I’ve been re-reading Virginia Woolf’s famous, wonderful essay “A Room of One’s Own”.
For the unfamiliar: English novelist Woolf wrote an essay on women and writing, women and their careers essentially, and why there haven’t been enough women creating fiction.
A brilliant woman in her own right and an unusual one for having benefited from the same education given to her brother (which meant she knew Greek and Latin, and read the important things one is supposed to when you take education seriously), Woolf very wisely highlights how women have been left far behind in accomplishment not because they are lacking in any intellectual or ambitious way, but because they haven’t got any money.
In order to write, she wrote, women need a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year.
Which means women need to be financially independent and to have a private space that nobody else invades in order for them to be productive and profitable members of society.
In other words, people with actual clout, people whom other people take seriously.
She writes of how men have benefited from being the holders of wealth for centuries, and so universities and places of knowledge have been enriched by men, for men.
You can’t think of wonderful philosophy when you are cold and hungry, you can’t write the great novel when there are children to be fed and washed.
In a wonderfully witty description of a fictitious academic friend, Woolf writes about how they railed against the friend’s long-dead mother, about why she didn’t put aside having children and make her fortune instead, so that the dreary, tightly-budgeted ladies college fictional friend belongs to could have been made more comfortable? The catch was if the mother had been wealthy from her own labours, the friend probably wouldn’t have existed.
Because to be financially independent, you have to be independent of many things that tie you down, and children are the primary source of that encirclement.
It’s an interesting and fraught hornet’s nest to poke, the dilemma of women and children.
On the one hand the mother-woman is revered to the point of sainthood, the eternal nurturer, the bearer of all that is good and kind in the world.
Theirs is the praying heart, the cool hand laid upon your fevered brow, the sweet gentle voice singing lullabies.
Anyone who is actually a mother knows this to be quackery that only men could invent.
Children are a challenge from the minute they take up residence in your womb.
They are simultaneously the most beautiful thing you ever saw and the hardest task you’ll ever face.
They are also, thanks to patriarchy and our own particularly charming brand of cultural practice, entirely their mother’s problem.
Childcare has never been within the purview of men in this part of the world, even if you are a man who wants to give his baby a bottle it is not your “job” to do it.
Fathers aren’t expected to help look after their children in any way other than financial, and since the actual raising of children is an exhausting, messy, smelly and repetitive process, precious few men actually volunteer to be a part of it.
There are scores of women who feel the same, no doubt, but since biology dictates they gave birth then they are also expected to do all the dirty work.
So when you’re in a position where you’re single-handedly raising your children, when do you get to work? If your husband is at work all day and you have nobody to leave your children with, how are you going to earn your five hundred a year?
The simple fact is you won’t.
It’s really quite convenient to have educated mothers so they can read labels on medicine bottles and be presentable when you bring people home from work, but mothers who actually want to do something with their education is another, dire situation altogether.
Women’s work is in the home, of course.
It’s their “job” to love washing dishes and making four different breakfasts and staying up all night with the vomiting child.
A job is a cute little thing you do on the side to make some pocket money, like a little tailoring business or baking cupcakes.
Something nice you can do “from home”, so the children won’t be neglected, but also doesn’t make you any important money.
As Woolf pertinently mentions in her essay, for a long time women weren’t allowed to own any money or property, so the motivation to actually do something with your talents was minimal because at the end your husband took it all away from you.
They still do, in fact.
Take a look at the nearest female help in your house.
Chances are her husband is a drug addict, extremely old, ill or a combination of the three and she’s been working her entire life to support her family.
Chances are if it isn’t her husband taking her wages, it’s her father.
If your husband isn’t taking your money, you probably don’t have any.
In our part of the world women work only if they are forced to by their circumstances, or as a hobby.
It isn’t even class-specific; many families across economic lines don’t like their women to work—going out into the world to make money is seen as a vulgar thing to do as well as an affront to the abilities of the men of the family to look after their women.
In short, women having money is a problem because money gives you freedom.
If you don’t need someone else to pay for your clothes, your college fees, your house rent, then their value in your life is based on other qualities they may or may not have, and thus may or may not continue to be relevant in your life.
If you have gone through life never developing a likeable personality or loveable qualities, you’ll understandably be in a pretty sticky situation.
So there are two choices: be a better person, or squash the reason why you have to take all that trouble.
Imagine the possibilities of being a woman with serious money.
No wonder so many men run scared.