Stephen`s Essay 2

Stephen Cheng
English 1A
MTWTh 4:30-7:20
July 6, 2010
Essay #2 Draft
Culture is defined as an individual’s knowledge to function in society. Virginia Woolf and
bell hooks are products of a society where they are on an uneven playing field. Woolf grew up in
the late 1800’s and into the early 20thcentury in a high status family. She saw the indifferences
that the two genders have and she dedicated her work to make the differences apparent and
leveled. Bell hooks is a minority writer who moves away from the usual idea of a feminist and
includes the acceptance of human qualities. They both seek equality for women and have
different views of achieving this goal. Woolf’s views are constructed for the early 20th century
feminist and as generations pass bell hooks is enabled to freely express the modern feminist’s
idea for full unification. Each writer had their obstacles to pass and hooks’ idea of a liberal
feminist conflict with Woolf’s approach to feminism.
Virginia Woolf was one of the few women of history to receive an education and soon she
saw the oppression of her gender and wanted to act. Woolf writes her narration as an “any”
woman’s point of view and shows “fictional” situations of unfair treatment of women which lead
to. Her technique of writing a fictional book is to provoke the reader’s thoughts on what is
actually happening in the world around them. When Woolf writes in the first person she refers
herself as “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please- it is not a
matter of any importance” (Woolf 21), she attempts to gauge the feelings of all the females out
there, but in fact her arguments are one sided, but for a reason. Woolf style of the whole gender
as an individual gives the audience, who are most likely the educated males, a relation to the
experiences of a single person and how they may affect one’s thoughts. The targeted audience for
her book was not the lower class, but the educated, and if she was to evoke some social change
she would have to show events that are relatable to the readers. Her primary examples of the
inequality were the different school experiences that the two genders had, she first describes the
male University to be “the age of reason, still the same gold and silver went on; fellowships were
founded; lectureships endowed” (Woolf 24), she also continues with the accommodations of the
male’s mess halls to have “wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been
emptied; had been filled” (24). Woolf uses a luxurious example to show that these students from
aristocrat families do not have a care in anyone else but themselves. She also goes on to writing
about the female side of education experience where the campus environment is unkempt and the
instructors are unnamed. With a fictional piece of work, Woolf is able to show the extremes of
the two sides to make some of her readers envious and others question the reality that occurs.
After the “false” descriptions of the schools Woolf continues to write with a fictional aspect with
stories that do not end well for a female protagonist. One of these anecdotes, she creates an
imagined twin sister of William Shakespeare who shares the same aspirations and talent. She
first displays the capabilities of William when he is able to attend school to learn about “Ovid,
Virgil and Horace- and the elements of grammar and logic” (33) and later pursue his interest in
theatre where he would know everyone and get access to the queen. The fictional sister that
Woolf creates does not have the advantages that William had, but shared the same love for
literature and “perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to
hide them or set fire to them” (33) and as she followed her interest in theatre she was laughed at
because female actresses were never casted. After all the negative influences that disabled her to
accomplish anything, she saw no future for herself and then committed suicide. Woolf uses the
twin of Shakespeare because of his notoriety and Shakespeare’s ability to incorporate real human
thoughts and feelings into his plays.
Woolf’s idea to level out the two tiered system is to evoke a psychological way of
thinking for gender equality. She writes about the androgynous mind and how it could be used to
create equality. Woolf takes the idea of Coleridge’s idea of an androgynous mind she quotes
Coleridge “a great mind is androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with
women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation” (37) . What
Woolf takes from Coleridge is the fact “that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it
transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided”
(37). Woolf’s interpretation is revolutionary for the early 20th century in that there is no special
acceptance when a mind thinks androgynously, but it will think as an individual and be able to
interpret without influence.
Bell hooks’ essay on feminism diverges from the androgynous mind into a modern point
of view. She writes from a post World War II era where women have won suffrage, but there is
still inequality of the genders throughout classes, race, and social status. Her main point of view
on feminism is that she is an advocate, but dislikes the liberal feminist ideas. Hook’s definition of
a liberal feminist is a radical privileged white woman who encourage black woman to contribute
life stories. For this assumption that black women are supplementary to the cause, hooks targets
these bourgeois and liberal feminist for leaving out status equality along with feminism. Hooks
takes the excerpt from the Huston conference of 1978 and finds the faults that the liberal
feminists create, and describes the conference’s reformation as “an assumption that they
eradicate systems of domination” (hooks 67). Woolf’s views collide with bell hooks’ views on
feminism. Hooks does not call out on any individual, but attacks the white feminists and shows
that they do not follow what they protest for because they only seem to fight for upper class
equality. Hooks criticizes the reinforcement of capitalism, and materialism that the liberal
feminists protest for because she sees that what they fight for is not for the liberation of women
economically. All the points that the Huston conference still relies on an oppressor and do not
change the mindset of the population, hooks explains that a nationalized idea will not change the
psychology, but a movement not lead by people of high status.
Hooks’ feminist is defined as a “prepackaged role women can now select as the search for
identity”, (hooks 73). As a woman from the era of baby boomers, she saw how society had
withered the connotation of feminists so she diverges into a sect that is an advocate for feminism.
Hooks includes the lower class and looks down upon the bourgeois and liberal feminists who
fight for “equality”. She notices from Women and the New World that feminists from the past saw
the males as oppressors and she quotes from the pamphlet:
“We saw all women as being our allies and men being the oppressor. We never
questioned the extent to which American women accept the same materialistic
and individualistic values as American men. We did not stop to think that
American women are just as reluctant as American men to struggle for a new
society base on new values of mutual respect, cooperation and social
responsibility” (anonymous 66)
What this pamphlet states is the idea that the feminist advocate follows, it is not just the leveling
of the system, but an acceptance of the other and acknowledging that it is not all positive
strengthening to be a male. Hooks was able to criticize because of the hypocrisy she finds from
the liberal feminists, but the liberal feminists come from an earlier generation, where racial
equality was hard enough to achieve and ideas from women would be tossed out without a
thought. Hooks was capable of articulating the wrongs that the feminists from the past had done,
but they still had the same goal of attempting to be accepted.
The change of lifestyles that the 20th century exhibited has modernized the new
generation’s techniques of approaching subjects of human rights. Woolf had to write in an
evasive manner to produce questions from the reader to depict what was fiction or what was
reality. Woolf also only included the problems of the upper class women because it was her
culture and what she knew, she also knew that she was one of the few women that were educated
and to be published she had to write in a seemingly sarcastic approach. Hooks reaped the
benefits of being in the age of social acceptance. The goal of hooks was similar to Woolf, but she
looked down upon the capitalistic elitist feminists of the past. Woolf took small steps towards
gender equality because of the era she was from, and building from that, hooks was able to take a
leap for both status and gender equality.