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Notes Towards Day 3 (T, Jan. 24): Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

Anne Dalke's picture


Per Wikipedia: "Guinea ... is by itself a badge of social class, the money amount of 21 shillings (1.05 pounds sterling) for which no coin existed, but the common denomination for solely upper-class transactions (e.g., purchase of pictures or race-horses, lawyers' or medical specialists' fees, and so on.)"

Woolf is unusually precise in her use of categories: she speaks only about the "daughters of educated men"; she was aware that she was not representative of all women (an ungenerous reading would be that this just gives her an alibi for not thinking about others, those maids in private houses that were so imprisoning for wealthy women, those women living under the British Empire in other sites around the world....).

Using decidedly "classed" language, Woolf gives three guineas "to the same cause, for the causes are the same and inseparable":

  • establishing a woman's college
  • supporting a professional women's organization,
  • and preventing war.
We'll explore in a minute whether you acknowledge these particular "entanglements," or see others.
But first...

* 22 Serendip registrations, a few more avatars, and 18 postings--> how'd that go?
any hang-ups/celebrations? (technological or psychological or...?)
if you haven't registered/posted, do that this afternoon

* sign in sheet

* sign up for writing conferences sheet -->

* to discuss your first 4-pp. web "event," due a week
from Friday (= posted on Serendip by 8 p.m. on Feb. 3rd):
exploring a question  that has arisen for you from our conversations so far...
what do you not yet know about feminism, which you'd like to learn more about?

(Sojourner Truth's speeches, Christina Rossetti's poetry/politics, Va. Woolf's other essays, novels,
Marjane Satrapi's graphic narrative; connecting any of these w/ contemporary issues that matter to you....)
come w/ a thought/proposal, and we'll brainstorm a project together
(but come while there's still time for brainstorming!)

for Thursday's class, finish (if you haven't already) Three Guineas

II. Your postings
* use evocative titles: "week 1 response" isn't going draw anyone in!
* how do we want to refer to one another? by name or usernames?
("as mentioned by Debbie in class....")
* on using images and active links
* consider sometimes "adding new comment" on instead of  "posting" your thoughts
* reorganized a bit to turn your individual posts into a collaborative conversation!

pejordan: I’ll start with my thoughts about the course in general...I’d never really thought about taking responsibility for helping others learn...Framing the course as a potluck in this way resonated with me

1/2 of you puzzled over the varied meanings of Goblin Market-->
bluebox, melel:
as a vampire story, w/ contemporary resonances (like the Twilight Series....)
FrigginSushi: on sisterhood and equality
hwink, sekang: curious about Jeanie (and lesbianism?)
meowwalex: on eroticism, and adult nostalgia for the child's life?
michelle.lee: a cautionary tale for all types of addictions...whether ... sexual addiction or substance abuse
epeck, dchin: should Rossetti be "@ the table"?--about female victimization, in childish form
MC: introducing the course with Christina Rosetti is acceptable, as it lets us explore a work of fiction that was often ignored because of its subject, style, and author.

the other 1/2 was more interested in the question of whether you have/want a place @ the table:

I'm kind of stuck wondering if feminism is too narrow in general ... still seems stuck on the idea that having a vagina = being a woman .... However, I still do identify myself as a feminist ... because I hesitate to self select out of a category that I would like to change.

rayj: For all my post-modern ideals of identity, I still cling to these incomplete and imperfect categorizations like feminist to define my identity, my politics, and my way of life, because of the community such an identification entitles me to.

Colleen Ryanne: I am what I would call a "baby feminist" ... early in my academic journey ... what I understand of feminism, is a word that can mean many different things to many different people.

feminism can have all different meanings depending on the person and context

My initial reaction to the word “feminist”, when considering whether I associate with it or not, is that it is an exclusive group ... the word is used by many groups of people, some of which I would not agree with .... I am completely assured in defining myself as a feminist, according to my own definition of feminism. I know that I need much more information (presumably from this class!) before I can define myself as as feminist according to any one else’s definition.

abayla50: I believe that there needs to be a change in the defining of women. Could it be that the biological make up of a person can have no bearing on gender? That a person can be free to identify as anything they want? Or that women can be free to define themselves, without being shunned by other women (or anyone) for not fitting criterion that have been limiting from the start?

amophrast: color-coded clothes marketing -> I would like to reinforce the call for feminist men at the dinner table.

MC: Feminism has a complex history of not only different waves, but different circles of thought within those waves ... Some branches of feminism also have a very uncomfortable history of being exclusionary towards non-white and non-cisfemale women ... Right now my definition of feminism is every thought I have exploring what it means to tear down broken systems and build new ones in their place, what it means to carefully examine the world around me and the spheres of influence that I interact in, and what it means to be angry and frustrated with society when few people care to listen. I feel like listening, particularly to people who are often given no voice or agency, is a solid tenant of feminism.

Virginia Woolf! "What more fitting than to destroy an old word, a vicious and corrupt word that has done much harm in its day and is now obsolete? The word 'feminist"...  no longer has a meaning. And a word without a meaning is a dead word, a corrupt word. Let us therefore celebrate the occasion by cremating  the corpse" (Three Guineas, p. 101).

III. the conceit of Three Guineas is that Woolf's responding
to a letter writer who has requested a contribution.

As a way of getting us all involved in working our way towards answers
to some of the questions this raises (and addressing directly the question
of the "narrowness" of the term "feminist"), I'm distributing "guineas"
(represented by pennies) for you to engage in the same sort of "thought
experiment" that Virginia Woolf conducts. Imagine each 1 = $100.

Think (and write for a few minutes): 

  • What is feminism to you? (revisions eternally acceptable!)
  • With what causes (if any) is it inseparable?
  • To what causes will you donate your (meagre) funds?
    (Bins and labels provided.)

Va. Woolf was writing in a particular social location,
during the rise in fascism in the late 1930's, 2 decades after the passage
of a 1919 bill which allowing English women to take public work.

We are writing from different social locations
(different from hers and from one another's),
so are likely to see very different connections than she did.

Count off by 6's, to get into groups of four:
* Learn one another's names.
* Explain to one another what connections you saw,
--and why-- while I tabulate the results:

With what other causes do we associate feminism?

Any surprises here? Any questions for one another?

Any patterns? Any explanations for them?

IV. Let's (remaining in our small groups) try to get
a handle on Woolf's particular sort of feminism:

  • In her account: what is distinctive about being a woman?
    (request: don't argue w/ her yet; you may well see the world
    just try to understand/see it as she does)
  • What is her understanding of the source of sexual difference?
    (does she see it as biological/natural/essential/socially constructed?)
  • What does she see happening to such difference when social conditions change
    (i.e., when women begin taking degrees and entering the professions)?
  • Does she think that women then lose their differentness? Should they want to? Try to? Why/why not?

"'we'...must differ in some essential respects from 'you,' whose body, brain and spirit have been so differently trained and are so differently influenced by memory and tradition. Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help we can give you must be different from that you can give yourself, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference." (18)

V. Now let's try to get a handle on Woolf's "different" understanding of education:
what does she see as its aim and purpose?
"...what kind of society, what kind of human being it should seek to produce" (33)?
Should women participate in this activity?
(What would her analysis of Bryn Mawr be, as a viable site for this activity?)


"Do we wish to join that procession, or don't we? On what terms shall we join that procession?
Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?"

"The professions have a certain undeniable effect upon the professors. They make the people who practise them possessive, jealous of any infringement of their rights, and highly combative."

"to emphasize superiority ... rouses competition and jealousy ... which encourage a disposition towards war. We can refuse all such distinctions ourselves." (21)

"education, far from teaching the educated generosity and magnanimity, makes them on the contrary to anxious to keep their possessions ... that they will use ... much subtler methods than force when they are asked to share them? And are not force and possessiveness very closely connected with war?" (29-30)

"This is an awful mind- and soul-destroying life .... Sight goes .... sound goes ... Speech goes ... Humanity goes ... Health goes ... What then remains of a human being who has lost sight, sound, and sense of proportion? Only a cripple in a cave."(70-2)

"How can we enter the professions and yet remain civilized human beings ... who wish to prevent war?" (75)

[Woolf ends w/ a refusal] "to be separated from the four great teachers of the daughters of educated men--poverty, chastity, derision and freedom from unreal loyalties." (79)


What is key for me in Virginia Woolf's analysis: the claim that
any distinctions made on a single axes of value lead to...war.
I read this as a valuation of difference--
and see a very particular  educational and political agenda following directly from that.

There are limits to her vision, to her "outsider's society":
she writes with the hauteur of the privileged woman--
certainly exhibits no solidarity w/ the working class--
though she also claims none.

We'll continue this discussion on Thursday (and on-line...)