01 November, 2009

women and spatial privacy

This afternoon, I read some criticism on "A Room of One's Own" while sitting in a room of my own. It's like I'm trying to actually live out my thesis. And everything was making rapid connections and I began to consider a few things, which I will meagerly parse out here before Guion and I go on a double date with Kemp and Rose.

- As I have mentioned before, having this little closet to myself lets me also have my sanity. Without it--a place entirely my own, with a door and a little desk and a hibernating orchid--I would not be able to think, recharge, recuperate. It is essential to me.

- As Woolf mentions frequently, both in "AROO" and her autobiographical essays, women have historically never had a space to call their own. The places that women could inhabit--the kitchen, the drawing room, the living room--were all open, permeable areas. They could be interrupted at any time and were at everyone's disposal--particularly men's. To escape, therefore, women developed the ability to retreat into their minds to experience some sense of privacy. I remember my mother doing this at the table when we ate (something I've written about before); she'd space out in the middle of her sandwich and we'd jolt her back into reality with a barrage of demands.

- But escaping mentally is not true privacy. Actual space is necessary for a person to actually think, to recover, to create. Traditionally, it is not acceptable to let a woman have a space of her own. Men have had their studies and their separate dominions, where they may think and work and write, but such was not the case for women. As the modernists began to insist on a new conception of the domestic, however, women began to demand that they too had a right to privacy.

- What amazed me, however, as I considered all of these things, was how little has actually changed since 1929. I thought of my mother. She never had a room to call her own. She was with us every minute. My father, on the other hand, had a study with French doors that locked and his workspace in the garage. He also had an assortment of hobbies (every imaginable sport, piano, guitar, fishing, model airplanes, carpentry), while my mother had none. We were her hobby. As not only our mother, but our teacher and a businesswoman as well, she literally did not have time for anything else. I'd never thought of this before and I marveled at how she maintained her sanity.

- So it remains that, in 2009, men get to have their hobbies and their rooms. Women, perhaps stay-at-home moms most of all, still don't get that luxury. Why?

- I began to think of other wives and mothers in my life and whether they were allowed to experience any form of privacy. My grandmother had a sewing closet upstairs that she used. I don't know how often she was able to escape there, but at least she had a very small space. I think of Mrs. Steddum, who only recently acquired a room of her own. After years of raising children, she decided to go to law school and has commandeered Catherine's old room as her own. It is very welcoming and clean and inviting. She has a handwritten sign on the often-closed door that reads "Falls Lake Center for Social Justice." She was delighted to show it to us, her little sanctuary.

- The denial of a space to which one can retreat indicates a lack of value for that person's individuality and capacity for expression and creation. It insists that a woman be constantly available, usable to others.

- Can you be a stay-at-home mother, especially one with young children, and experience spatial privacy?

- The older I get, the more I read and think, the more respect I have for women.

"Women never have an half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone." (Florence Nightingale, "Cassandra")


Ivy said...

Abby, are you turning into a feminist?

Anonymous said...

you can have the kitchen and the laundry room, just like it has always been!


Catherine said...

I'm honored to be in your blog. You have expressed this need for spatial privacy so beautifully. Janet