Hello everyone! It is the fourth week, and we are now diving right in. To begin, we went over some class announcements that including the announcement of the East Bay Women’s Conference (EBWC) (sold out) and an event at UC Berkeley with Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs. As EBWC is sold out, here is information on the conversation at UC Berkeley:
Friday, March 2, 2012 | 4:00pm – 6:00pm
ON REVOLUTION: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis
Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley
Admission free; open to the general public
Since it is free, we should all try to be there! We can all plan a time to meet to try to get in together.
Next, we went over the Personal Bibliographical Archive Assignment that is due next week. If you are missing the hand out, here is the link for an electronic copy: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/feminist-philosophy-personal-bibliographical-archive.doc
A lot of you weren’t sure how to set this up. I mentioned one of my ten influential “events” in my life that I used for the assignment, which was Beauty and the Beast. I am going to share with you what I wrote for this when I turned in the assignment, just so you can get an idea:
1) Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. By Linda Woolverton, Paige O’Hara, and Robby Benson. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc., 1991. Videocassette.
As a little kid, I really adored this Walt Disney classic more than all the others. I even dressed up as Belle for Halloween in the first grade. I remember I used to watch it over and over again; I just couldn’t get enough of the story. I was an expert on rewinding and pressing play. Aside from still knowing all the songs, what sticks to me until this day is the romance! That love story—I find it kind of nauseating now—made me daydream and long for that first kiss. Longing a little to much, maybe. I began to believe that some day some boy was just going to take me away and make me happy. I was heading towards some great eye-openers later on in life.
You’d be surprised how much Disney can influence your life. This assignment can be pretty fun if you want to have fun with it. You may think it is hard to think of ten things, but more often than not there is way more than ten to write about.
To continue, on the back of this assignment are the class discussion “rules” that we went over in the beginning of class. Please keep these in mind when you participate in the classroom. We are going to dive into topics that are sensitive, controversial, debatable and we all need to ensure that everyone is respected, has a chance to speak, is listened to and feels safe to contribute. These guidelines are not in reaction to any discussion, but rather just some ground rules so that we can make the most out of our time in class.
We also discussed (in transition between the discussion of Mill and Woolf) the first reading response. We did not go over it yet, just passed out the prompts. Click here for the guidelines to the reading responses. Please bring the handout with the prompts with you next class if you have any questions, I will put up the electronic copy as soon as possible.
In addition, we also had a syllabus update. We are switching the readings for Week 7 and Week 8. We will be reading John Berger for March 7th lecture and the following week we will read Luce Irigaray and Audre Lorde and have the screening of ! Women Art Revolution. All due dates remain the same for the Reading Response and Take-Home Midterm. Thelma and Louise will now be a screening for extra-credit, with more information on that assignment to come.
Now on to lecture!
Week 4: We jumped into John Stuart Mill’s “The Subjection of Women.” Written in 1851, it was not published until 1869 when Mill believed a better suited time arose to have a piece regarding the status of woman made available to the public. The work was possibly written with (or some believe even by) Harriet Taylor Mill, his wife.
Mill was a utilitarian, and “The Subjection of Women” was based upon this philosophy. Utilitarianism is a theory of ethics that prescribes the quantitative maximization of good consequences for a population–“the greatest good for the greatest number.” It is connected with the Aristotelian concepts we discussed before, that all aims are for the good. Mill’s father James Mill and Jeremy Bantham were the founders and proponents. Therefore, when he was born, his father saw him as a way to keep this philosophy going.
Mill grew up amongst these ideas, his father hoping to keep this philosophy alive through his son. Mill had a sheltered childhood so that he could become the “genius” his father hoped for. He would read and master classical Greek and Latin texts before the age of 10. He was not allowed to play with other children, other than his siblings, and he was the oldest. Obviously, by the age of 21 he experienced a nervous breakdown. He discovers poetry and recovers.
Although he has a strict education and a very involved utilitarian father, Mill was still able to believe and create his own utilitarian philosophy. Unlike his father, he did not believe that men were the only ones to benefit from these ideas but also that women were entitled. Hence, the text we had to read for class.
In “The Subjection of Women,” Mill wants to include women in the population utilitarianism boasts. In the utilitarian argument, all races and class are included in this population but the population referred to is actually just the men. When Mill approaches this, he wants to include women and his argument in “Subjection” moves forward this idea.
In his essay, his intended audience is men and there are two main points he highlights for them:
- The legal subordination of one sex to the other is wrong.
- This wrong should be replaced by a principal of perfect equality between the sexes.
Throughout the essay, Mill tries to breakdown the belief (universality, popular sentiment) that women are the lesser sex with the inability to do very much. Keeping women down is actually harmful to society. He states that if men are superior, this must be rooted in rationality and not in feelings, sentiments because these are irrational. The opinion of women is not based on reason, therefore it must be changed. Mill writes that men may discover that women do have abilities and agency. There will be proof that makes it undeniable. However, even if they cannot deny it, they will still not believe it.
We also ran into Kant and his duty in this discussion. Mill believes the actions of the population is the concentration, while Kant believes it is the actions of an individual. Here is a short video on the categorical imperative that came up:
Also notable, both Wollstonecraft and Mill relate woman’s position to that of slavery. This was related to the time their works were written, and this is useful if you wish to discuss the “natural” state of woman (one of the prompts for the reading responses). Keep this in mind when reviewing both these texts.
Next, we go onto Virginia Woolf. Woolf was born in 1882 and died, by suicide, in 1941. She was a very prolific writer who suffered a great deal of loss. In a short amount of time, she looses most of her family and rightfully suffers a prolonged mental breakdown. She was part of The Bloomsbury Group in London, which was made up of various intellectuals, artists, writers, philosophers who also were all intertwined through personal, romantic and/or sexual relationships. Woolf, although happily married to Leonard Woolf, had relationships outside the marriage with other women. Her most influential relationship with a woman was with Vita Sackville-West. She was a leading writer of modernism, which was a cultural movement between WWI and WWII. Modernism was rooted in the changes occurring in modern society, one in which trauma had become the norm and there was a reexamining of every aspect of existence. In writing, it gave rise to stream of consciousness, breaks in time, break from grammar, and similar methods that moved away from convention.
Here is a video, part 3 of 3 of a documentary about Woolf. The whole film is recommended, but this part highlights her relationship with women and the end of her life right before the invasion of the Germans (her husband was Jewish) and her eventual suicide.
Focusing on A Room of One’s Own (1929), it important to note that this is based upon lectures given to the women’s colleges at Cambridge. It is an extended essay that talks about “Women and Fiction,” leading to Woolf’s points on what a women needs to write fiction. Women need:
- 500₤ a year, as to not worry about things like rent and food.
- Space is need, a room of one’s own to write.
In this text, she plays with authority in writing, speaking of the process and her own process instead of giving a traditional lecture. She takes time to describe things that are normally overlooked, in order to consider woman’s writing and such things as her suitable sentence (remember all the food?) This is all to elaborate on the themes of her work:
- The importance of money
- Subjectivity of truth
- Gender inequality
- Representation of Women
- A room of one’s own.
She uses other techniques to discuss these themes, in modernist fashion, as well. Irony becomes important at this time, and Woolf embraces it. Irony is saying one thing and meaning another (a subtext). Irony destroys the signifier/signified relationship. Sarcasm takes it a step further, and Woolf utilizes this as well. She also uses a subjective “I” although this “I” isn’t her, and she is various characters. She also invents places, jumps around these places and even jumps around in time. All very modernist things to do.
Below is a video of a woman acting out the text of Woolf’s work. It begins talking of Judith Shakespeare, describing the impossibility of a great woman writer in the 16th century (and later) and ends at the part about the greatness of Shakespeare’s mind and what it represents.
Although Woolf makes excellent points, she has been criticized as elitist and focusing on, specifically, “women of genius.” An elitist is a person who believes that a system or society should be ruled or dominated by the elite, the elite being who is considered the “best” in a particular society or category because of their power, talent, or wealth. In other words, a snob. She is not interested in all women, or women’s rights, but rather on women who have what she considers the mind to write but can’t. Regardless of her position, she does make some profound remarks about the status of women as writers that are still valuable today.
If you’re interested what it would sound like if Woolf herself was reading this essay to you, here is a YouTube video that provides us the only surviving recording of her voice:
Next Week: For next week, please read to the end of A Room of One’s Own. We will also be watching the feature-film Orlando, which is a film based on the book Woolf wrote at the same time as writing A Room of One’s Own. Below is the trailer in case any of you are curious. It is a very beautiful film starring the marvelous Tilda Swinton and is direct by Sally Potter. See you next week!