Note 6: Friend

Did I ever tell you there was a time I didn’t have friends?

To make matters worse I wasn’t just friendless, I was bullied as well. I don’t remember much from that time. Few of us do I suppose. All I remember is that it felt like a long, bleak, rainy autumn filled with endless grey skies. It didn’t surprise me when my mom told me, years later, that wasn’t invited to birthday parties for a whole year back then. That might sound petty, but it’s a pretty big deal when you’re six years old. People back then seemed mostly mean, capricious, and intend on causing me harm or embarrassment. And then there you were.

You liked to tell me what was on your mind and to listen to what I had to say. We shared stories, joked around and did all kinds of things together. One doubt always lingered though. Why were you friends with me? That I could never grasp. Friendship came to me as grace. Beautiful, but undeserved.

For years this was how I experienced friendship. I adored my friends, but in the back of my mind I never believed that you could consider yourself my friend. “Wasn’t it absurd”, I thought, “that a person would want to be my friend?” Being abandoned or cast out always were possibilities I feared. And then there you were.

It was December 2012, the end of my Erasmus exchange and the middle of yours. We had gone outside to escape the party for a moment. I could probably still point out the spot. We talked about our Christmas holidays, future plans, what we would be doing the next semester. “We’ll really miss you”, you suddenly said. When I asked you to explain, it became clear that this was what everyone agreed on when the subject of people leaving came up.

Finally I understood. What I had so long known rationally I now felt in my heart as well: that you are my friend, in your eyes as well as mine. It has made friendship only more precious.

At times, when we are all together, I wish I could lay still the conversation just to say: “I’m really happy to be here with all of you now.” At times, I wish I could embrace you for no reason. (You’re probably glad I don’t.) At times, I regret that you live so far away now, but I trust that we’ll meet again and I look forward to when we do.

Your every act of friendship brings forth a moment of beauty and life would have so much less meaning without it. Thank you for being there.

Article 8: Dorothy Ann’s last book

When my grandmother, Dorothy Ann Oswald, was still living in the Rosa Spier Huis, a retirement home for elderly artists, it had become a small habit of mine to take a moment to have a look around in her apartment whenever we visited her. This was not impolite nosing around just for the sake of it. I did it to find out what oma Dorothy, an Alzheimer patient, was still capable of both mentally and physically. That is how I stumbled upon a little green book with a similarly coloured ribbon marker. ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf.

Every time I was there I would find it on her bedside table in exactly the same position, prompting me to open it and see which page she was at. Wondering whether she was advancing I took note of the page she was at every time and indeed: slowly, but surely she worked herself through the book. After several months she even finished it. It is, as far as am aware, the last book she read front to cover.[1]

As the months progressed my grandmother deteriorated. Eventually the moment came where the Rosa Spier Huis was no longer able to provide the care she needed and thus she moved to a new elderly home. A move which necessitated her shedding most off her last belongings – already significantly diminished compared to her possessions when she still lived independently.

I knew exactly what I was looking for the moment when my father and I entered her old apartment to gather some last things. A little green book with a similarly coloured ribbon marker. Quickly I rummaged through the couple of piles of books which were left behind to find it and, together with some other interesting titles, it was taken back home.

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After several weeks I started reading A Room of One’s Own and what I read was shocking. Not so much due to the content of the text, but because it seemed to touch upon almost every single aspect of my grandmother’s life. As if she purposefully had picked the book most resembling of herself as a person. The essay, written four years before my grandmother was born in 1933, is broadly about “women and fiction”, but more specifically about Woolf’s assertion that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. In other words, it is about women’s dedication to the arts. Women like my grandmother – a former ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet and teacher who dedicated herself to dance education in The Netherlands, skilled weaver, admirer of poetry who was able to recite by heart and so on.[2]

Woolf’s narrowing of the topic is done as to fulfil “what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer”. Namely, “to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever”. Reading this firstly caused me to chuckle since oma Dorothy was indeed an avid note taker. So much even that I was surprised that this book did not contain any notes. Likewise, it struck me as so fitting that the last book she read shared her striving for “a nugget of pure truth”. She herself pursued this among others through her active participation in Dutch Freemasonry and as an avid reader who interested herself in all topics, including world religions and philosophy. Just how essential this search for truth was for her I was confronted with when we were helping her move to the Rosa Spier Huis. I wanted to pick up a small carry-on suitcase only to find that it was incredibly heavy. When I opened it I saw it was filled with about twelve tomes of Plato’s writings.

Important to underline, however, is that the book is not simply about fiction, but about women and fiction; not simply about women’s dedication to the arts, but about women’s dedication to the arts in a world run by and for men. I wonder to what degree my grandmother would have recognized the struggles and attitudes recounted by Virginia Woolf. How many times she herself would have “flushed with anger” when being confronted with men who “insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women”. For she too was confronted with the various limitations put on women throughout her life and she too did not put up with them, but instead asserted herself as an independent woman.

It can’t only have been the topics and themes of the book which must have sparked recognition with my grandmother as it did with me though. The very world through which Virginia Woolf moves in her essay – that of a campus, of dining-halls, of bourgeois society, British bourgeois society, of London itself – must have come across as very familiar to her. My grandmother went to boarding school and lived independently in London as a sixteen year old pupil (her parents were living and working in East Asia). She too must have felt growing up how important it is for a woman to “have money and a room of her own”. Thinking of this it even crossed my mind that she might have started reading  A Room of One’s Own, because that’s what her apartment in the Rosa Spier Huis was intended to be.

A more sobering similarity is Virginia Woolf’s meandering style. She seems to jump from one thought to the other not so much associatively, but with deep ruptures between one moment and the other. Though Woolf turns this way of reasoning into something beautiful I can’t help to associate it with the disruptive and debilitating gaps of thought which my grandmother had as an Alzheimer patient. In a sense they are mirror images of each other. The one spontaneous against capricious, creative against destructive, but similar nonetheless.

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I could go on like this for many more pages, drawing parallels wherever possible and at the same time there would still be so much which would not have been covered. I have made no mention for example on the central role which Singapore played in her life. On how everything in her life led back to that place for her. That doesn’t matter though. Dorothy Ann Oswald was an inexhaustible person, to want to convey who she was is in a sense impossible, not only since I only barely scratched the surface myself.

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* * *

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[1] Though she kept reading almost her whole life. When my father came back with her last possessions I was astonished to find that she, a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s, had started a new book – Philosophy Between the Lines by Arthur M. Melzer – in her new nursing home (another which she had begun to read in the Rosa Spier Huis didn’t come with her) with various underlined words, phrases and paragraphs as was her habit. In this way we can even know what probably was the last page she ever read.

[2] The connection with my grandmother is only further reinforced by the numerous poems which Woolf cites in her essay. Especially since the ones she cites – e.g. Tennyson – are exactly those poets my grandmother greatly appreciated.

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On May 19 2017 Dorothy Ann Oswald died, aged 83.

A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf is offered for free online by the University of Adelaide.

Quotation 3: ‘Democracy at Work’ by Richard Wolff

[W]omen, especially in middle- and upper income groups, moved steadily and massively into the paid labor markets. Most lower-income women had already been doing paid labour.

This post-1970 change in the conditions and lives of American women changed their families and households in ways that also altered US capitalism. Briefly, the mass movement of adult women, mostly married and with children, into paid, mostly full-time labor transformed households and families. Wives and mothers had long held disproportionate responsibility for maintaining the emotional integrity of the traditional nuclear family and the physical integrity of the traditional household. Even after those women undertook paid labor, they still performed the major share of the emotional and physical labor involved in shouldering those responsibilities, far more than their male partners. Women doing the “double shift” of work-place and household jobs simply could no longer devote the same time, energy, and attention to maintaining the emotional life of the family and the physical chores of the household as they had before adding work outside the household to their responsibilities.

Huge strains on families and households accumulated as a result of these changes. Divorce rates rose as tensions and strains within households mounted. Women brought their job stresses home; two incomes had to be jointly allocated and two sets of job-related expenses covered; children received less time and attention from parents. Women’s former household labor, such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, and repairing clothes, appliances, and furniture, was increasingly replaced by purchasing substitute commodities (prepared meals, cleaning services, and disposable goods). Given the poor mass transit systems in the Unites States, when wives and mothers took paid jobs, families often needed to buy and maintain a second automobile. On US television programs, situation comedies changed from celebrating the happy nuclear and patriarchal family of the 1950s and 1960s to laughing with compassion at the increasingly dysfunctional families of the last several decades. A historically unprecedented and growing proportion of the population began choosing not to get married.

Flowing from these family and household changes, US consumption of all kinds of psychotropic drugs, legal and illegal, has soared. We became, in one revealing phrase, a “Prozac nation.” Millions of family and household members felt acutely troubled that the support provided for them by traditional institutions seemed to be dissolving. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and the Republican Party, sometimes separately and sometimes together, found that by championing a “return to family values” they could very effectively draw new adherents.

The US economy adjusted to all these changes in family and household life, which were themselves consequences of earlier economic changes (above all, the end of ri9sing real wages). The prepared-food and pharmaceutical industries boomed; so, too, did the women’s clothing industry, which quickly discovered that women who took full-time paid work outside the home needed new wardrobes. The pornography industry grew fastest of all. As the manufacturing sector kept shrinking relative to the service sector, typically male-identified jobs declined relative to female-identified jobs. Men’s real wages stagnated and became insufficient to yield the American Dream for their families and necessitated more women entering paid employment. The stresses and strains of all these changes made many men, raised with ideals of masculinity based on providing for their families, feel diminished, emasculated, and devalued. For many, pornography provided, in voyeuristic fantasy, the male control and domination that had eroded in their real lives.

Richard Wolff in Democracy at Work (2012).

Article 7: Our dance on the volcano

December thirty-first 2015. A small company of young four Europeans prepares itself for New Year’s Eve in Paris. There are snacks and drinks and the conversation which follows soon touches upon politics and our future. What future?

Bulgarian, Dutch, French-Algerian or Russian – none of us hold much confidence in what tomorrow brings us. We don’t have any prospects or certainty. We all wonder when the world will start falling apart. Will it be in the year which is about to start or the following? How will it happen? Another economic crisis or a political one in Europe? We don’t know. All we know is that we – despite our education and ambitions – will be powerless when the moment arrives.

It doesn’t take long before the discussion develops into a competition of who find itself in the worst position. The French-Algerian fears his compatriots, the Russian is afraid of her visa expiring and of her motherland, the Bulgarian fears that same country. Without any respect for my privileged position I posit that, except for the French-Algerian, I won’t be in a better position when the shit hits the fan. I feel as if Western Europe has had its time.

 

Spring. Three years earlier. I am in a train in France. “I will reach the top and nothing can stop me.” I stare into the determined eyes of a Spanish girl. She speaks in a perfect British accent. We are in the middle of a heated discussion. I retort immediately: “I believe you can and that you have the willpower, but there are thousands like us who are just as competent and just as willing. Only a handful of us will make it and those who fail have little to blame themselves for.” The Spanish youth unemployment rate hovered around 55% that month.

Several weeks before New Year’s Day 2015. I am speaking with a Viennese friend from my generation. She tells me something which worries me: “I feel as if a war is coming in Europe.” Though I can’t reach for any fact to substantiate what she is saying I am not able to disagree with her. When? We don’t know. Where? We also don’t know (we suspect Eastern Europe). Will it happen. We can’t say no without lying to ourselves.

Two weeks ago. I am sitting in a restaurant with the same friend and her best friend. We speak about jobs. How we struggle to gain (unpaid) experience. How we have to lie to get a job. How desperately we cling to the work we get. Her friend cites from a newspaper: “We are the first generation since the war which will be worse off than that of our parents. We are the first peace time generation to have had it worse than our parents when they had our age.”

Last Easter. My stepmother reads that same newspaper. She sighs. “How did you guys get in such a bad spot,” she tells me. She has a job below her own level, but it offers some certainty. I look at my sisters. Generation K, the one to follow my own. I ask myself: “How will they fare?”

 

Some say we will become just the same as our parents’ generation. My fear is that they are wrong, that they enjoyed life in a historically unique period of prosperity. My fear is that the struggle of our generation is a futile one against the return to historical “normality”: inequality, insecurity and unfreedom for the great majority of the population.

January first 2016, three ‘o clock. I and my New Year’s company cross the street to the metrostation Bir-Hakeim. The Parisian streetlights shine fairy-tale-like. French soldiers bathe in the soft yellow glow as they try to regulate the multitude of pedestrians. I think back of our conversation earlier that evening. I look at my phone. The pessimism which marked the discussion contrasts sharply with the images of on social media people who are intensely enjoying their life. They party, they travel and take their chances. I am reminded of “Der Tanz auf dem Vulkan”, that phrase which sums up German culture during the Weimar republic. Germans living life to the fullest one last time before catastrophe struck.

At times I wonder whether we are now having our dance on the volcano. How its eruption will mark our lives.

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This article was originally published in Dutch on Joop.nl on April 5 2016.

Quotation 2: ‘Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology’ by André Gorz

“Increasingly, the real frontier between Left and Right does not run between these apparatuses but, rather, between the parties which occupy the institutional centre stage, on the one hand, and the movements rising up on their margins and contesting them, on the other. The established political organizations are falling into discredit, except where they succeed in incorporating, in a process of renovation, the themes with which the new social actors are now outflanking them.

The discredit into which the established political organizations are falling is clearly visible in all the developed countries, and the conservative parties find themselves in a crisis more difficult in some respects to overcome than the one facing those who claim to be of the Left. The classical Right has, in effect, always been obliged to defend the power of the dominant class in the name of a conception of the general interest and social order which transcends that class. In modern capitalist societies, it has to embody both the demands of capital–for maximum profitability and competitiveness, technical and economic modernization, domination of the process of reproduction and the orientation of development–and traditional values–family, work, fatherland, order and authority–which are constantly undermined by the logic of the commodity, expertocracy, and the invasion of the life-milieu by megatechnologies.

Particularly in periods of radical change and accelerated technical innovation, capitalism breaks down the social order, shatters cohesion and “identities”, sweeps away traditional norms and values, and dissolves those communities, allegiances and exchanges that were formerly felt to be entirely natural by bringing them under a system of technical constraints and legal normalisation. This is what Habermas calls the “colonisation of the lifeworld” by the “economic and administrative subsystems”.

Besides prompting opposition from the Left (to which we shall return), this colonization of the lifeworld, this destruction of the intuitive patterns of interpretation and traditional ethical codes, gives rise to a conformist revolt, which the Right has at all costs to represent and channel, on pain of losing its social base. In a society undergoing complexification and radical change, the Right is thus faced with the difficult task of having to represent both aspirations for order, stability, security and the preservation of traditional cultural norms and conceptions and the modernizing and expansionist demands which are causing capital, in order to satisfy its need for profit, to reshape spheres of activity and life formerly spared by commodity logic.

In consequence, the right is constantly threatened with break-up. If it identifies too openly with the modernizing dynamic of capital, it will provoke the emergence on its Right of a traditionalist, populist conservative force. If, on the other hand, it identifies with the conservative resistance to modernization, it will give rise, in the best of cases, to a decadent, corporatist and immobilist state such as the Salazar or Franco regimes, or the Greece of the colonels.

In the past, the Right could resolve this dilemma by supporting the modernizing strategy of capital in the name of an aggressive and conquering nationalism which to some extent compensated, by patriotically extolling the national community, for the dislocation o traditional systems of allegiance and life. We know that this solution has become impossible today. Far from being able to provide a cover for capitalist modernization (except, perhaps, in an imperial nation that was economically and militarily dominant on a planetary scale, an ambition which is becoming impracticable) and to compensate for it, the extolling of national grandeur, traditions and identity is today a form of resistance and reaction against that modernization, against the globalization of markets, capital and the division of labour. Chauvinism, racism, fundamentalism and xenophobia – which, in the past, could provide support for the imperial expansionism of a conquering national-capitalism – are today regressive reactions to an essentially technocratic and stateless capitalism. That capitalism cares nothing for traditional nationalism and military power. The weapons of its imperialism are technical advance, conquest of markets and information control. The Right is obliged to find themes which provide an outlet for conservative revolt while serving the cause of capitalist modernization. It found them first in Scandinavia, then in the USA, and then in the rest of Europe. They are fiscal revolt, anti-bureaucratic sentiment and the rejection of state interventionism.

These themes are interesting on account of their ambivalence. On the one hand, they quite clearly all have a neo-liberal dimension of rehabilitating free competition in a free market between free individuals and free enterprises. They restore a positive role to an economic liberalism which, for more than a century and a half, has progressively been held in check by the labour movement and the social state. It was in that struggle to impose restrictive rules on the free workings of the market – which both permit and demand the maximization of efficiency and profit – and to define areas from which the market was excluded that the Left took shape and developed. Gradually, the Left has come to circumscribe more and more the space within which free competition and the pursuit of maximum productivity are given free rein. In other words, it has withdrawn from the rule of economic rationality larger and larger fields (such as health, education, housing, the family, old age provision, etc.) to which the priorities and criteria of the pursuit of maximum returns were not applicable.

The social state has, none the less, left intact the mode of operation of the economic system and the hegemonic dynamic of its type of rationality. The restriction of the sphere in which that rationality is allowed free rein is entirely dependent on strengthening the state’s powers of intervention. Strengthening those powers has not given rise to a different public space, to other forms of sociality, other forms of life and work governed by an autonomous rationality and values. Thus the redistribute action and the regulatory interventions of the state have been regarded by their beneficiaries as representing “social gains”, as a bureaucratic guardianship, and as the despoiling of the more “high powered” for the benefit of the less able.

Habermas has described, on several occasions, how “an ever denser net o legal norms, of governmental and para-governmental bureaucracies is spread over the daily lie of its potential and actual clients”; how “the lifeworld is regimented, dissected, controlled, and watched over” by “the professionalization and scientization of social services” and by “normalization and surveillance . . . down to its very finest capillary ramifications in everyday communication”; he concludes: “the establishment of forms of life that . . . open up arenas for individual self-realization and spontaneity . . . cannot be reached via the direct route of putting political programs into legal and administrative form”.

In so far as it is based on the consolidated domination of daily life by normalizing and formalistic administrative bodies, the welfare state is as far as it could possibly be from the libertarian aspirations for individual and collective liberation which are one of the founding dimensions of the Let. Instead of expanding the power social individuals have over their lives, over the modes and outcomes of their social co-operation, the welfare state, running parallel in this with capital, subjects them to its own power and deprives them of their space of autonomy in exchange for the forms of security that they are guaranteed. That is why “Today the [social-statist] legitimists are the true conservatives, who want to stabilize what has been achieved” by attempting to find “a point of equilibrium between the development of a welfare state and modernization based on a market economy . . .”. This type of programme “fails to recognize, however, the potentials for resistance accumulating in . . . communicatively structured lifeworlds”, made conscious of their fragility and autonomy by their “progressive bureaucratic erosion”.

It is easy to see how the Right can exploit this situation. With the established left bogged down in a social-statism whose fiscal limits – and bureaucratic burdensomeness – are becoming evident, the Right can claim the inheritance of the Left’s libertarian aspirations for a politics which dismantles the welfare state, lightens the fiscal burden, “de-regulates” and abaondons the development of a complex society to market forces reputed to be “neutral” and “free” because they lie beyond the scope and conscious determination of human beings. To the Right’s traditional social base this politics promises enhanced possibilities of social promotion and individual success (“effort” and “merit” will be better rewarded thanks to the reformed tax system); to the new salaried strata and to a not inconsiderable fraction of the skilled workers and technicians it offers the rehabilitation of success through work, within an alliance of “winners” – an alliance of “workers” and “entrepreneurs” against the “idlers” and “incompetents” who are seeking to live off the work of others by way of social benefits. The laws of the market demand efficiency and optimum performance; the competitiveness of the economy depends on that of each enterprise: “we are at war”, and everyone has to be fired with “the will to win”. A nation of winners cannot grieve

In a context in which there can no longer be stable full-time jobs for all, this extolling of maximum effort and glorification of employment as a source of social identity and national wealth and greatness will succeed in clouding the political waters by disconcertingly overturning the previous system of allegiances: as a result, the class of skilled wage-earners with stable jobs will be induced to behave as jealous proprietors of that rare commodity, employment, and to ally with the traditional middle classes and the modern employers to defend their jobs and wages against the pressure from a growing mass of unemployed workers, both native and non-native, and from competing enterprises.

The ideology of effort and individual merit, the defence of jobs and identification with work , have thus become right-wing themes, enabling blocs of the working class to be won over to a new national-productivist alliance in favour of liberal-capitalist modernization. The old Left has seen a crucial part of its ideology and social base stolen by the Right. The terrains it occupied in the past are no longer rightly its own; they are no longer terrains of the Left. Hence the perplexity and scepticism regarding the pertinence of the Right-Left divide. Hence also the obvious fact that if there is a Left it has to be sought on other terrains than those of national-productivism, the ideology of work, of wage-earning society, of social-statism and a “collective utilitarianism”, as Allain Caillé would put it, for whom collective well-being is to be achieved only by renouncing the autonomy of the subject.”

By André Gorz from Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology (1991).

Note 5: The day after International Women’s Day

Last year on International Women’s Day – only the second or third time that I paid any real attention to the celebration – a woman made me aware of my problematic attitude towards the holiday. Like many other men I was inclined to wish a woman a “happy IWD” and, despite some doubts, so I did.

It led, not immediately, but eventually, to a conversation where I was brought to understand two issues surrounding International Women’s Day which need to be countered for the day to stay meaningful. First, there is the treatment of it as “Mother’s Day Without Children” where women are “congratulated” for being oh so wonderful, without paying attention to both the origin and continued relevance of the holiday as one to reflect on and support the emancipatory struggle of women. Second, there is the matter of it being used as a token, a way to pay lip service to women’s issues one day a year without doing much more.

To change this on a personal level I thought up a “International Women’s Day Resolution” for myself. Whenever topics surrounding women’s issues came up I was to ask the question “what can I, a man, personally do to reduce sexism?” as a way of becoming more aware of the sexism women face.

Throughout the last twelve months I had several opportunities to ask this question. The resulting answers varied from extremely practical – go to the other side of the road when you cross or are behind a woman at night, be careful with assuming that a woman wants to have the door opened for her – to more general ones such as “be open-minded and treat women as equals”.

All in all it was an interesting exercise which I will continue and recommend to others. The conscious attention I have paid to these conversations truly have made me more conscious of the challenges and particular irritations women are confronted with. Indeed, this year I will not wish anyone a “happy International Women’s Day”, because there still is enough reason not to be.

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Take a look at the digital hub for more about International Women’s Day.

Quotation 1: ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf

“All that I had retrieved from that morning’s work had been the one fact of anger. The professors – I lumped them together thus – were angry. But why, I asked myself, having returned the books, why, I repeated, standing under the colonnade among the pigeons and the prehistoric canoes, why are they angry? And, asking myself this question, I strolled off to find a place for luncheon. What is the real nature of what I call for the moment their anger? I asked. Here was a puzzle that would last all the time that it takes to be served with food in a small restaurant somewhere near the British Museum. Some previous luncher had left the lunch edition of the evening paper on a chair, and, waiting to be served, I began idly reading the headlines. A ribbon of very large letters ran across the page. Somebody had made a big score in South Africa. Lesser ribbons announced that Sir Austen Chamberlain was at Geneva. A meat axe with human hair on it had been found in a cellar. Mr justice commented in the Divorce Courts upon the Shamelessness of Women. Sprinkled about the paper were other pieces of news. A film actress had been lowered from a peak in California and hung suspended in mid-air. The weather was going to be foggy. The most transient visitor to this planet, I thought, who picked up this paper could not fail to be aware, even from this scattered testimony, that England is under the rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. His was the power and the money and the influence. He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and sub-editor. He was the Foreign Secretary and the judge. He was the cricketer; he owned the racehorses and the yachts. He was the director of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders. He left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself. He suspended the film actress in mid-air. He will decide if the hair on the meat axe is human; he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and hang him, or let him go free. With the exception of the fog he seemed to control everything. Yet he was angry. I knew that he was angry by this token. When I read what he wrote about women – I thought, not of what he was saying, but of himself. When an arguer argues dispassionately he thinks only of the argument; and the reader cannot help thinking of the argument too. If he had written dispassionately about women, had used indisputable proofs to establish his argument and had shown no trace of wishing that the result should be one thing rather than another, one would not have been angry either. One would have accepted the fact, as one accepts the fact that a pea is green or a canary yellow. So be it, I should have said. But I had been angry because he was angry. Yet it seemed absurd, I thought, turning over the evening paper, that a man with all this power should be angry. Or is anger, I wondered, somehow, the familiar, the attendant sprite on power? Rich people, for example, are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their wealth. The professors, or patriarchs, as it might be more accurate to call them, might be angry for that reason partly, but partly for one that lies a little less obviously on the surface. Possibly they were not ‘angry’ at all; often, indeed, they were admiring, devoted, exemplary in the relations of private life. Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both sexes – and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement – is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority – it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney – for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination – over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.”

By Virginia Woolf out of A Room of One’s Own (1929).