Monday, October 14, 2013

The More Things Change... A Quote from Woolf's Three Guineas.

During my flu I read again Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas.  It is a fascinating book, almost oracular at places and much ahead of its time (especially the end-notes*), yet the basic tie-in of pacifism and women's status is, I think, weaker than it should have been to make the argument convincing.

I'm not going to amble on those by-roads, because what I really want to point out here is one of her end-notes, this one.  (Woolf was writing at the eve of World War II):

Even at a time of great political stress like the present it is remarkable how much criticism is still bestowed upon women.  The announcement "A shrewd, witty and provocative study of modern woman," appears on an average three times yearly in publishers' lists.

The author, often a doctor of letters, is invariably of the male sex; and "to mere man," as the blurb puts it (see Times Lit. Sup. March 12th, 1938), "this book will be an eye-opener."  Presumably the need for a scapegoat is largely responsible, and the role is traditionally a woman's.  (See Genesis.)  It is a curious fact that although the "practical obliteration" of her freedom is assured if certain characteristics generally if erroneously associated with aggravated masculinity remain unchecked, the educated woman not only accepts criticism, but if publishers' lists are to be taken as evidence, makes no attempt to return it....

This struck a bell.  Think of all the writing about how women are now supposed to be less happy than in the good old days when they had fewer choices,  think of the (discredited) stories about how educated women can't find partners, think of some of the popular evolutionary psychology studies about the "basic nature" of women as coy and submissive and monogamous and ultimately home-bound, think of the way feminism is blamed for a Pandora's box of evils in this world, ranging from the hookup culture, women's alcohol use, the plight of boys at school, all the way to the destruction of the Western civilization and even its churches!

Gender-reversed articles on similar issues are not so common.  This may be because of the default setting of men as the human beings.  If that is how we view the world, then the sub-group or special group of "women" sticks out like a sore thumb and almost begs for analysis, but such aspects as violence tend to be seen largely as human problems (in, say, stories about crime) and not gendered problems, even if they show a big percentage difference by the perpetrator's sex.   But problems coded as female (however small their actual percentage is)  are treated as if they apply to all women or at least to all uppity women or all poor women and so on.

*I love footnotes and end-notes in books and always read all of them.  Am I the only person who does this?