It isn’t enough to be seated at the table
Elizabeth Prater | Wednesday, March 24, 2021
On March 18, Ali Kershner, a sports performance coach at Stanford University, posted a photo comparing the weight rooms for the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournament. The post went viral — and for good reason. While the men’s teams had a room with power racks and Olympic bars and weights, the women’s teams were merely provided with a set of dumbbells and yoga mats.
Many players came forward and challenged the league, demanding equal rights to equipment and space. Those who felt victimized stated that the lack of resources undermined their ability to succeed in their domain.
This same argument is plainly advocated in “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf. Published in 1929, the book is comprised of excerpts of a speech Woolf was asked to give about women and fiction at a writing conference.
The main message within the classic text is that women need access to both financial freedom and a space of their own in order to be creative and prosper in their fields.
One of the most convincing points that Woolf makes is about the differences in her luncheons at different colleges. When she describes a person eating at Oxbridge college, a men’s university, she describes the meal as having wine and rich foods. However, when describing the meal at the women’s college, it was merely plain gravy soup and dry biscuits.
One of the other complaints at the NCAA tournament was that women weren’t being provided with the same quality of food as the men’s teams. Woolf believes that nourishment is vital to functioning as a person, as she states, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Sustenance doesn’t have to explicitly refer to physical food, but in addition, emotional nourishment.
Muffet McGraw, former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach, released a statement calling out the inequity in workout facilities, conditions at hotels and food supply. “We have taken the crumbs from the table and we don’t even have a seat at and we didn’t complain,” McGraw wrote in a post on Twitter, explaining the complacency many women’s teams face when competing. However, she voiced her dissatisfaction towards systems set in place that discredit women in their fields. McGraw concluded her post by stating, “This generation of women expects more and we won’t stop until we get it.”
The striking similarities between Woolf’s work and this contemporary event don’t stop there. In “A Room of One’s Own,” Woolf claims, “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.” If women aren’t being provided with the resources or financial sustenance to perform at their peak, then it not only undermines these women, but sends a message of subservience and apathy.
While the outrage that has followed this conference has created a stir to provide more resources to women, McGraw points out that this is an issue “that women have been battling for decades.” If organizations and people held accountable only respond to such complaints when under fire, what does that say about the nature of these industries?
Woolf eloquently writes that it is in our idleness that “the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Complacency toward these issues only fuels the disappointing realities of society in that we are satisfied with such mistreatment.
To demonstrate her point, Woolf illustrates the persona of Judith Shakespeare. This fictional character is the twin sister of William Shakespeare, who is just as gifted as her brother, but has a vastly different ending.
Instead of being provided the time and space to create art like her brother William, Judith is forced into an early marriage and ends up escaping to pursue art. However, she is turned away with scorn from every theatre. She later becomes pregnant, which makes a life of writing nearly impossible, and Judith kills herself.
Had Ms. Shakespeare been provided the appropriate resources to pursue her desires, she may have not only lived but prospered. While this fictitious persona is conjured by Woolf, its verity is astounding in the plight of many gifted women, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I can’t help but reflect on this issue more carefully during the month of March — International Women’s Month. As a member of Pasquerilla West Hall, I’ve heard our mantra of being a “Powerful Woman” repeated countless of times. I am constantly inspired by my rector, hall staff and fellow residents by their commitment to empowering women, especially those in male-dominated spheres.
After generations of women not attending university, not even getting a seat at the table, it is sometimes easy to be satisfied in the amount of progress that has seemingly been made. However, McGraw and Woolf — both vastly different in occupation and era — demonstrate their frustration towards women’s complacency.
Woolf’s call to action reminds me of the strides that my dorm and many other women make towards amplifying women’s voices that have been submerged. She concludes her book by telling the women in the audience at this conference that they have the power to be the voice that was taken from Judith. Many powerful women in history have been slighted from a lack of resources or support. However, this is not the end. “Lock up your libraries if you like,” Woolf writes. “But there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
Elizabeth Prater is a first-year student with double majors in marketing and Program of Liberal Studies. In her free time, she manages her Goldendoodle’s Instagram account (@genevieve_the_cute_dog), which has over 23K followers. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elizabethlianap on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.