Thursday, April 28, 2011

Professions for Women: A Letter to my Daughters (or to myself 5 years later)

In an English Lit class I took at BYU, we discussed Virginia Woolf's "Professions for Women," and were asked to write a letter to our daughters talking about the issues raised in Woolf's speech.

I'm hesitant to share it with you because... I'm not a big fan of feeling so vulnerable and exposed as this will make me feel--the writing isn't exactly perfect, and the things I expressed are really deeply held beliefs of mine. But as I read through it, I feel like it is great advice to myself for where I am now in my life. So, here it is...

My Daughters:
I hope that when you read this you will understand the intent with which it was written. I write to remind you of the blessings and opportunities that are yours as a result of the sacrifices of those who have gone before you.Your Mother has lived a fulfilling and enjoyable life—a life that passed in a world that is much different that the one you live in now. The opportunities you have were not always available to women, and opportunities that are not yet open to you will one day be available to your daughters, as long as my generation and yours do not stop trying to “smooth the way” for those that follow after us.
            The opportunities that were available to women when I was born were vastly different from those available 100—even 50—years before my birth, and the same is true for you. But brave, strong, and sometimes “defiant” women paved the way for us and fellow women of our generations so we could pursue those interests which truly intrigue our minds and add depth to our souls. Some of these women you may have heard of: Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Aerhart, Edith Wharton, Sandra Day O’Connor, and so on. These women, in many cases, were seen as acting against their very natures by pursuing hobbies, professions, and livelihoods previously reserved for men. Yet there was something in them that drove them to these pursuits, as there is “something” that calls to each of us in our turn.
            You have the liberty to choose your course—to learn about and practice almost any discipline or skill that appeals to you. Some will tell you what you ought to think, how you should spend your time, or the things you should say or do because you are a woman. You might think to yourself that there are certain things which lie out of your reach because of your sex; never put limits on your potential—you have countless resources for developing desireable traits, perfecting specific skills, and acquiring a useful and interesting education. You may not know what you want at this point in your life—you don’t need to choose immediately. But don’t let yourself be blown listlessly about by what other people want—you do everyone a disservice by allowing your mind to be made up for you.  Live with purpose, and your life will be all the more meaningful for it. Sometimes you may find that you change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you choose in the end, you will find that your searching and trying will not only make you more well-rounded, but it will more fully equip you to contribute where you so choose.
            Now, my dears, a word about our nature as women. Some may say that we must abandon all assumptions about the inherent nature of women in order to realize our full potential. I disagree. I feel that women naturally have more nurturing and selfless tendencies than men (I am speaking generally, of course). Cultivate these natural tendencies, but do not allow youself to think that because you are nurturing that you cannot also be pragmatic, analytical, or scientific; because you are selfless that you must also be shy, self-deprecating, or apologetic. Develop the skills and traits you desire, while letting your natural tendencies act as a catalyst for them; you will find that very few traits worth having are mutually exclusive.
            Your chosen course may prove quite difficult. It is true that an astounding variety of opportunities are available to you; some roads have been traveled by many women before you, making them smooth and relatively easy, while others may appear to be nothing more than a footpath overgrown with vegetation. Whatever path you choose, move forward and make each experience your own. You have specific talents, perspectives, and instincts that will make your navigation of the Road different than anyone else’s—not just because you are a woman, but because you are an individual. And your individual nature is what you need to infuse into everything that you do. Virginina Woolf once said in an address to the Women’s Service League:
You have won rooms of your own in the house hitherto exclusively owned by men. This…is only a beginning; the room is your own, but it is still bare. It has to be furnished; it has to be decorated; it has to be shared. How are you going to furnish it, how are you going to decorate it? With whom are you going to share it, and upon what terms?
You, my daughters, have inherited and won rooms of your own, as well. They may have been previously occupied; they may be newly built. Some are bare, while others may still reflect the lives of those who have gone before. Whatever the case may be, you must make your room your own. Your life cannot merely become a shadow of someone else’s—it must reflect who you are, what you desire, and what you become. You are responsible for creating a life that you can be proud to call your own.

With all my love,
Mother

2 comments:

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

When I was in architecture school, learning design and art and structures and stuff, I was surprised to hear from some of my professors that they were frequently discouraged from pursuing an education in architecture by their professors. This was because of their gender. One of the comments that they shared with me that has stuck with me (obviously) is that the profession was a "male" profession and that the women were taking away jobs from men who needed them to support their families.

I was shocked. I've personally never felt that threatened by anyone, much less a woman. I mean, there were people who were more talented than me, regardless of gender. I am OK with that. But whether that person was a man or a woman had no impact on the degree of talent or ability or desire or interest. It's an attitude I simply don't understand.

But now that I know that it exists, I am grateful - as you seem to be - for women who are successful, who do reach for things that they desire in any capacity. The most intelligent people in the world are those who actively seek out the wisdom and beauty and grace that women can apply to each situation. That being the case, who would not want to surround themselves with the most ability and wisdom possible? It is a no-brainer...

I loved this post. I hope with all sincerity and regard that my daughter can grow up into this kind of world. She should not feel that she is being led into a certain path; rather, she should feel that she can embrace the world she's constructed for herself. In so doing, I know she'll find the greatest degree of peace and strength and fulfillment...

The Many Colours of Happiness said...

This post was amazing. That is the best advice any parent could give to their daughters. While so many people don't think that sexism is an issue in today's society, I only have to look around at some of my friends to see how prevalent it still is. These girls were told that they should never try to succeed in male dominated industries, and so they stuck to what they believed were 'woman's jobs'. I wish their parents had given them your advice instead.