“The arts are merely a decoration imposed on the top of human life; they do not express it,” says Mr. Ramsay near the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, the transcendent novel which spans two days, a decade apart in the Ramsay household.
The book is brimming with male intelligentsia: philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and poets. The women fulfil the quintessential expectation of women in 1927 (when the book was published), and maybe even today, as explored in part two of our Jane Austen posts. Mrs. Ramsay dotes on her children, provides her husband with reassurance concerning his philosophical legacy, and tries to match make the women around her with suitors. Lily Briscoe however “need not undergo that degradation” of marriage, as while contemplating a painting she had been working on, decides she will “move the tree rather more to the middle,” and concludes that her art is what she shall obtain fulfilment from. In spite of this revelation, Lily remains without ambition towards her work, demonstrating a perhaps conditioned behaviour that women are to support men’s creativity, and she has thus developed a feminine acceptance of this.
Politics, science, business and near enough everything else are male dominated. Even if you have an attractive woman fronting a business, like in show business, the people behind the scenes, pulling the strings, are nearly always men. This is something which I think in a matter of decades can change as women, contrary to Lily, are ambitious with their skills, talents and intelligence. But often, we need to be influenced by other people, have those to look up to and aspire to be like, and eventually be better than, to be able to hone our own work. But if we refer to the milestone contributions made to our chosen fields, whether that be politics, music, art and so on, the ratio of men to women is significantly larger for the former category, making an intelligent, successful, talented woman look like an exception, or worse still, someone who had just gotten lucky. This of course is not the case, with Woolf herself being an example, however the notion that a woman’s success is dependant upon dumb luck, rather than through her intellect and ambition, is becoming more common. Or perhaps more disturbingly, it is the women who have just got lucky who are being celebrated rather than the ones possessive of skill and talent.
Today, inspirational business women such as Anita Roddick, Estee Lauder and Karren Brady seem to lose out in the role model stakes to a woman who is frequently referred to as a “businesswoman,” Katie Price—formerly known by her glamour model alias, Jordan. Price made her name by posing on Page 3, being “papped” in next to nothing coming out of clubs, going out with has been pop singers and footballers, appearing in reality shows, including her own fly on the wall series, and regularly being featured on the covers of celebrity gossip magazines such as OK! and Hello. The woman deserves the right to make a living and I’m fully executing my right to not have to buy into it, but I can’t be alone in finding her new found title of “businesswoman” a tad dubious. This is what Price is described as first and foremost whenever she is introduced on television or in articles, and it‘s the first word listed under the “Occupation“ category on Wikipedia. This label stems from the fact that she has released three autobiographies chronicling her 32 years, a series of ghost written novels about women trying to become models or singers, children’s books, underwear, jewellery, hair care and equestrian wear ranges, perfumes and more controversially, a make up range for children. With a 40 million pound fortune, the Katie Price name is a goldmine. And that is the key point, for Price has demonstrated no particular entrepreneurial spirit. Her name is simply a brand, a very popular one, so whether it’s a supermarket chain, a catalogue or a publishing house, all they have to do is invent a product, get Katie to sign a contract to do promotional duties, and it flies off the shelves. She has managed to make a brand out of herself, not a business and further examples of this can be seen throughout the world of celebrity.
English boy band JLS have recently brought out their own range of condoms in a bid, according to them, to promote safe sex. This hasn’t made them an overnight entrepreneurial success in the eyes of the public; it’s simply an addition to their selection of merchandise. It seems that for women to indulge in this type of branding, however, makes them businesswomen, in a patronising fashion, and an offensive one perhaps to those females who have proved themselves worthy of the title. More worryingly is that the Katie Price audience is predominantly female. She is seen as something to aspire to. And if girls do decide to reject the housewife and mother notion of living, it’s in favour of following in Price’s footsteps of selling a lifestyle to the public by going out, looking hot and sexy, and reiterating that you “don’t care what people think,” thus netting yourself 40 million and the rather respectable title of entrepreneur.
In the final chapter of To the Lighthouse, one of the Ramsay’s daughters, Cam, is belittled by her father when it becomes clear that she does not know the direction of the points on a compass. “Women are always like that; the vagueness of their minds is hopeless,” thinks Mr. Ramsay before concluding that they “could not keep anything clearly fixed in their minds.”
Lily Briscoe is too, a victim of this, and it is because she is a woman. Ten years after she originally decided to move the tree to the middle of the painting, she is finally coaxing herself into doing it after abandoning it all those years ago. But she can’t keep the tree fixed in her mind, nor justify the point in executing her vision, for a comment made by Charles Tansley haunts her: “Women can’t paint; women can’t write.” Lily can‘t keep “anything fixed in” her mind, but not because of the feeblemindedness that Tansley attributes to the female sex, but because of the male intention to prevent women from being creative in the fear that it would threaten the order of things which they have established.
Lily prevails in the end, but as long as the Katie Prices of this world are winning awards for being “Woman of the Year” as she did in 2007, and accolades for her ghost written books, with an army of female fans, women will not succeed in proving the Charles Tansleys of this world wrong.
Laura Cude is twenty-one years old and from a dead beat town called Leatherhead which is located in Old Blighty. She left Kingston College last year with three A grade A levels, and three university acceptances. She turned them all down in favour of practical work experience, which is what bought her to Her Circle originally as a blog coordinator for The Writer’s Life, and now as the writer of inContext. She is a music enthusiast and keen writer, using song composition and screenplays as her weapons of choice. Combining her interests in feminism, existentialism and pop culture, she aims to make inContext a revealing and energetic exploration of the politics in feminist literature and the 21st century.
Laura Cude is twenty one years old and from a dead beat town called Leatherhead which is located in Old Blighty. She left Kingston College last year with three A grade A levels, and three university acceptances. She turned them all down in favour of practical work experience, which is what brought her to Her Circle originally as a blog coordinator for The Writer’s Life blog, and now as the writer of inContext. She is a music enthusiast and keen writer, using song composition and screenplays as her weapons of choice. Combining her interests in feminism, existentialism and pop culture, she aims to make inContext a revealing and energetic exploration of the politics in feminist literature and the 21st century.