Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

Advice to women. Not.

14 Feb

createordie-neon

 

Were I ever to give advice to women which I wouldn’t because I continue to learn that the ways in which I can be stupid are infinitely more numerous than the ways in which I can be smart and to give advice to anyone it ought to be the other way around, but if, stupidly, I disregarded that little spark of self-knowledge and went ahead anyway, I would say, a woman in a family must resist the domination of the managerial if she wants her creativity to survive.

By the “managerial” I mean that aspect of ourselves so competent, so deft, so practical, so capable it could run a global corporation with one hand tied behind its back, and blindfolded. In my life as a partner and mother, and in the lives of many women I know, this aspect became so dominant it stole the oxygen from every other. This occurred as much because it suited everyone else that I manage the family’s daily affairs as it did because I thought I was supposed to.

Virginia Woolf grappled with  the problem the managerial can present to women, describing its pernicious influence as “The Angel in the House”  with irony and humour, but with deadly seriousness as well:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself… I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her…

For me, it wasn’t entirely about reviewing male writers and depending on charm to get me by, although the spectre of disapproval, the fear of offending and as a consequence being despatched to the margins also has to be regularly fought off if I’m going to write what I truly want to write. My recent foray into erotica, for example, was a frightening experience of voluntary vulnerability, as is any self-revelation, but if we are to write about what it is to be human, that writing will always provoke anxiety in its author, and likely at times in its readers.

As unlike Woolf we had no household staff, for me the managerial was about knowing where everybody’s socks were, remembering the washing and the shopping and the cooking and the lunches and the driving and the.. look, I can’t even bear to go back there, you all know what I mean. I lost myself. I became The Manager, and worst of all, I found it almost impossible to turn her off in my head. I came to hate her. She was like the strangler fig parasitically stealing the life of the rainforest tree.

This suited everybody in the family, but it didn’t suit me.

One of the wisest pieces of advice any woman ever gave me was to cultivate absent-mindedness. For example, when people asked me where their socks were I would gaze thoughtfully at them for much longer than necessary. I would assume a puzzled expression and tug at my lip. Oh, darling, I would say finally, I know I saw them somewhere but I can’t think where…

I had to strictly discipline myself  in order to be able to do this. My every conditioned impulse urged me to take responsibility for everything in our household’s daily life, and this conditioning had to be constantly and consistently resisted. Family members do not easily relinquish their dependencies, and tend to passively and aggressively fight changes in a wife and mother with every bone in their bodies. I think it was harder than giving up smoking, and there were no quit lines to help me.

It took quite some time, but eventually I noticed they weren’t asking me to manage their entire lives for them quite as often as they used to. Then one morning I overheard one child saying to another, I’ll ask Mum. She won’t know, replied the other, she’ll just look at you as if she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, she never knows where anything is, we’ll have to find it ourselves.

And I knew I’d done it.

This proved to me that you can’t change anybody but yourself and if you do change yourself there is a good chance that  people who really love you will eventually learn put up with it, and change as well.

There are many advantages in being thought a muppet by your family. Muppets are not renowned for their managerial abilities, and nobody expects it of them.

Sometimes, it’s the only way the creative woman survives.

Many thanks for the inspiration for this post to the lovely M, who sends me a poem to wake up to every morning. The two words “managerial mess” in this poem by Jennifer Strauss, What Women Want  summed up an entire period of my life. 

 

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Slut bias at The Drum narrowly averted

28 May

osocio.org

I’ve lost count of how many articles were published on The Drum this week about the latest expression of exuberant youthful feminism, the slut walk. In case anybody’s managed to remain unaware of just what a slut walk is, it’s a reclaim the word march invented by some middle class Toronto women (girls, ladies, molls,chicks, whatever) in reaction to a now world famous policeman who recklessly remarked that women shouldn’t dress like sluts if they don’t want to be raped.

I’m not even going to begin unpacking this statement, or the outrage it has provoked.  You’ll find it all in the hundreds of million articles on the Drum this week, from every possible perspective.

As if in a desperate attempt to portray women in another, holier light, Neer Korn offers an article titled Mothers still stuck in the guilt trap. “Selfishness is an aspiration for Australian mums,” Neer tells us. “They admire those women who speak with pride about having a stash of chocolate that no one in the family knows about, or of getting away for a couple of hours each week to indulge in a sport or meet up with girlfriends.”

“Australian mums display an attitude of martyrdom when it comes to balancing life’s needs,” he continues.

I haven’t worked out if Korn’s is a satirical piece or not. It has to be, right?

The piece triggered a memory of  Virginia Woolf’s protests against what she called “the angel in the house.” This was an aspect of herself  Woolf worked like a drover’s dog to herd into a pen, (sorry) having decided it was an impediment to both writing and being. She describes her thus:

She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught, she sat in it – in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all – I need not say it – she was pure. 

That sounds like Korn’s Australian mum, I thought. Sitting in draughts scoffing chocolate she’s hidden from her family. Her one act of self-care, and she feels guilt-ridden about taking even that. Mind you, it does demonstrate a capacity for rat cunning. I never managed to hide chocolate from my family. I hid it under cushions, wrapped it in Glad Wrap and stuck it in shoes, dug holes in the garden and buried it (the dog got it that time), all to no avail. The only way to be certain I got the chocolate I deserved in my household was to eat it at the check out.

I have to hand it to the Drum for publishing Korn’s piece. In doing so they achieved a whore/madonna balance without which they might have found themselves under serious critical attack for their slut bias.

anti slut walkers

Two voices raised in feminist protest against slut walks are our very own Melinda Tankard Reist, and the woman Ben Pobjie, in a clever satirical piece at New Matilda, calls a “cock-blocker.” Guessed it yet? Yes, that’s right, it’s Gail Dines. Here ‘s a picture of the two of them cozying up at an anti slut walkers conference. Or maybe it was an anti pornography conference. Or maybe it was a how to hide your chocolate from the kids and still be a good mother conference.

I’ve never found the word slut to be offensive. When used as a weapon it says a lot more about the nature and beliefs of the individual using it than it does about its target. Well done, all you slut walkers for sticking it to those who want to put us down through their vicious co-option of language! Well done for reminding us that like the man kicked by a donkey, a wise slut overlooks the insult when she considers its source!

And heed this advice, sister sluts: stay out of draughts, never settle for less than the chicken’s breast, and tell your whining family to get over it, move on, the chocolate’s yours.

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