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phebe314's picture

Three Guineas

From the first guinea: 

"the daughters of educated men have always done their thinking from hand to mouth; not under green lamps at study tables in the cloisters of secluded colleges."

As you and I recall, Barbara, that was not true of women at Bryn Mawr. We did have the green lamps and the cloister. [:-)

Woolf says that women must be educated and earn an independent living in the professions before they can expect to prevent war. If they are not independent, they will mimic the opinions of the men they are dependent on.


However, her letter-to-the-editor antagonist Mr. Joad is unimpressed. He says,

“Before the war money poured into the coffers of the W.S.P.U. in order that women might win the vote which, it was hoped, would enable them to make war a thing of the past. The vote is won,” Mr Joad continues, “but war is very far from being a thing of the past.”


My sympathies are with Mr. Joad: he was, after all, correct. It has been 70 years since the Three Guineas, and though we have the vote, there is more war than ever.


Woolf assumes if women have power we will want to and be able to stop war: I doubt both those assumptions. It seems clear where she went wrong -- she assumes war is simply a bad habit men adopt:


"For though many instincts are held more or less in common by both sexes, to fight has always been the man’s habit, not the woman’s. Law and practice have developed that difference, whether innate or accidental. Scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman’s rifle..."


There are other ways of viewing the matter: war is instinctive, hard-wired, sex-linked. War is perhaps the male contribution to the Malthusian Dilemma. Ours is productive: we reproduce until we hit the limits, like all life forms on earth do. Theirs is to transform those limits into a genetic competition with other humans -- which genes take over the new resource area, and which die?


Clever of Woolf, however, to change such an over-disputed and hopeless topic such as "preventing war" into what she is actually interested in, education and independence of women.



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