What can I say? It’s been a busy week. And next week is stacking up to be just as bad. What that means is I was brain dead when it came time to come up with a blog post this week. So, I decided to get into the Way Way Back Machine, and where I came out was February, 2012. It was a simpler time then. There was a sane, black man in the White House, and I was attending The University of Oklahoma in pursuit of my second masters degree. With that in mind, what follows was a weekly class assignment for one of my feminism classes. No, I was not a feminism major, but you might say it was a minor. But, that part’s boring. Every week we were tasked with writing reports on the week’s reading. I chose this particular one because I’ve always liked the Virginia Woolf quote. And because, writing. Good luck next week, there might be new material then. Only time will tell.
…”give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days” (Woolf, 1929)[i]. Though not quite as forthright as Helene Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa but the point is the same: leave women alone and let them write. Cixous points out that often women don’t write because they don’t feel that their writing is good enough but she calls upon women to write in order that their voices be heard in this phallocentric world.
The work is quite clearly a call to arms, so to speak, to all women to not be afraid of their creativity, whatever way that creativity expresses itself. Cixous uses sexual metaphors repeatedly to express her point. She equates writing in secret with masturbation, which, in a way, it is. It is a way of expressing yourself, of releasing pent-up feelings, of letting yourself go. Cixous wants women to no longer be afraid of their bodies or their minds. She wants women to follow whatever desires they have because if they don’t no one is going to do it for them. The only way to survive in this man’s world is to finally speak out and be heard. Cixous is trying to rouse women to action with her stirring words. It’s a pep talk of phallic proportions.
I think the comparison to Woolf is an accurate one, as Woolf
also wanted women to write. She wanted
women to write the works of genius she knew they were capable of and wanted
women to know they had permission to do so.
But her main point was that in order to create these works of genius
women needed privacy and security, two things women often lacked. She also wanted women to appreciate the works
of those who came before. She extolled
women to pay homage to their foremothers for having the courage to write and
pave the way.[ii] Cixous, however, mainly just wanted women to
not let anyone hold them back. She knew
that woman was her own worst enemy.
Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace and Company.
[ii] “Jane Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney, George Eliot done homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter…All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” (Woolf, 1929).