On Virginia Woolf's "Profession for Women"
Ive read some numbers of feminism related essays and articles in my years as a student in the English department. A lot of times I felt like a minority in most scenarios since most of my classmates are female. I understand of course that it is not that simple issue of good and bad. But every time during discussions on the matter, I always feel a bit sorry for being the evil men. These discussions are endlessly repetitive with most students condemning and criticizing men for being the biased and women being the sympathized. It wasnt long before I develop a sense of dread towards feminism. Its not because I disagree with the points or observations raised in these writings. They had interested and persuaded me in all ways possible. But my experience seems to be repeating themselves over and over as different feminists continues to attack and complain without giving any substantial resolutions.
Virginia Woolf is different. I didnt have much expectation before reading this article. Maybe in a way, I was blinded by my own phantom. Yet I find this reading experience much more intriguing. This is a writer that isnt afraid to admit her lacking of answers and limits of knowledge. She asks good questions instead of perpetual complaints. The essay is really a chance to understand her streams of thought on the matter. The logic of this essay is fairly straightforward and easy to follow. It isnt blinded by pure sentimentality that often is quite biased itself.
I find this essay significantly inspiring even by todays standards. Its timeless in its main idea, that of the phantom. Maybe to women at that time, the phantom speaks to women only as the Angel in the House. But I think to define it only as that is limiting its ideological potential. The phantom can be anything. Everyone, regardless of race, class, sex is haunted by their own phantoms. It represents an obstacle of the mind. Its something we as individuals have to learn to break in order to improve ourselves or refresh ourselves. When we do, its enlightenment, its liberation.
The phantom also symbolizes a stereotypical image projected by the man/ society which set limits on how we think and act. Woolfs phantom is an invisible standards not only in writings but living as a whole. She writes in the end that Indeed it will be a long time, I think, before a woman can sit down to write a book without finding a phantom to be slain, a rock to be dashed against.For me, its an ongoing dilemma between whats right and whats easy. As a university student, my life consists of assignments and exams. Its not difficult to turn in some paper with average grades. Thats really all I need. A paper. Or should I really try my best to analyze something and speak honestly about it afterwards? Why bother though? I mean numerically speaking, it may just be 5 points of difference while risking the chance of turning in something that might displease everyone. That, in a way, is the phantom haunting me as a student. Its lurking behind me asking and provoking me to write what the professor wants, to give something that is exactly the same as others. An obvious answer. Supposedly, studying is never about grades, but about what we learn and what we take away from it on our own. But how many educators or students really take it that seriously anyway?One can almost say the same thing about life after school. The phantom here is working in the same manner by telling us what should be done and what makes us happy. Ultimately, most people take the easy, safe, expectable path. A steady income at a secure corporation, a normal family, a beautiful car, a nice house. Not a lot of people have the courage to stare at the phantom in the face and choke it to death.
There are other people out there who claim they are with lots of hearts, passion, and dreams but were forced to make certain decisions in their life due to reality. They claim that underneath, they are really unhappy but decide to sacrifice themselves to live for others. In this case, the phantom is our perception of reality because in the end its not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. Perhaps thats why Woolf thought that It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. It has always been your choice to decide how you want to live your life. Never blame others or reality for your decisions.
What I love about this article is that Woolf may stop here with this observation. And I think most writers would stop here, once again with no resolutions. Its enough of a critical statement for a paper. But Woolf knows that killing the phantom is merely the first step of the process. Once we take away whats always been there, what else is left? When she had rid herself of falsehood, that young woman had only to be herself. But again what is herself? What does it mean to really be yourself? This is the real question. Woolf didnt give an answer. The reason for that isnt because shes really out of time. I think what shes trying to say is that from now on, its a journey that people should take on their own. She can only show us the door, we as individuals are the ones that have to walk through it.
BibliographyNorton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Ed, Vol 2