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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
A Room of One's Own - Week 4
As we wrap up this month's discussion of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, I want to turn to the question of expectations and costs. Woolf constantly seeks to understand what exactly it is society (popular opinion) expects from women. It is easier to understand why women are the way they are if one understands the constraints on who they are allowed to be. She quotes a common opinion on what was suitable for women writers - "female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex." While she was shocked that such a statement came from 1928 and not 1828, it is one we still hear today.

In the church especially we are used to there being certain expectations and limitations for women. Even when the church or group is egalitarian, those assumptions regarding what is suitable still exist. Often if a woman writes a book it is assumed to be a book for women, even if the spiritual themes are broader than that. I've come to expect that if there is women present in a line up of conference speakers I can almost guarantee that she will be speaking on social work in urban settings, AIDS in Africa, or overcoming sexual abuse, eating disorders, or being a lesbian and not anything strictly theological or from the Bible. Not that most of those things are bad topics, just that they are "acceptable" topics for women to address.

Yet to move beyond those expectations comes at a cost. Woolf presents an interesting perspective -
Moreover, in a hundred years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shopwoman will drive an engine. All assumptions founded on the facts observed when women were the protected sex will have disappeared—as, for example (here a squad of soldiers marched down the street), that women and clergymen and gardeners live longer than other people. Remove that protection, expose them to the same exertions and activities, make them soldiers and sailors and engine–drivers and dock labourers, and will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker, than men that one will say, ‘I saw a woman to–day’, as one used to say, ‘I saw an aeroplane’. Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation, I thought, opening the door.

Much has been said of the costs of women finding equality. Lifestyles and family structures have changed and often women are made to bear the full guilt of the vicissitudes of those changes. Women and men have had to make sacrifices and surrender their pride. Women have been maligned and ridiculed. We have been accused of seeking power when all we want is to be ourselves. We still in the church are subject to harsh criticisms, asked to be quiet (in the name of unity of course), and told our passions are unimportant. Pushing expectations comes at a cost.

So I ask. What expectations do you see in play? How can they be challenged? What costs have you had to pay? Are the costs worth it?

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posted by Julie at 4:13 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


4 Comments:


  • At 3/27/2008 11:58:00 PM, Blogger Kim

    I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a few of Woolf’s other works and women’s equality seems to be a theme. It’s a mixed bag this becoming a woman--a struggle for identity. There have been great strides, no question, but many of the cultural ideals Woolf resisted are still mountains to be overcome. We don’t have channels on our boat (only dvds) so I’m not sure if this has changed (I doubt it), but a couple years ago I was sick in bed and watched tv the whole day. This is nothing new I guess and has been discussed, but it still ticked me off: every single commercial (without exception) having anything to do with housework, cooking, or children was always geared toward women. Almost every commercial geared toward men portrayed women in a sexual way. Don’t even get me started on commercials during televised sporting events. Or billboards. In this media oriented society, the effects are subtle but strong. There are times when I believe the subversive messages/expectations the culture still gives about women are harder to overcome than the obvious ones.

    So often I feel puny when it comes to thinking about how I can make a difference within such a huge issue. Recently I had a small, but meaningful, victory: Years ago I decided to boycott Victoria’s Secret due to the nature of their ads. I wrote them very un-preachy letters just stating the fact that I thought they were contributing to the objectification of women and I would withhold my dollar until they changed. I involved my daughter, then 14, and she agreed to do it with me. I really didn’t anticipate any change (I’m a bit cynical) but lo and behold just about a month ago in the business section I find that Victoria’s Secret, due to lack of sales and complaints about their ads, were going to stop making such sexually explicit pictures and ads in hopes of winning back their market. I know for sure this is a group effort involving many, but was glad to be a part. My daughter now almost 18 and I were elated--but what it really did was emphasize to me that small things can make a difference. Someone needs to tattoo that on my forehead.

     
  • At 3/28/2008 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    I agree with Kim -- I think the subtle, non-verbal and indirect verbal messages about women's place, roles and expectations are far more crushing than what society explicitly says. The conservative wing of the church is, at least no duplicitous.

    I personally often feel that I am expected to love/be content/thrive being with little kids 24/7 and to naturally inclined to feel constantly nurturing. Often this extends to assuming women belong in the nursery at church or teaching young children in the schools. I feel I am expected to be flexible when my husband's unpredictable work/rotations schedule calls, even if the day job I work at home was supposed to be over at certain time -- when my husband was due to arrive home! I have been seriously tempted to tell him that I will be leaving work at X time and if he isn't home, he'll have to make other arrangements for the kids. Unfortunately, we don't have alot of support here, so if I stuck to my guns, the kids might end up with social services -- which isn't what I have in mind.

    Still, I think it is ingrained in the social, intimate and corporate mind that it is the women who must make adjustments to care for the kids when something comes up with the husband's job, whether the woman works full-time in her own career or works full-time caring for the kids.

     
  • At 3/28/2008 05:43:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    The images we are exposed to really do affect our perceptions. I was reading a parenting book recently that gave an illustration regarding gender perceptions. A little girl made the statement that all doctors are boys. Her mom was quite shocked at this especially since the girl's doctor was a woman. But every other book, picture and reference to doctors portrayed them as men. so despite her own personal experience, the girl concluded that all doctors are men.

    I thought about this this afternoon when I was trying to make an appointment with a doctor (a woman) that my doctor (a woman) had referred me to. The receptionists kept referring to my doctor as "he" even after I said her (obviously female) name and referred to her as "she." I started to get really annoyed. Some of these things while realities still have not changed our cultural assumptions.

     
  • At 3/29/2008 07:45:00 PM, Blogger medium guy

    And even more so the prevalence of "nurses" being strongly assumed to be female...

     

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