In the history of human civilization many wars have been fought, many things have been discovered, some evolved, and lot of different cultures blossomed and they nurtured many beliefs and norms. But throughout the history, one thing has always been constant across most of these cultures. Women of most of the pre historic cultures were oppressed, and were expected to be submissive and to play second fiddle, to the men of their family and society. A woman had always been required to fight her way even for her basic rights, and she had to negotiate a steep and difficult path to reach where she has arrived today. This speech, given by Virginia Woolf before the ‘National Society for Women’s Service’, captures the essence of the, centuries old struggle of women, to assert their identity in a male dominated society. If we analyze the context and content of this speech, it is clear how Woolf shares with the audience, the challenges faced by her in her profession, and at the same time imbibes hope in her audience that these challenges can be overcome.
First if we analyze the context of this speech, the speech was given to a gathering of women, in the early years of the twentieth century- January 21, 1931, to be precise. The audiences were women, who were representing a generation which was at last willing to break the domestic shackles, which prevented them to enter into a professional life. So, invitations to speak in such a gathering was an opportunity to a woman writer, to not just guide and motivate a group of people, but it was an opportunity to initiate an awakening among the women of her era. Woolf does not go into lengthy monologues about, how as a woman she found it hard to succeed in her chosen field. But she very humbly reflects the fact that the path for her was made clear, thanks to the earlier generations of women writers. She also adds, since this profession requires very little time out her daily routine and also due to the fact that this could be done sitting at home, this profession did not attract much criticism from the society and her family. She empathizes with the other women in the audiences, who had chosen much difficult professions and who have had to face many more hurdles than her.
Secondly the content of her speech though conveys a serious message, does not use prolonged explanations or advices, and neither does it contain motivational quotes or some success formulae. It contains two simple points. The first point is conveyed through a prudent metaphor of killing the so called ‘Angel of the house’, and the second point is conveyed by delineating the impediments she faced in her profession in expressing the sexual feelings of women. Through the first point she urges her fellow women professionals, to kill the traditional notions and stereotypes about a woman, and assert their identity in their chosen profession. And through the second point, she asks them to find out other obstacles which they face in their fields of interests, and face them head on, and to break free of the constraints that prevent them from expressing their fullest potential.
It is a carefully drafted speech, which does not contain any self-placatory remarks or charged up emotional sentences. But, it contains a sensible yet strong message to a strong willed group of individuals, to go and prove to the world what a woman can achieve and who she really is.