Friday, October 30, 2009

Comparing and Contrasting Wollstonecraft and Woolf

Although Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf write hundreds of years apart, both recognize the patriarchal system governing their societies, seek balance within the unequal standards set for men and women, and advocate their points using logical arguments. Both address a different audience, accept or deny different aspects of their cultural society, and offer women different options for status improvement. However, Wollstonecraft and Woolf both agree education is necessary.

In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft addresses a male audience. She shows men an accessible, ideal, and educated woman. Wollstonecraft asks to be educated alongside men and clarifies the benefits. These benefits include woman as a better companion to man and a fit mother capable of educating her children. Wollstonecraft examines women's role as wife and mother, she accepts her culturally appointed gender role, but hopes to reform the ideals. Wollstonecraft also argues for increased rationality as a societal benefit. An uneducated and fearful person displays negative, unwanted characteristics more often due to their inequality. However, an educated person has the decision-making abilities to form opinions from knowledge they have acquired therefore living a happier, more conscious life. Wollstonecraft explains, "let the dignified pursuit of virtue and knowledge raise the mind above those emotions which rather imbitter than sweeten the cup of life, when they are not restrained within due bonds" (127). Speaking of "bonds", Woolf refers to women’s oppressed status within the patriarchal system (27). This system does not allow free unemotional thinking therefor leading to increased irrational decisions. Mary Wollstonecraft supports women’s education to improve aspects of her social role and increase rationality while using logical arguments.

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf speaks to a female audience addressing women's status based on opinions in literature, women's status in the economic sphere, and the psychology of anger. While addressing her female audience, Woolf often asks her readers to consider questions she has pondered herself. This forces readers to be conscious of women's position and actively conclude opinions. In chapter two, researches the truth behind women's lower status. Seeking her answer in reference books, Woolf realizes the literature is written by men with vastly differing opinions and little authority to theorize on woman's status. During her research, Woolf examines the psychology of anger. She sketches a picture of an angry male writer, but later realizes it displays her own displaced, complex anger. Finally, she revisits the professor’s initial anger and determines his emotions negatively influence his writing. She asserts, "If he had written dispassionately about women, had used indisputable proofs to establish his argument and had shown no trace of wishing the result should be one thing rather than another, one would not have been angry either" (34). Woolf seeks the rational argument against emotional thinking as Wollstonecraft does. Like Wollstonecraft, Woolf recognizes woman's role with man, but instead of seeing the value of befriending man, Woolf sees how this inflates man's ego and gives him a greater sense of power. She expresses, "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (35). Man’s power attained from woman's supportive role subordinates women. Illuminating this point from logical thought, Woolf explains, "[Men] insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge" (36). Woolf offers women the advice to obtain wealth and a room for themselves to attaining creative freedom.

After reading A Room of One's Own, I examined my life situation realizing I do not have a room of my own write without interruption. My boyfriend has a music studio; however, I "have" a desk in the living room, the kitchen table, a window seat, or an outside bench. None of these spaces exist for me to be creative alone. Additionally, I recently stopped my friend's home. His girlfriend moved in and the initial spaces are now rearranged with different functions. While giving a tour of their newly arranged and cleaned home, my male friend announced, "at least I still have a man-cave". This is an area in the garage where his personal posters are on the wall, instruments are strewn about, and a desk and mini fridge are present. This is a place for my male friend to explore creative musical endeavors. I did not notice and area for his girlfriend to explore her artistic endeavors. Having “a room of one’s own” is still a significant issue today. This concept is awesome to me, and I honestly do not think it should be that awesome. Maybe I will set up shop in the attic. Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf both advocate for balanced standards for men and women and their arguments remain relevant.


Woolf, Mary. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt. 1921. 25-40.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Right of Woman. On Moodle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bargaining with Patriarchy

Deniz Kandiyoti's article "Bargaining with Patriarchy," describes women's negotiation strategies within the patriarchal system's constraints. Kandiyoti calls women’s negotiations "patriarchal bargains” (137). "Patriarchal bargains" maximize benefits within a oppressive system. Kandiyoti argues, "These patriarchal bargains exert a powerful influence on the shaping of women's gendered subjectivity and determine the nature of gender ideology in different contexts. They also influence both the potential for and specific forms of women's active or passive resistance in the face of their oppression" (137). The bargains women make help clarify how they are oppressed by social constructs and define what women find unappealing or appealing in the face of oppression. This is significant because providing details of women's bargains within patriarchy also reveals how men's power works and is how it is maintained. The gender-specific element of the "patriarchal bargain" can explain what oppresses any woman or what gives any man power in a patriarchal system. Therefore, examining the “patriarchal bargain” is valuable for understanding gender relations.

Kandiyoti contrasts two systems. The first, from sub-Saharan Africa, deals with women's participation in agricultural labor. The other system from the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia deals with what Kandiyoti calls "classic patriarchy" (Kandiyoti 138). Classic patriarchy involves women's accommodation to the sexist oppressive system.

Gender relations among agriculturalists of sub-Saharan Africa come from men commonly receiving plots of land and credit while women lack resources despite their direct contribution to the economy (Kandiyoti 138). When men attempt to lower the value of women’s work, women protest. Kandiyoti explains, “Women have very little to gain, and a lot to lose by becoming totally dependent on husbands, and hence… resist projects that tilt the delicate balance they strive to maintain” (139). If a husband denies his wife access to land, or devalues her work, she shows resistance and speaks up (Kandiyoti 138). The woman knows her work’s importance and seeks to maximize her autonomy instead of merely following man’s direction with the false promise of security.

On the other hand, women within "classic patriarchy" system experience subordination by men, but bargain and receive power in patrilocally extended households as mothers of their sons, as mothers-in-law over their daughters-in-law, and through general power within their kin (Kandiyoti 141). As brides being sold and entering a new family, they face oppression. Their access to power and mobility are stifled. These women know their limitations, but use whatever means possible to increase their well-being. Eventually these women live to be the oppressor of others. Understanding and examining their bargain explains the system’s implications and maintenance.

A form of patriarchal bargaining exists at my workplace. I work in a group home where kids without a suitable home take respite or come for psychiatric needs. At times, the residents become physically aggressive, and part of my job is physically restraining them. My initial goal is recognizing escalating behaviors and reaching them at a stage where we can talk, and they can eventually calm down. This does not always work. If a resident is truly psychotic, missing a frontal lobe, or upset with a situation and lacking the tools to cope, sometimes they get very angry and are impossible to deescalate. At the point where talking does not work and all other avenues are exhausted, they are physically restrained if they act as a risk to themselves or others. When I began working at my job, this seemed horrifying. I am not very fit, I have never been in a fight, and I have never even wrestled anyone for a remote control. Physical restraints appeared to be something I hoped my male co-workers would carry out. Other women I work have the same attitude and allow men to do this work. These women bargain within a system assuming men are stronger and have more physical ability than women have. Initially, not participating in a physically demanding and potentially unsafe work duty seems beneficial, but as it is part of my job, it is something I take seriously. I realized I had to learn and participate in physical restraints not only for my own safety and protection, but also for my coworkers, the other residents, and the out of control resident. If I had accepted the bargain and not learned this part of my job, I risk the safety of others and myself. Kandiyoti’s examination of patriarchal bargaining exists as a useful tool for patriarchal analysis.


Kandiyoti, Deniz. "Bargaining with Patriarchy." The Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics. Ed. Nancy Holmstrom. New York: Monthly Review, 2002. 137-151. Print.