Virginia Woolf thought it was a room of their own, and she wasn’t that far off. She was, in fact, referring to an actual room, a place a woman could go and be completely alone so as to embrace her own inner life and creativity free from distractions and demands. (I agree, but find her awareness of this need quite interesting, as she probably had more than adequate time “alone,” considering her supportive husband, and lack of children. Those of you with children know that even a few minutes alone in the bathroom can represent quite an achievement.)
Jill Lepore writes in this Sundays NY Times about Benjamin Franklin’s younger sister Jane. Allowed to learn to read, but not to write, she married a saddler at the age of 15, and bore 12 children, 11 of whom she buried. Her husband struggled with both physical and mental illness, and debt. She struggled, with no education of any sort, to keep them out of debtor’s prisons by making bonnets and taking in boarders.
Lepore writes: “. . .the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.”
On the next page of the paper, a review by Nicholas Kristof of Rachel Lloyd’s book “Girls Like Us” questions why our hearts melt when we hear about sex trafficking in India or Cambodia, but teenage girls living and working on America’s streets are arrested, prosecuted, and sent to juvenile detention centers so they can learn “moral principles,” while their pimps and johns are virtually ignored. Kristof reports that the typical victim of sexual trafficking in America is “. . .a 13-year old girl of color from a troubled home who is on bad terms with her mother. Then her mom’s boyfriend hits on her, and she runs away to the bus station, where the only person on the lookout for girls like her is a pimp. He buys her dinner, gives her a place to stay and next thing she knows she’s earning him $1,500 a day.”
Is it strange that I see a connection between these two stories?
Moralists would say that the girl in the second situation should try harder to find another option, but for some of these girls there ARE no other options — no home to take in boarders, no market for bonnets.
So yes, we need a “room” of our own — one which includes access to education whose quality is not dependent on one’s zip code; where luxuries such as access to birth control aren’t cut off by political wrangling; where parents have options of their own, and are more concerned about the well being of their children than of their predatory boyfriends; where more people like Rachel Lloyd win human rights awards for making sure that it’s the oppressors and not the victims held to account; where a woman’s voice and opinion and business “style” are considered as valid as a man’s.
Oh, and I guess a few minutes alone in the bathroom wouldn’t hurt.