Uncertain about the androgynous mind

June 6, 2016

“Why do you think I won’t like it?” a friend asked after I described a book I had read and liked but said he wouldn’t enjoy. I have been reaching for an answer, because simply saying It’s a feeling I have is insufficient. But Virginia Woolf, whose writing I adore, has provided a reason:

 This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop …. (67)

That. The authorship of a book and the subject of a book still influence how readers position ourselves relative to the book. Many readers — even open-minded readers of “better” literature — want to read the book about the metaphorical or actual battle-field because they believe it will be more important, more worthwhile, than a woman’s book about interior matters.

Woolf made her comments in 1928, but the sentiment still applies. Look at whose books are reviewed, whose books win major prizes. Look at how books by women writers tend to be handled when they are reviewed. Whether we acknowledge the fact or not, books by women are perceived to be less serious, less important, than books by men. This perception troubles me deeply. It’s not a perception I share.

It is necessary, as Woolf says elsewhere in A Room of One’s Own, to write “as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages [are] full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself” (84). I’m not sure I agree with Woolf on this point, but do feel that books by women may be different from those by men — and by no means less for that difference.

Source: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin Classics, 1993).