Virginia Woolf Said, ‘Damn The Patriarchy, Find Your Own Way And Your Own Voice In Life!’

"Do NOT take your privilege for granted," says Virginia Woolf, telling us that we must, as women, steal some time from our daily drudgery and nurture our talent and passion.


“Do NOT take your privilege for granted,” says Virginia Woolf, telling us that we must, as women, steal some time from our daily drudgery and nurture our talent and passion.

When asked to give a speech on Women and fiction, Virginia Woolf exploded with an essay; not just an essay but a social commentary. Fierce, piercing, Timeless!

Virginia Woolf has an incredible way to hit the nail right on the head. To the Lighthouse was my first book by her, followed by A Room of One’s Own, and even though I took some time to adjust to her writing style, the book left a deep imprint in me, and since then, I’ve become a fan of hers.

This book is an elaborate essay which documents her reflections on the society, women, and fiction, all interwoven together. Replete with powerful arguments, it sheds light on men’s idea and their portrayal of women. The reflections touch a raw nerve which demands answers from society; our society who is known for drawing a blank when asked such heart-punching questions.

Women’s lives as seen through the lens of patriarchy

Woolf observes through the looking glass of patriarchy to show us the perspective that snaps at women. When women wanted to do something creative, they were not only snapped at, but were not given any liberty to be an artist.

To quote from what Virginia Woolf says about this, “Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disapproving that.” While the essay is set in the times she lived in, it also stays relevant in current times.

The ego of men

Through the metaphor of ‘looking-glass vision’, she tells us that men look at women not as equal but as many shades smaller, inferior, and unmatchable. Just like how someone might treat another with disdain as inferior in order to assert their own superiority, similarly, hammering down women and their ideas enlarges and comforts the ego of men.

Woolf talks about the patriarchy in England and that shaking the fundamentals of this is essential. When she says this, she also explains that this ‘looking glass vision’ plays an important role for men in order to maintain the sense of vitality, and this illusion, this lie, gives a sense of satisfaction to men. This illusion, Woolf says, we should break, and that is possible only by giving them the truth that they were not conditioned to receive well. How else can we break the barrier and how else do we shatter the glass ceiling?

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“The looking-glass vision is of supreme importance because it charges the vitality; stimulates the nervous system. Take it away and man may die, like the drug fiend deprived of his cocaine,” she says. This should be remembered every time a man mansplains to us, and every time women are snubbed and gaslighted.

Virginia Woolf looks at the struggles of other women authors

The author runs through the works of the Brontës and Austen among many other writers to give an outlook on how they were treated, and how they had to undergo a lot, and how despite being bogged down by social conventions and ceaseless distractions, made a name for themselves.

She also brings forth many examples in literature to show how the patriarchal conditioning of men overshadowed the thoughts of women, and how her creative freedom was snapped shut.

Hiding in the extract shines Shakespeare’s sister, though hypothetical, and Woolf gives voice to her. She has shown as equally talented as her brother and in every way well-endowed with artistic sensibilities, again just like her brother. But patriarchy crushes her dreams and individuality under its weight, and she is not able to realize her true potential.

Do NOT take your privilege for granted

In the last pages, she almost begs us to not take our privilege for granted but to steal some time from our daily drudgery and nurture our talent and passion. The privilege we have is handed down to us by those people who fought for it, and they could trade anything for the time we waste doing nothing. Also, this would serve justice and put the restless body of Shakespeare’s sister to rest.

“She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not her tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives, for great poets do not die, they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her”

“Damn the patriarchy, find your own way and your own voice in life, seize the day, just DO something. How dare you waste the opportunities that so many others would have died to have!”

The above quote questions our taking our freedoms for granted without any second thought. It asks us to take the reins of our lives in our hands to create, inspire and take the road less travelled.

The toxic conditioning we need to check

Loved the chapter where she says that men and women are not independent entities but every woman has a man in her and vice versa and one who realizes it, gets on to be a true artist and creatively integrated.

Working in unison is the key. One may deny this duality that exists within them, but acknowledging and using it to the full capacity will put one on the pedestal of success. This, per se, will illume the spark of both men and women.

What remains unsaid in the book is the toxic conditioning which has not only engulfed the men but also women. Somewhere, women are, if not equally responsible for the conditioning, do have a big part to play in further propagating patriarchy, leaving the next generation of women beleaguered.

In order to see this change, the change should be at all levels and in every person, and requires a tremendous amount of unlearning of past notions.

By claiming a room of one’s own, she urges women to find a voice of their own, to find a strength enough to voice their dissent, and further to the society to realize that it is high time to give a floor to women to be able to state their opinion.

Image source: Book cover Amazon and Virginia Woolf pic from public domain

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About the Author

Saranya Iyer

A writer/Educator and Spanish Language trainer. Loves Reading, Music and Art. Favorite Author is Jane Austen who inspired me throughout my writing journey. I mainly write on Drama fiction, social issues, relationships and parenting. read more...

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