Letter to Virginia Woolf

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Dear Virginia Woolf,

When it came time to write my first major high school research paper, I think I picked you, in part, because we have so much in common. When I read your work I feel connected to it in a way that goes far beyond comprehending the complex ideas and messages present in it (albeit it takes me more than one try to grasp them fully, if I can profess to grasp them at all). I stare into a looking-glass and see the image that you tried so desperately to avoid. I see you and me, the girls of five or six, shocked by violation and abuse. I see us as preteen girls, lives forever altered by the crippling blow of mental illness. I see we the young women, debilitated by depression and driven by short bursts of mania. Your words resonate with me more than perhaps any other writer; I see myself in your pages and in your thoughts.
It is most likely due to this link that I recognize you as a role model, with your novels and prose the guidance such a figure provides. The combination of "Professions for Women," To the Lighthouse and Orlando have strengthened my pseudo-feministic dispositions that I could not quite identify before reading of The Angel in the House, Mrs. Ramsay and Orlando. I was raised by a feminist mother, and originally believed in feminine power and that women should be seen as worthy competitors in a mostly male-dominated world. However, after reading these three pieces, I came to appreciate the subtle similarities between genders and started to see them not as separate and equal but as two extremes of the same spectrum.
First, I read Professions for Women, which identifies the enemy of women pursuing careers outside the home abstractly, symbolizing the womanly desire to please with a haunting, ethereal presence. I saw that spirit epitomized in Mrs. Ramsay, whose death (or rather sudden nonexistence) provides a concrete example of the Angel and her destructive capabilities. After reading To the Lighthouse with the added depth of Professions for Women, my strictly feminist notions remained unchallenged, perhaps even strengthened by the resolve to do as you did and remove any traces of the Angel from my mind and my writing. It was not until I read Orlando that I began to see your true message.
Orlando and his/her comfort in an androgynous state of existence showed me that male dominance does not directly rival women's progression; the true opponent to female advancement is the reduction of gender interactions to a competition to be won by a particular sex. In this transcendence of feminism, you suggest that the two genders should not be equal, but become one. Orlando's acceptance of this multi-gender (and therefore genderless) state personifies the idealistic harmony between the two sexes that is crucial for the improvement of male-female interactions. Your work opened my eyes to the need for a mutualistic balance between the feminine and masculine, and gave me the encouragement to be content with the presence of both of these qualities in myself.
Throughout my life, I have struggled with the conflict between the two genders in my mind and actions. When I was ten, I only wore boys' clothes. I won all the footraces at recess, and took pride in my ability to do more push-ups than anyone in my grade. I had no female friends; I despised all stereotypical feminine traits, equating them with weakness and fragility, two characteristics from which I struggled to dissociate. Over time, I resigned myself to the fact that I am indeed a girl, and gradually allowed myself to wear dresses and even put on makeup. I still think of myself as "one of the guys" and retain my knack for push-ups, but I also see the importance of permitting my softer, more feminine qualities to mix with my masculine assertiveness and create the balance I so sorely lacked. With your support, I've not only killed my Angel but come to accept parts of me that would otherwise have remained buried.

Thank you for holding your mirror to me.





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