that removes all obstacles from expressing her art and speak her mind; allow her the concentration needed in order to achieve prodigious work; suppress the unhappiness suffered by inequality that interferes with her creation; and we’ll see geniuses.
“Literature is open to everybody and there is no lock you can set upon the freedom of a mind”, says Virginia Woolf. And there should be no locks preventing the advancement of women.
Reading this book as a man made me think of the great damage we men have done in limiting women’s full potential, of all the wonderful genius creations by women that never flourished because of us men.
A lot has improved from the time Virginia Woolf published “A Room of One’s Own”, but us men today need to do more to make up for this tragedy and support feminism. There is no excuse.
Yes, this book was written almost 90 years ago! But its powerful message still echoes today as an inspiring instrument of the feminist movement, and it will continue to remain relevant at least until we reach full gender equality.