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  • Stephanie Elie-Martin

Virginia Woolf: Leader & Feminist Inspiration

Many high school and collegiate students have studied the works of Virginia Woolf; however, few have stopped to contemplate her revolutionary leadership in the early days of the feminist movement. Virginia Woolf is a British writer best, and most widely, known for her novels most keenly Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse. Her awe inspiring literary contributions almost pale in comparison to her passionate dedication to liberating females from the oppressive patriarchal hold that dominated the pre-WWI era. Living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Woolf lived, wrote, and spoke at a time when industrialism, and world wars were altering the social, cultural landscape. These revolutionary factors provided the first opportunity for woman to step outside the confined role of housewife and caregiver and into a freer and more expressive space. Woolf impassioned by the limitations pressed upon her spoke vigilantly against the male patriarchal system advocating for equal rights for woman and positioning her as one of the earliest leaders of the feminist movement.

Virginia Woolf was a literary scholar and natural born leader. She was born to an affluent household with the unique and privileged opportunity to be educated in the classics before eventually attending the Ladies’ Department of King’s College. Her access to her father’s vast library and jealousy of her brother’s Cambridge education most certainly influenced and impassioned the young leader. Woolf was passionate about communication and literature and was a fervent advocate for intentional and thoughtful communication and writing. Her passion for literary commentary resulted in some of the first literary analysis based on gender. She oft criticized her contemporaries for their gender bias and sexist sexuality. She aimed to give voice and attention to female narratives and bring the female story out from the gendered hand of males and into the rightful hand of a free and passionate female writers.

In many of her essays, letters to like minded thinkers, and her seminole feminist work A Room of One’s Own Woolf illustrates the oppressive and dominating narrative perpetuated by the omnipresence of male voices. Woolf sought to validate the vast array of the ordinary daily experiences of woman whose stories had otherwise been silenced by male dominated narratives. She passionately advocated against male voices attempting to marginalize female narratives by telling female stories through patriarchal lenses aimed at perpetuating the stereotypical oppression and dehumanization of the female mind. Her rallying cry was that the female experience needed told by female voices rising together to validate the feminine experience. These stories and voices would thus be the liberating factors empowering and propelling woman out from behind the four walls of a home and into the male dominated public sphere.

Woolf’s usage of stream of consciousness as a literary device as well as constructing sentences whose cadence revealed the internal dialogue of her character’s minds bolstered her overt call for feminine equality. While male dominated literature painted females as vapid or devoid of original contributions Woolf’s work challenged this through intentional sentence construction and presentation of female forward stories. In A Room of One’s Own she vary clearly spells out the need for female writers to seek their own voice utilizing sentence structure and tone that spoke to them and not to their male ilk who dominated the literary scene. She advocated not only more female cen

tric stories, but more feminine ways of telling them.

A Room of One’s Own was also pivotal in that she acknowledges her own privilege which enabled her to write based upon her financial freedom. As the title of the work suggests she strongly advocates for the literal and figurative space for woman in the literary and public spaces. She openly empathizes and criticizes the female oppression by means of poverty and familial constraints. Her self awareness transcended that of many of her contemporaries enabling her to construct beautiful and compelling commentary that was too brilliant to be ignored.

Virginia Woolf remains an unparalleled literary force. Her passionate advocacy for women's suffrage and her ability to communicate in a manner superior to most of her contemporaries enabled one of the first, and greatest, feminist leaders. The turning of her own limitations into a passionate cry for feminine equality is still looked upon as one of most brilliant and influential stories in the early feminist movement. Woolf gave voice to the female narrative in a way that had been scarcely, if at all, seen before her. She foraged new roads by cultivating new cadences and syntactic construction unique to the feminine story. She used her privilege and power to advocate for all the women with no space and no voice to do so for themselves. She is still a brilliant reminder of the power of communication and a passionate, driven heart. Virginia Woolf very much deserves the admiration as of one of the earliest feminist leaders. “For most of history anonymous was a woman” that is until Virginia Woolf came along.

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