Good example of money is the key to stepping out of the mirror essay

In A Room of One’s Own, which is based on lectures she gave at two women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge in England, Virginia Woolf (1928) is trying to answer an unframed question about women and fiction. She says that “ a woman must have money and she must have a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”(4). I argue that Woolf is right, but that a woman needs money to stop being just a reflection of a man.
Woolf asks why men write about women. She says that men are attracted to the subject of women, even “ men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not women.” (26) What Woolf shows us is that men are merely seeing their own reflection when they attempt to write about women. She says that women are taught that they are to be a mirror to men and that men need women to be that mirror in order to assert themselves. “ Mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.” (35) Men will maintain the difference in status, because their own status is dependent on women having a lower one.
She speaks about the anger that she sees in men and in their writing about women. She shows how that anger can only be distorting the image they have of women. She wonders why men with all their power should be angry. It is because they need to show that they are not women and because they have the power. “ Rich people, for example, are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their wealth.” (33) So men may be angry because they suspect women may want to seize their power. Money and control over it is a great part of that power.
A reflection cannot act on its own, it can only mirror the actions of the real person. The situation that a woman is simply a reflection of a man means that there are no marks by which to measure women. There are no women mentioned in history.
Men write about women but they cannot speak for them. The problem of having no understanding of someone else’s situation is Woolf’s point. Men only have their own experience, so all they can portray is women as a mirror image of men. Without writing by women about women’s experience, they just stay as that reflection. Even the women who did write in the 19th century, did so by using a man’s name, Woolf notes, “ The desire to be veiled still possesses them.”(50)
Linda Alcoff talks about this in The Problem of Speaking for Others, (1992). She makes a difference between speaking for and on behalf of someone. She says that there are many situations when someone has to speak on behalf of someone else because they are authorized to do so. But there are problems in speaking for someone. She talks about how a person has no knowledge or understanding of the situation of someone else. She notes that “ In particular, the practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”(4) But she also raises the point that speaking only for oneself is problematic. “ if I don’t speak for those less privileged than myself, am I abandoning my political responsibility to speak out against oppression?”(5)
This is a fair point, but it’s not Woolf’s point. Alcoff is largely speaking of the difficulties of oppressed minorities, whereas Woolf is arguing that over half the population are misrepresented because they are given no means to speak.
In The Second Sex (1952), Simone de Beauvoir says that women must act. For her, it is a question of becoming, of a woman creating herself. Women are the second sex, the lesser in status. She shows women as being the supporters, the ones who do maintenance jobs. They make the world work, but for de Beauvoir, they are more like shadows than reflections. It is only through action that women can stop being the second sex. De Beauvoir calls for women to act, to create, to write great works, as though just by having the will to do it, they could, whereas Woolf has an awareness that women cannot do that, they cannot step out of the mirror without the financial means, without money. She returns again and again to her own good fortune in receiving an inheritance from her aunt.
De Beauvoir shows how power moved from women to men because of money. “ Woman was dethroned at the advent of private property.” (82) Women had power over reproduction, but when people – men, started owning property, they started owning their children and women. This echoes Woolf’s thoughts about why men are angry.
At the beginning of A Room of One’s Own, Woolf gives a view of women not being allowed to access that world of men, that a woman’s world is a poor reflection of it. The Beadle sees off the woman who is enjoying the pleasant surroundings of a men’s college. Ladies are only admitted if accompanied by a Fellow.
She points out that the presence of women doesn’t affect the famous library that they are not allowed to enter, this idea is a social construct, and the social construct in Woolf’s day was that of men and the inability of women to challenge it.
She contrasts the lavish food at a luncheon in a men’s college with the poor fare at a women’s one. Food is symbolic of luxury in general and she acknowledges that “ coal-miners were doubtless sitting down to less”. (17) She shows how the women’s colleges were built on the minimum amount of money that needed to be raised and that there was no money left for luxuries and non-basic staff (such as a Beadle).
She refers frequently to how poverty impoverishes experience, that poorer people do menial jobs just to get by, just as women have to, because they have no access to jobs which provide a good income. In days gone by, she says, woman had no power over any money they did earn, because woman could neither own property nor have any rights over money. She hypothesises that if women had access to money, they may be able to explore their writing skills. So money allows her not to be a mirror, but to act for herself.
Money is the key for Virginia Woolf. Throughout her paper she makes the link between poverty and women’s situation. She shows how money is the starting point, that those with money are in a position to make a mark that other women can measure themselves by instead of only having men as the real people that women are just a reflection of, and not a very accurate one.


Woolf, Virginia. 1928. A Room of One’s Own:
http://ebooks. adelaide. edu. au/w/woolf/virginia/w91r/frontmatter1. html
Alcoff, Linda. The Problem of Speaking for Others. Cultural Critique (Winter, 1991-1992) pp5-32: http://www. jstor. org/stable/1354221
De Beauvoir, Simone. 1952. The Second Sex translated by H. M. Parshley, New York : Vintage.