Annika posted today about having a place to keep her crafting supplies. I was inspired today, though, not by her main point, but by the beginning of her first paragraph.
I have always felt that the whole Room Of One’s Own business was suspect and possibly nonsense. First of all, why women specifically? I’m sure it makes sense in the context of the time when Virginia Wolfe was writing — women were not respected, and the idea of a room of her own was probably the kitchen. But now? I’m not sure it’s so relevant.
First, let us be clear on the fact that I adore Annika and everything to do with Annika, and if I go more than two weeks without snuggling Annika, or her son, or both simultaneously, I begin to twitch and sweat from withdrawal. That having been said.
I do not think I exaggerate when I say that A Room of One’s Own is one of the most important books in the history of English Literature. In Woolf’s time, a (middle- or upper-class) woman’s “sphere” was considered to be the home, which was of course also the sphere of everyone else who lived there. So while men generally had a study, or at least the freedom to leave the house unencumbered by offspring, women had no space in which to keep things just for themselves, or space to work without interruption from children or husbands or other domestic botheration.
What better characterizes a classic than timelessness? In 1929, Woolf asserted that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She singled out these criteria because they were precisely the two things that women of her social class could not take for granted, while men of her social class could. For a contemporary parallel, one need look no further than the New York Times. In an article called “The Opt Out Revolution,” Lisa Belkin discusses the phenomenon of well-educated, upper-middle-class women who choose to leave the workforce and stay home with their children. There are as many reasons for this choice as there are women who make it, but the common fact is that women who do not have independent income are uniquely vulnerable to whatever financial mishaps befall their partners. In cases of divorce or widowhood, they are at a distinct economic disadvantage. Woolf’s contention is that only with her own money and, indeed, a room of her own, can a woman writer be similarly equipped to her male counterpart.
Women still do the vast majority of unpaid domestic work, and are still widely expected to sacrifice any need for privacy once they have a child. For a writer, such a thing is simply impossible. A writer must have some degree of privacy in which to work. Even a coffee shop is more private than the common room of your home. In a coffee shop, it is expected that people around you will respect your solitude, will not ask you to fix them a sandwich or help them hang curtains. I, and many of my friends, are fortunate in having enlightened male partners, who take on their fair share (or, in my case, more than his fair share) of domestic responsibility. But that does not negate the need for a “room of [our] own;” it simply increases the likelihood that we will actually get one.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1929)