Thursday, November 6, 2008

Room For Our Own

As some of you may or may not know, I've had a rather eventful month, and most of the excitement in my life has resulted from those with whom I've been living. Living for more than a year with two people who share a love/hate relationship is bound to be tiring, especially when you're the go-to girl for each of them to vent. I've been relegated to living in a single bedroom, having not been comfortable extending "my" territory beyond the door of my little room. In recent weeks, I've even felt insecure in my cramped haven, knowing that the privacy I crave and once thought I had established is a sham, a fraud--and there is nothing I can do to change it.

Nothing, that is, until November 15th, when I will officially begin moving into my own apartment. I've been dreaming of this day for quite some time--it's been my nightly fantasy for it for at least eight months, and now that it's upon me I can hardly wait. It's in a classic building in Capitol Hill, has hardwood floors, arched doorways, and more storage than I have stuff. All in all, it's an unhappy roommate's wet dream come true.

The reason I bring this up, however, is not to explain the lapse in my posts, though your very enthusiastic requests for more were nicer than you can possibly imagine. The reason I bring this up is that it merely re-affirms what women have long known to be true and what Virginia Woolf established so clearly and so firmly in her extended essay, "A Room of One's Own."

And with that awkward segue, let me continue. Though the recent presidential election has shown the world that Americans are ready for "change" (whatever that may mean to each person), the state initiatives and constitutional amendments passed around the country left something to be desired. The controversial passage of Proposition 8 in California, for example, added a constitional amendment that stripped gays and lesbians of their rights to be married because the majority of Californians voted to do so, though many did not understand what was truly at stake in the election. According to the LA Times, though the proponents of Propostion 8 had little to gain financially from the passage of the amendment, they "cite religious beliefs, and Mormons have emerged as the largest source of money to the Yes-on-8 effort, contributing about 40% of its war chest, according to the campaign. Church leaders have urged members to contribute." [2] This faith-against-rights face-off has been ongoing throughout history and has been applied to all minorities at one point or another; to those of us who don't have moral objections to gay marriage, the passage of the amendment seems bigoted and close-minded.

Interestingly enough, by studying the history the civil rights movement and the history of women's rights, we can clearly see the path that the current struggle will take. For example, a friend of mine who happens to be German and is a graduate student in literature recently told his teacher that "feminist literature" held little interest for him. She, in turn, coolly responded, "That was an incredibly stupid thing to say. If you aren't interested in the history of the rights of women, I suppose you aren't interested in the history of racism, either. Roughly how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?" Believing in equal rights for all virtually necessitates interest in the Suffragist movement and in Civil Rights, if only because we have been down this path before and it is only the knowledge of those struggles that can lead the way.

Consider this argument against the "gay agenda": "'The homosexual activist movement, which has achieved virtually every goal and objective it set out to accomplish more than 50 years ago, is poised to administer a devastating and potentially fatal blow to the traditional family,' Focus [on the Family] founder James Dobson wrote in 2003." [2] While this argument might seem justified to those in the Mormon Church, the rest of us wonder how the "traditional family" (whatever that is) will even be affected by gay marriage. Remember, the same argument was once applied to bi-racial marriages and was shot down by the California Supreme Court in 1948 when it stated, "Marriage is thus something more than a civil contract subject to regulation by the state; it is a fundamental right of free men. " [3] These arguments against the rights of others are not new or original, and we can take comfort in the fact that they will not be effective in the long term.

What does this have to do with Virginia Woolf, you ask? By reading "A Room of One's Own" with the idea of civil rights for all, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, we can clearly see where these discriminatory attitudes stem from. For example, Woolf wonders why some people feel compelled to force others into a role of subjugatio, and she finally decides that,

"Without self–confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination—over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power. " [1]

Therefore, though gay marriage would have little-to-no impact on straight marriage, there are those who feel threatened by its very possibility simply because they must feel others are inferior to have any self-confidence. Each person who donated money to the Yes-on-8 cause cannot fathom gays being "equal" because his or her identity is based on the idea of being superior to all those whom the Bible classifies as sinners, i.e. gays, non-believers, etc. I'll admit that those of us who do not feel this bone-deep drive for superiority over the "gay agenda" instead feel superior to those who do, and our self-confidence is dependent on classifying them as closeted, close-minded assholes.

Let me give another example. On November 5th, the day after Senator Obama was elected the next President of the United States, a woman called into C-SPAN and said, "I'm a Democrat who voted for McCain because I think these people are treating whites badly and I've never been anything but polite to them. They're discriminating against us, and that's wrong." My aunt, upon hearing this, said, "Wow, that's mighty white of you," and we both laughed because the woman was so obviously racist while protesting that she is anything but.

Viriginia Woolf explains this tendency thusly: "if [the "other"] begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking–glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?" [1] The woman who called in to C-SPAN feels she is superior to "these people" and gets personal satisfaction from being polite to them from her position of power, but the second one of "these people" might gain power over her, she feels threatened and lashes out, voting against her own party in the hopes that she will maintain her position of superiority. My aunt and I, on the other hand, despised the woman for what she said and gained our own sense of superiority from her idiotic statement.

While those of us deplore everything Proposition 8 stands for, including those who voted for it, we would do well to keep in mind what Virginia Woolf says about groups of people:

"Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control. They too, the patriarchs, the professors, had endless difficulties, terrible drawbacks to contend with. Their education had been in some ways as faulty as my own. It had bred in them defects as great. True, they had money and power, but only at the cost of harbouring in their breasts an eagle, a vulture, for ever tearing the liver out and plucking at the lungs—the instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually; to make frontiers and flags; battleships and poison gas; to offer up their own lives and their children’s lives." [1]

While the religious Right convinced many that Proposition 8 was dangerous, they did it only by spreading propaganda and lies on the airwaves, by frightening the ignorant and prejudiced masses. Can the masses be held responsibly for fearing a group they know nothing about other than that homosexuality is "contagious" and "dangerous"? I would say so, but some might disagree. Regardless, protesting is effective to a certain extent, in that it brings attention to the issue, but education, compassion, and respect on the part of the public are the only things that will set this to rights. Though I have no doubt that justice will eventually be reached, it will be a long, uphill battle all the way, as nothing is more contagious and dangerous than ignorance.

Works Cited:

[1] Woolf, Virginia. "A Room of One's Own."

[2] Morian, Dan and Jessica Garrison. "Proposition 8 proponents and foes raise $60 million." LA Times. 25 October, 2008.,0,2856145.story

[3] Perez v. Sharp. The Supreme Court of California. 1 October, 1948. Accessed at


Daniele said...

A lot of that ignorance is based on the ridiculous idea that homosexuality is a choice. That if it were to be condoned by the law in the acceptance of gay marriage, suddenly men would be leaving their wives in droves. Perhaps this stems from some repressed urges in themselves that only the combined weight of religious guilt and legal hurdles can keep down?

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I always wonder about that. I want to ask people who think it's a choice, "Oh, do you have personal experience with choosing to be straight? Do you often have the urge to rip other mens' shirts off? Interesting..."

Chatty Cathy said...

Well done post. I think those people who think it is a choice are on crack...but that is just my opinion. It also really upsets me, and scares me, the ignorance that is out there.

Anonymous said...

On a happier note:

Anonymous said...

Ok... apparently it doesn't want to show the link. Essentially says Obama's planning on closing guantanamo, and is developing the plan to do so.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Good. Gitmo's a stain on our nation.

Anonymous said...

You know what else is a stain on our nation?


... ...

This whole lack of posting thing that you've been doing lately. It pisses me off.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Sorry. They've been fully utilizing me at work recently, so I've had zilch time to think about anything else. Boo.

You write a post and email it to me and I'll post it as a guest blogger. That might work out better, actually. :)

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