Virginia Woolf calls every woman to join a society that is separate from the society in which men operate – the Outsiders’ Society. She says that we cannot operate within the society of men, because there is “something in the conglomeration of people into societies that releases what is most selfish and violent, least rational and humane in the individuals…” (124). The Outsiders’ Society, Woolf states, is “the kind of society which the daughters of educated men might found and join outside your society but in co-operation with its ends” (126). She indicates that there is power in being outside of the insiders’ society: “the power to change and the power to grow… can only be preserved by obscurity…” (135). Existing and working in this Outsiders’ Society will give women power by obscuring them and separating them from the “limelight which paralyzes the free action of the human faculties and inhibits the human power to change and create…” (135). Virginia Woolf believes that being outside of men’s society will “shroud” women “in darkness.”
Last semester I took a course entitled “Reading Popular Culture: Freaks” with Suzanne Schneider, in which we discussed at length what it means to me marginal and why people in the so-called “Outsiders’ Society” are put there in the first place. The idea of existing outside of society according to what we discussed in Freaks is very different from what Virginia Woolf seems to think about being an “outsider.”
February 3rd, 2012
Girl Scouts and Feminism
When I was seven, I joined the Girl Scouts. I wanted to be a part of the seemingly exclusive group that my friends bragged about, and do fun things like play games and go camping. When my parents signed me up and I went to my first Brownie meeting, I was excited. Unfortunately, the troop leader—one of my friends’ moms—only had a few arts and crafts and a boring activity. After the activity, she usually sent us out to the playground, which is where I learned the “exclusive” Girl Scout traditions of jump rope songs and hand games like “Miss Susie Had A Steamboat,” just like my mom had learned when she was a girl scout.
The Girl Scouts of America is a youth organization for girls in the United States and abroad that was formed in 1912 by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia. She assembled the first 18 scouts because “she believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually.” Their activities included hiking, basketball, camping trips, first aid and learning to tell time by the stars. Daisy Gordon Low wanted to enable girls to leave their restrictive home environments to perform community service and play games.
At the beginning of this class we were shown The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, an art display immortalizing women Chicago thought were the most influential to the feminist movement. I felt there were many problems with this kind of depiction, but after reading Three Guineas I felt an even greater negative reaction to it. Chicago's Woolfe plate made Virginia Woolfe seem like the climax of a great tradition of feminist thought- not an evolution in the scientific sense of the word, but a slow build up to a lauded, supposed-perfect feminist. And not just any kind of feminist, but a feminist explicitly defined by and given such status by her [white] ciswoman body. This hardly felt appropriate to me. Virginia Woolfe's writings exclude more than they embrace, and attempt to instruct women what they should do with themselves (to be what, precisely?) in a way that can be especially harmful. Why should she remain such an iconic representation of feminism when feminism as a movement, as a word, as a lifestyle and perception has moved beyond what she imagined or, maybe more importanty, deemed appropriate? There are, however, pieces of Three Guineas that I believe can still be found useful. So what is Virginia Woolfe now? Who is she meant to be to us?
I've thought about that, and I've come up with my own imagining of The Dinner Party. I consider this an initial draft of what it will become, and have many ideas for its next incarnations.
In a class on gender and sexuality last semester, I focused my attention on transgender students at Bryn Mawr, and those that haven't been able to come to Bryn Mawr College because of their sex. Throughout the semester I met with administrators, deans, staff and students around campus trying to learn more about the school's policy on admitting transwomen as well as transmen. Following are the links to these works.
1) All "Women's" College
I thought I understood feminism in its most basic of terms upon deciding to enroll in this course. Now, after having attended the handful of classes held so far, I know that there is no simple way to describe such a word, such a movement. I had imagined my basis of feminist understanding as rather commonplace. Having a mother and aunt who were supporters of Planned Parenthood throughout their early adult lives and onward, I too came to learn about what the organization supported and the importance of standing up for my rights and recognizing that they should be equal to the rights of men.
This past October, Planned Parenthood turned 95 years old. It has spent that time “promoting a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being, based on respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning.” An organization in sharp contrast, Feminists for Life, was established in 1972 and has spent its time "shaping the core feminist values of justice, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence” and does not take a stance on “pre-conception” issues. Maintaining a focus on college campuses, the group pushes against movements like Planned Parenthood that offer abortion, their coin phrase “women deserve better than abortion.”
I think I enjoyed portions of Three Guineas, but there was something that really just bothered me about it.
Virginia Woolfe's description of the "four great teachers of the daughters of educated men" (emphasis mine) made me rather uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons. All four "teachers" have intimate associations with how women are controlled, and though Virginia Woolfe's definitions of each "teacher" are hardly the standard definitions for these words, seeing them connected to an essay on how women should act felt very off-putting.
I found that our Thursday in-class group discussions were very interesting, and that the questions were a very intriguing look into our brains. I've realized that I would love to have this discussion again with classmates- not only those who were in my group or in the class, but with others as well. Initially the questions seemed relatively straight-forward, but once we were all sitting down and put thought and effort behind our answers they became signficantly more difficult. All of the questions were very broad, and required more than just a yes or no answer- even, and maybe most especially, the question "Are you a feminist?" Feminism has a complex history of not only different waves, but different circles of thought within those waves that makes it difficult to just say 'yes' or 'no'. Some branches of feminism also have a very uncomfortable history of being exclusionary towards non-white and non-cisfemale women, which adds another layer of complexity to identifying as a feminist. Listening to everyone's reasons behind saying 'yes' or 'no' was very insightful, and I feel could potentially cause someone to rethink their own explanations, and the forces in their lives that made them say 'yes' or 'no'. Attempting to create a definition for feminism, at least in that short amount of time, would have been very difficult, especially since it was so easy to spend a lot of time on the other questions.
Based on some students' comments online, I would be very interested in knowing what their definition of feminism is, or potentially their multitude of definitions.
While reading The Goblin Market, I had trouble deciding whether the poem was about the events surrounding a girl's first sexual experience or an encounter with addictive substances. I felt it easily went both ways.
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.
Laura's whole personality has changed at this point in the poem either from sex or drug withdrawal.
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
Again, this line is ambiguous and, I felt, could be interpreted both ways. Laura could be experiencing a serious desire to have sex again or she could be desperatly wanting to fulfill her next drug fix.
Either way, I saw The Goblin Market as a cautionary tale for all types of addictions. Whether it be a sexual addiction or substance abuse, the general plot of The Goblin Market could be applied to all sorts of addictions.
Perhaps sexual and drug addiction were a focus because they were prominent during the time the poem was written?