Male and Female Relations in Virginia Woolf’s
Lily is also very much a product of society, yet she has new ideas for the role of women and produces one answer to the problems of gender power. Besides providing these examples of patriarchy, To The Lighthouse examines the tenacity of human relationships in general, producing a novel with twists, turns, problems, and perhaps a solution. Mrs. Ramsey is the perfect, patriarchal woman. She scarcely has an identity of her own.
Her life is geared towards men: If he put implicit faith in her, nothing should hurt him; however deep he buried himself or climbed high, not for a second should he find himself without her.So boasting of her capacity to surround and protect, there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by. (Woolf, Lighthouse 38). Identity is a strong desire in all humanity, yet in a patriarchal society it has been denied to women. Women who are owned by men are mere possessions, having no control over themselves and no way to develop their own personalities. Mrs. Ramsey needs people about her at all times because she has nothing internalized.
Male and Female Relations in Virginia Woolf’s Essay Example
She must create herself through other people. She is always bouncing off someone else, preferably a male who has power, yet needs her to keep that power.By gaining acceptance and love form those in power, Mrs. Ramsey creates a shadow of a self. Woolf says, “Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the furry , the stir” (Lighthouse 63). When alone Mrs.
Ramsey must lose her personality because it is a show, a created essence which takes work to maintain. A symbol of this is apparent when Mrs. Ramsey covers the skull in her children’s room. She covers the reality with a veil, much like all men and women cover their true identity in order to play the role patriarchal society has given to them.Mrs. Ramsey even avoids looking at her own face in the mirror. Is it possible that she would not even recognize herself? I think, yes, because she does not have a fixed identity.
She does not know who she is or what she really looks like. She must change in every situation, with every different man she is expected to support. Mrs. Ramsey supports these men in her life because that is the only way she can create an identity. Woolf suggests that even this support may be false. Of course it is false, because Mrs. Ramsey has no other choice.
She cannot lose herself in her work like a man.Her work is to make men feel superior and this is ingrained in her mind. Of her husband we are told that, “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings, she felt” (Woolf, Lighthouse 32). In spite of the power of men, To The Lighthouse suggests that many men feel sterile. Perhaps men are psychologically sterilized by power. Patriarchal men can form no equal relationships with women because they must always defend themselves. They cannot admit an equal into their life for fear of losing power.
This could be why Mrs. Ramsey pitied men, “She pitied men always as if they lacked something.Women never, as if they had something” (Woolf, Lighthouse 85). The sense of sterility in men’s minds may also come form the biological fact that women are the childbearers. Nature has, in defiance of patriarchy, given women the central role in childbearing. At most, men are equals when it comes to having children. It seems as if Mr.
Ramsey tries to disprove his sterility by having eight children. The fact remains, men are expendable when it comes to child bearing, and therefore they need to defend against this perpetual encroachment upon their power. The one man who is productive is Mr.Carmichael. It is interesting to note that he does not allow Mrs. Ramsey to support him. He refuses her and seems somewhat scared of perhaps falling back into the trap of patriarchal roles.
Woolf tells us that Mr. Carmichael shrinks form Mrs. Ramsey and that, “she felt him wince. He did not trust her” (Lighthouse 40). Mr. Carmichael is productive because he does shrink away form Mrs. Ramsey and the sterilization that comes with the patriarchal relationships of men and women.
Ms. Ramsey’s state of submission leads her to develop her power in other areas.Woolf suggests in fact, “that all this desire of hers to give, to help, was vanity. For her own self-satisfaction was it that she wished so instinctively to help, to give” (Lighthouse 41). Here Woolf implies that desire to give is a sort of vanity, a vanity that is control. Woolf also points out that, “Wishing to dominate, wishing to interfere, making people do what she wished. That was the charge against her, and she thought it most unjust” (Lighthouse 57).
Of course Mrs. Ramsey should want to dominate in some arena. Men deny her control of her own life, so she reverts to subtle manipulation of others.John Stuart Mill states in The Subjection of Women, “[Women’s] power often gives her what she has no right to, but does not enable her to assert her own rights” (155). The power that Mrs. Ramsey cultivates is a perverted power created through the repression of their natural tendencies. She has no control over herself and therefore will try to control others, whom she really has no business trying to dominate.
Mill also says of feelings: Women are schooled into suppressing them in their most natural and most healthy direction, but the internal principle remains, in a different outward form.An active and energetic mind, if denied liberty, will seek for power: refused the command of itself, it will assert its personality by attempting to control others. (213) When Mrs. Ramsey encourages Paul and Minta to marry, it is uncertain whether the union ever would have come about without her influence. The marriage does not succeed, not in the way Mrs. Ramsey would have envisioned. Her wish to dominate hurts others and herself.
Eventually the struggle and lack of identity seem to cause Mrs. Ramsey’s death. She has to deal with all of the motional problems of family and friends, and she also deals with the day to day running of the household. Mills observes of married women, “she takes not only her fair share, but usually the larger share, of the bodily and mental exertion required by their joint existence” (164). Ramsey does not deal with the trivialities of family life, and goes into a rage at the expenses of running the house. Mrs. Ramsey had given.
Giving, giving, giving, she had died” (Woolf, Lighthouse 149). Mr. Ramsey portrays the evils of patriarchy on men. Women are not the only ones who are hurt.Mills says, “this power seeks out and evokes the latent germs of selfishness in the remotest corners of [men’s] nature” (153). Mr. Ramsey is extremely selfish.
He belittles not only women , but also himself with the idea that he needs someone to praise him in order to be worthy. He is the empowerment one, but can only keep the power through the inferiority of others. Perhaps this need for superiority is also the cause of his raging attitude. Woolf’s description of Professor von X in A Room of One’s Own seems frighteningly accurate for Mr.Ramsey, “the professor was made to look very angry and ugly in my sketch, as he wrote his great book upon the mental, moral and physical inferiority of women” (Woolf 31). Both the professor and Mr. Ramsey are angry and must, in order to gain power through patriarchy, keep women in their inferior position.
Woolf makes this point on power division very apparent in Mr. Ramsey’s worry about how good his books are. He is not satisfied with pleasing himself; he must be better than others to retain power. This power causes his isolation and psychological sterility.Woolf writes that, “the fatal sterility of the male plunged itself, like a beak of brass, barren and bare. He wanted sympathy” (Lighthouse 37). Woolf shows here one important fallacy inherent in the patriarchal system.
It is odd that men believe in the inferiority of women, yet they rely on those inferior women to give them praise and sympathy. However, Mill observes that, “There is nothing which men so easily learn as this self-worship: all privileged persons, and all privileged classes, have had it” (158). Not only does Mr. Ramsey learn this self-worship, he has followers. Mrs.Ramsey and all women must kneel at his alter. His contemporaries and future intellectuals must admire his work.
Even young men, like Charles Tansley, want to model themselves after Mr. Ramsey. Perhaps these young men only see the superior position of the patriarchal man; they certainly do not understand the implications of the sterility and anger that go with power. The many general comments about human relationships in Woolf’s novel point out the frailty and questionable nature of love and friendship in a patriarchal society. Woolf writes, “How then did it work out, all this?How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt, or disliking” (Lighthouse 24). Here Woolf highlights the almost ambiguous nature of liking. Any human trait may evoke many different emotions in people.
Physical factors, such as distance, may also influence relationships. If a loved one is far away, a person may forget that loved one and let love or liking die a natural death. For Woolf, therefore, human relationships are rather inadequate. They are changing, and Woolf notes, “self-seeking, at best” (Lighthouse 42).Perhaps if the characters had more stable and defined self-identities, their relationships would be more true, without that self-seeking goal. Lily is also a product of the patriarchal society, yet she struggles to break out of the role assigned to her by men. Why she does this is not clear.
She is an artist, and maybe she feels more deeply or sees more clearly than other women. Woolf seems to point out that women artists have difficult time in patriarchal society. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf asks of women artists, “who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body? ” (50).Lily is also taking care of her father, so probably her mother is dead. Maybe her mother has been dead for a long while, and Lily has had no submissive role model. Perhaps she just sees what this role does to women. Lily loves Mrs.
Ramsey and it must hurt her to know Mrs. Ramsey has no self and must cater to men. In any case, Lily thinks often and deeply about the roles of men and women. Not only does Lily notice that Victorian, patriarchal society hurts Mrs. Ramsey, but she also notices that it negatively affects Mr. Ramsey. Lily thinks, “Could one help noticing that habits grew on him? Eccentricities, weaknesses perhaps?It was astonishing that a man of intellect could stoop as low as he did — but that was too harsh of a phrase — could depend so much as he did upon other people’s praise” (Woolf, Lighthouse 23).
In a patriarchal society, the influence of men on women and women on men is a vicious circle. Lily tries to escape this game, yet time and time again she is drawn in, especially when she is around Mrs. Ramsey. Lily lies and is insincere in her attempts to placate the men around her. Lily, however, realizes her deceit and the harm it causes. She resists the male/ female role game and wonders, “But how would it be ..
. f neither of us did either of these things? ” (Woolf, Lighthouse 91). When she is drawn in and lies, Lily only strengthens her resolve to resist this pressure in the future. She realizes the importance of relations and how these narrow, gender roles create false identities Woolf’s narrator underscores the fact that, “She had done the usual trick — been nice. She would never know him. He would never know her” (Lighthouse 92). The difference in Lily is that she does have an identity.
She does have work in her art. Lily does not need to be around other people because she is someone.She does not need to be externally created; she is real. With her unique identity, Lily is allowed unique ideas on relationships. She sees how men respond to Mrs. Ramsey, that the love men gave was to an idea or ideal, “love that never attempted to clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases” (Woolf, Lighthouse 47). Men loved this symbol of patriarchy.
Mrs. Ramsey is to the patriarchal man what a symbol is to a mathematician or a phrase is to a poet. She is a symbol to men; men could not love Mrs. Ramsey as an individual because she does not exist.In her art, Lily creates what she herself sees, a representation of life through her own eyes. Lily is struck with the need to move her tree to the center of her painting. Lily thinks, “she need not marry, thank Heaven: she need not undergo that degradation.
She was saved from that dilution. She would move the tree rather more to the middle: (Woolf, Lighthouse 102). Lily will not “dilute” herself by joining with a man. Lily decides to be autonomous, as Woolf tells us that, “she would move the tree to the middle, and need never marry anybody, and she had felt an enormous exultation” (Lighthouse 176).Moving the tree symbolizes the oneness of Lily. She is not going to be united with a man. She is going to keep her identity and fix it in the middle of her painting, her representation of life.
Still, Lily feels the urge to comfort Mr. Ramsey after Mrs. Ramsey had died. She decides to give him what she can because, as a woman, she fees guilt about causing his need. In order for patriarchy to perpetuate, women have been brainwashed and inundated with the belief that they re placed on earth to support men. If a woman ever tries to rebel against patriarchy, the guilt is inevitable. Lily thinks of Mr.
Ramsey’s pleas for sympathy, ” A woman, she had provoked this horror; a woman, she should have known how to deal with it” (Woolf, Lighthouse 152). But Lily, in her strength, overcomes the guilt and refuses to play the game f patriarchy, and Mr. Ramsey cannot play the game alone. Lily and Mr. Ramsey’s relationship may be uncomfortable, but it certainly is an improvement for male/female relationships. Lily notes that she has, “reduced their relationship to something neutral, without that element of sex in it which made his manner to Minta so gallant, almost gay” (Woolf, Lighthouse 170).Perhaps the discomfort is caused by the breaking of tradition, the lace of power on Mr.
Ramsey’s part and the empowerment of Lily. After denying Mr. Ramsey comfort, when he is sailing to the lighthouse, Lily thinks, “Whatever she had wanted to give him, when he left her that morning, she had given him at last” (Woolf, Lighthouse). Lily has given Mr. Ramsey the freedom from patriarchy. She did not let him fall into the trap of making a woman praise him. Without that false worship, Mr.
Ramsey will be forced to develop his identity based on reality, and Lily and all women will be forced to develop an identity separated from men.With these thoughts, Lily is able to secure her own identity by drawing a line in the center of her painting, and secure her own identity by drawing a line in the center of her painting and secure her personality in life. To The Lighthouse offers this look at human relationships with a promise of bettering those relations through change. Even today there are strong remnants of patriarchy dominating society. Men consistently climb higher in management and receive higher pay for equal jobs. This novel shows both men and women suffering and struggling with societal roles.