A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

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What does Time's 1937 description of Virginia Woolf suggest about the perception of intellectual women then? Has this perception changed?

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Time's description of Virginia Woolf tells us a lot about public perception of literary women in the 1930s. They emphasize her familial status, her "neglected" appearance, and her solitude, and they do so in language that suggests each of these choices is an aberration from the standard experience.

They specify that she "has no children," using negating language to define the absence of something expected by default—even outside the context of the actual sentiments expressed by the writer of the article, this sentence structure is heavily weighted to illustrate her deviation from the traditional, expected path for women.

When the magazine tells us she is "careless of her clothes, her face, her greying hair," they're suggesting that despite the brilliant mind underneath, these are where she should be spending her energy. She's considered remarkable enough to grace the cover of Time, and likely would not have gotten there if she had distracted herself with the business of being traditional and beautiful, yet the article takes care to criticize these choices. They're careful to let us know how she's failing to meet their expectations as a woman, despite exceeding their expectations as a writer.

You asked for an opinion about whether this has changed, and my experience is that it has—there have been steps progressing forward and sliding back over time, both organically and through organized efforts, and there's still a long way to go toward equity. But the way we as a culture talk about women has shifted significantly, and this has especially accelerated in the past decade or so—as we make more of an effort to center and foreground the experiences of women and minorities, our perception of what a "default person" and expected life trajectory looks like has expanded.

Consider whether this opinion gels with your own experience and perception of the world around you as you answer this part of your assignment. Does this feel true to your experience? If so, why? If not, why not?

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