Adrienne Rich

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Compare the arguments of Adrienne Rich and Virginia Woolf on women's education.

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Both Woolf and Rich argue that women need an education in order to achieve equality with men. However, Woolf argues that even if women have the opportunity to study, they may still not be respected or treated as equals in society. Rich argues that in order for women to achieve equality in education, they must take control of their education and demand to be taken seriously.

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Virginia Woolf’s extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” was first published in 1929. In it, Woolf argues that if women are to be equal to men they need to have their own space and their own opportunities to learn and think. The room of which Woolf writes is both literal and figurative; women need an actual place to do their work, but they also need to be free of the constraints of womanhood, such as parenting and housework. Woolf argues that even women who have been privileged enough to receive an education do not receive the same respect and place in society as do men.

Adrienne Rich was born the year Woolf published her famous essay. Decades later, in 1977, Rich gave a lecture called "Claiming an Education," later published in the magazine The Common Woman, in which she argues that women (who, by the later twentieth century, were going to college in much higher numbers) must take responsibility for their equality in education; she asserts that instead of receiving an education, women must claim it. She also recognizes how inherently sexist most fields still remain. She writes, “I have said that the contract on the student's part involves that you demand to be taken seriously so that you can also go on to take yourself seriously.”

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I certainly think that there can be an evolution seen in both thinkers' views about women's education.  For Woolf, the driving force behind her thought on the subject resided in the equality of opportunity.  One of the most elemental properties of her work, "A Room of One's Own," is the idea that if education and intellectual advancement had been made as available to women as it had been to men, there would be more notable women intellectual giants.  In democratizing education, Woolf argues that this becomes the first step towards equality of the genders.  For Rich, this argument is still present, but she also approaches education from the point of view that more women receive education and the question becomes what to do with it.  Rich's belief is that where Woolf sought to equalize out opportunity, women in fact have to appropriate what is rightfully theirs within the social and education lexicon in order to establish their own identity.  This "re-visioning the literature" phase is to work on both an intellectual and psychological level, something that Rich thinks has to be done in order to ensure that there is a complete acknowledgement of voice and not a socially imposed silencing of it.

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