Bowlby and Woolf – Feminist Writing (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

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Bowlby and Woolf, on Feminist Writing

Bowlby declares that feminine writing is a form which ‘throws into question the status of all [other forms]’[1], defying the conventions of masculine writing. She states that ‘feminine writing… [allows] the body and the unconscious [to be] expressed… without the intervention of patriarchal codings and compartmentalisations’[2]. This female insight and approach could prove beneficial, ‘[encompassing] women’s values [and producing] … new… possibilities for fiction’[3]. Making a claim for a form of literature which belongs to and represents only women (a ‘single and homogeneous female tradition[4]’) sheds light on the fact that current forms are predominately masculine.

Woolf enthusiastically contributes to the feminine challenge of conventional language and form, declaring that the form of a ‘man’s sentence… [is] unsuited for a woman’s use’[5], unless she takes up ‘a man’s materials or a man’s identity’[6]. In saying this, she recognises the possibility of ‘a difference [in] linguistic style according to the writer’s sex… [and] of determining the sex of the writer on the basis of stylistic evidence’[7]. This ‘hypothesis of a man’s and a woman’s sentence suggests that there is a difference in the form of the language suitable to each sex’[8].

However, whilst men are allowed to possess the masculine form of the sentence completely, Bowlby believes that the women’s form is passively defined, and exists only as an alternative to the unsuitable male sentence. This limitation put upon women, and the persistent insistence that women are ‘inferior’, serves to fix the sexes in a static relationship, in which women are understood only in relation to their use, purpose and how they are perceived by their male counterparts. However, Woolf genuinely believes that these divisions can be overcome, but only when ‘womanhood [ceases] to be a protected occupation’[9] and society drops the ‘assumptions founded on… facts observed when women were the protected sex’[10].

 


 

[1] R Bowlby, ‘The Trained Mind’, in Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), pg28

[2] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg28

[3] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg26

[4] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg23

[5] V. Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (St Ives: Penguin, 2000), pg73

[6] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg25

[7] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg25

[8] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg26

[9] A Room of One’s Own, pg42

[10] A Room of One’s Own, pg42

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