How Women Are to Succeed According to Some Influential Feminists

When reading feminist writers, from Virginia Woolf, to bell hooks, to Courtney Martin, themes of how women are to succeed in this world are ubiquitous.  After spending much time reading writings by all of these writers, from novels to blog posts, these influential women have helped shape my own ideas on what women need to thrive in a society that has for centuries been set up against them.

First, feminist writings and theory need to be available to all, women and men alike.  In her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, bell hooks describes the availability of feminism to the “average person.”  She writes,

At first feminist theory was made available by word of mouth or in cheaply put together newsletters and pamphlets,” and then, on the other hand, “feminist thinking that had emerged directly from theory and practice received less attention than theory that was metalinguistic, creating exclusive jargon; it was written solely for an academic audience.  It was as if a large body of feminist  thinkers band together to form an elite group writing theory that could be understood only by and ‘in’ crowd.”

So, basically, if feminism is only available through antiquated, archaic and futile methods like word of mouth or the exclusive and selective academy, then the feminist audience will be limited. Perhaps more importantly, those who would be most empowered by feminist theory have a greater chance of not being exposed to feminism.  For this reason, feminist theory and ideals must be begin to be established in our society in the form of classroom instruction.

To infuse feminism into schools would be invaluable to our nation’s youth.  In Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics hooks goes on to talk about her own feminist education when she says, “the feminist classroom was the place where I learned feminist thinking and feminist theory.  And it was in that space that I received the encouragement to think critically and write about black female experience.”  For hooks, feminism was a catalyst for her to be able to think and create works based on her identity.

For others, feminism is a way of connecting with their past and present, for history classes as well as popular culture lack this narrative for many.  Virginia Woolf talks a lot about this in her book A Room of One’s OwnFor example, she refers to women when she says, “She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”  We hear about women in fiction everywhere we turn, but their non-existence when it comes to history is disturbing.  We see these idealized, perfectly imperfect, and completely unrelatable women in fiction, but in the search for a real life hero the

Viginia Woolf (arteyfotografia.com.ar)

history books can sometimes be lacking.

According to hooks, “producing a body of feminist literature coupled with the demand for the recovery of women’s history was one of the most powerful and successful interventions of contemporary feminism.”  Feminism has in a way taken back women’s history which for a long time had been lost.

Connecting with one’s past, especially as a female artist, is especially a challenge.  According to Virginia Woolf, “if you consider the great figures of the past, like Sappho, like the Lady Murasaki, like Emily Bronte, you will find that she is an inheritor as well as an originator.”  The canon, western or otherwise, for a long time had been exclusively male.  For women, there was no history too look back on, nothing to emulate or inherit.  This “lack of tradition upon the mind of the writer,” says Woolf, has served as a constant struggle for female writers and artists alike.  Even now, when teaching the “classic” literature, many of the texts schools will give to students and primarily written by men.

There is a lot to learn in the classroom from feminist theory that would be so beneficial to so many.   According to hooks, “the institutionalization of women’s studies helped spread the word about feminism.  It offered a legitimate conversation by providing a sustained body of open minds.”

Here hooks refers to the open minds of college students, but imagine if that was extended to high school, middle school, elementary school students.  According to hooks, it was in these classes that many “awakened politically.  [She] had come to feminist thinking by challenging male domination in [her] patriarchal household.  But simply being the victim of an exploitative or oppressive system and even resisting it does not mean we understand why it’s in place of how to change it.”

Feminist theory does exactly this and so much more.  It aims to level the playing field with ideas of equity and social responsibility.  As Woolf puts it, when on the one hand, “the world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me.  The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s good of you writing?” when referring to oppressed female writers, whereas on the other hand, feminist theory is saying we as a society need to give everyone the opportunity to prosper.

Now, after we have given our children, specifically our female children an education, feminist or not, we must as a society give them outlets to apply what one learned.  As Woolf so eloquently put, “women need 500 pounds and a room of one’s own” if they are to succeed.

Our contemporary society’s feminist bloggers, twenty-first century Virginia Woolfs if you will, are the perfect examples of this.  Courtney Martin writes in her article for The Nation, You are the NOW of Now!’ The Future of (Online) Feminism,

financial struggles reveal a fundamental problem for the future of feminism.  Online organizing has infused new energy—not to mention drawn thousands of newly minted feminists—into the feminist movement, and yet the movement’s financial backers haven’t caught up to the new reality.”

Funding is the key in this situation, and many others like it.  These feminist bloggers need to be able to make their blogging a sustainable vehicle for creating income for themselves, so they can concentrate on creating more blogs and continuing the feminist movement instead of having to concentrate on where money for rent is going to come from.  Martin goes on to say that now is the time that we need to make online feminism “funded, forward thinking and just as fierce.  It’s time for all of us—bloggers, organizers, philanthropists and business experts alike—to put our heads together and figure out how to create a robust, sustainable online space that can serve as the ‘women’s center in the sky’ (as Gloria Steinem recently put it to [Martin]) for our next generation.”

6 thoughts on “How Women Are to Succeed According to Some Influential Feminists

  1. It is interesting that you brought up the fact that not too long ago feminism was either a movement by word of mouth or a movement among an elite group.

    I agree that in order for feminism ideas to reach all, feminism must be available, intellectually and physically, to everyone. When reading “A History of U.S. Feminisms” there was a part where the author was talking about how Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed that woman’s right should come before the right of a “negro.” She never considered simply finding a way to end suffrage for all people. Her method was putting another group down in order to promote female suffrage. We have come a long way since the time of Stanton, but some of that behavior is still present. What we really need to do is find a way to get two steps ahead, without putting other people ten steps behind.

  2. love how you started, because I think that women know should be reminded of the struggles that our ancestors when through for us to be who we are now. Feminism is written all over women’s history. That was like the base, where everything started and it branched on from there. Before, women had precedents, but now, we have so many precedents that there is no more excuse for us.
    This issue of money is dominant everywhere. I find it so fascinating how even while trying to do something beneficial fro our society, there is a price to put on it!

  3. I love your connection between the historical antagonism towards women writers and the need for feminist education. It’s so true that the latter is a hugely important tool in the eradication of the former. I also love how you identify giving women opportunities to advance and express themselves as not only beneficial to a society, but a society’s duty. Courtney Martin’s piece really shows that even though it’s acceptable for a woman to put her voice out there, we still aren’t supporting her enough.

  4. I agree w/ your statement about history books, and how women are often not mentioned nearly as much as men are. Also, your interpretation about how women do not have this canon to base their work off of, making it more original and from the heart is spot on. “There is a lot to learn in the classroom from feminist theory that would be so beneficial”, I agree and I think it needs to be taught to children at a young age. There should be a place for feminism in the classroom just as there is a place for math, science, history and english. In fact, many of these intersect, like how we are taking an English course on feminism, yet it is also history at the same time.

  5. I love your call to action at the end here. Feminism, or any movement really, is all about educating others, making sure that everybody is aware of the problem. If it is accessible for only elite groups of people, it doesn’t benefit the movement nor the people who don’t get to participate in the conversation. Starting with blogging, we have the ability to put our message out there for all the world to see and access. But it makes me think…what about those who don’t have internet, or even a step further, those who are illiterate and don’t know what we are writing? We should take this accessibility even further and deliver our message in ways that can get through to everybody. More visual art expression, perhaps?

  6. I agree with your your analysis of the Courtney Martin article. Personally, I can, in some way, relate to what these online feminist activists struggle with regarding the lack of financial support they receive, especially since they don’t want to give up advocating for issues they are passionate about because of that. I want to be a human rights lawyer in the future and I want to advocate and provide legal support to these causes and movements, such as feminism, in my work. Like Shelby Knox said in Martin’s article, “We, as feminist organizers, have to give up the martyr complex and start building financially stable and even profitable activist enterprises on our terms, infused with our values.” I know that this will not be the greatest paying career choice and that I will not be as rich as a corporate lawyer, but at least I am lucky enough to be getting paid for doing something I am passionate about.

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