We live in a society that has been trapped by the same cycle throughout history when it comes to oppression. Discrimination leads to violence, violence leads to public awareness and action, awareness leads to a movement and a movement leads to progress, a legacy of discrimination and a long way to go.
Among other groups, women have been victims to this cycle. It’s kind of like that college commercial that talks about the guy with the cycle running through his head saying, “I don’t have any money because I don’t have a job, I don’t have a job because I didn’t go to school, I didn’t go to school because I didn’t have any money…” and so on and so forth. Although many women today can’t say they see themselves in that commercial, just a century and a half ago, almost all women in America could.
Virginia Woolf, in her book A Room of One’s Own devotes her time to research why women have not had money. Why was it that women had no money for themselves and couldn’t live life outside of her home and family? What can we do to change it? Now, today, we ask: Why are women still seen as inferior objects to men? What can we do to change it? It all begins, and I believe Woolf would agree, with education.
For the past few weeks after reading Woolf and now learning about feminist education, I find myself thinking “WWWS? or, what would Woolf say?” During Woolf’s lifetime, during the fight for women’s suffrage and civil rights, women, maybe more so than today, were treated as inferior to men in every aspect possible, especially throughout the realm of education and resources.
While the men dined on “salmon and dumplings” while “smoking a cigar or drinking a glass of wine,” women sipped on “plain gravy soup” and water . The men received “libraries and laboratories…splendid equipment of costly and delicate instruments” while women enjoyed nothing more than the basic elementary school education. While at the time, the problem with education was the fact that women barely had one, today the problem is that women aren’t given as much respect in the classroom as men do.
From the time I started school in Pre-K to my sophomore year in high school, I had not studied one book written by a woman, yet every single one of my teachers were women. The ones that I did read (and by this I only mean one book—Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston) were assigned for us to read on our own time and never discussed in class. What message does this send? That women can teach literature but they can’t write it?
Before reading Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks, I used to put complete blame on my elementary school curriculum. I see now that it isn’t the fact that schools didn’t incorporate women in our literary conversations but the fact that we still lived the legacy of women not being involved in any conversation. It wasn’t my principal who was at fault but it was the generations who came before him who gave women’s writing “little or no attention as a consequence of gender discrimination.”
hooks states, and I agree, that “children’s literature is one of the most crucial sites for feminist education for critical consciousness precisely because beliefs and identities are still being formed.” I can go on about feminist education for days but the basic definition of what hooks believes is we should be teaching everybody that men and women are equal. If we start teaching this message at a young age, just as the media does with its “this is what’s good and this is what’s bad” ways, we can create a new legacy, whether it be through TV or in writing the ideal children’s books.
But, WWWS? What would Woolf say? We need money!
Everything requires money in a world like ours, including the survival of the feminist movement. Woolf centered her speech on women’s need for money from the very beginning to the very end, saying that a woman needs “a room of her own and five hundred a year” in order to maintain independence and a career or her own. Of course, then she was talking abut Women and Fiction and today we need a heck of a lot more than 500 dollars but you get the gist. As Woolf expresses continuously, women didn’t have the same financial support that men did, seeing as all of their (meaning women’s) money was going towards funding men’s education and causes, who already had enough money as it was.
However, this problem is a long way from over, as proved by Courtney Martin in her blog, “‘You Are the NOW of Now’ The Future of (Online) Feminism.” Martin writes about the hardships of being a feminist blogger in a society where there’s the belief that “online activism isn’t ‘real’ or deserving of financial support.” She also expresses the fact that while women such as herself are “too busy trying to make ends meet to figure out how to make ends meet,” financially well-off men and women are paying attention to building sky scrapers and new stadiums rather than important causes such as world hunger or gender discrimination.
Just the other day, I heard on the radio that Macy’s is putting $400 million dollars into renovating their women’s shoe section to make room for 300 thousand pairs of shoes. While so many other organizations such as SPARK, GEMS, the ASPCA, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, etc., could use that money to change the world. But, instead, we use hundreds of millions of dollars to have a bigger shoe selection at Macy’s.
Women need money for so many things to try to send out the right message: “to write more books” says Virginia Woolf; “to create a feminist television network” says bell hooks; or to keep “feminist blogs and online advocacy organizations” running says Martin.
We may have so many needs and wants in order to gain equality and progress, but, as women, without any respect for our voices, whether it is in a public speech or from behind our computer screens, it all means nothing. This, along with feminist education and money, is what we should really be striving for.