Skip to main content

PROFESSIONS FOR WOMEN - Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)


Virginia Adeline Woolf (1882-1941) was an English novelist and essayist, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. She was one of the leaders in the literary movement of modernism. 

The speech of Professions for Women was given in 1931 to the Women’s Service League by Virginia Woolf. It was also included in Death of a Moth and Other Essays in 1942. Throughout the speech, Virginia Woolf brings forward a problem that is still relevant today: gender inequality. 

Woolf’s main point in this essay was to bring awareness to the phantoms (illusions) and obstacles women face in their jobs. Woolf argues that women must overcome special obstacles to become successful in their careers. She describes two hazards she thinks all women who aspire to professional life must overcome: their tendency to sacrifice their own interests to those of others and their reluctance (hesitancy) to challenge conservative male attitudes

She starts her speech by describing how female writers before her have made an easier path to her becoming successful. She speaks of the struggle present for all women writers, and that is to break out of the conventions society has for women- being pure, conservative, and sycophantic towards men without a mind of their own. This is a mental barrier that she was able to break, with great difficulty, in order to incorporate her own voice into her writing. She was able to do so because of her financial independence, which allowed her to not depend on writing for a livelihood and allowed her to break conventions.

Professions for Women reveals Woolf to be a bold, hungry, and, more importantly, ambitious woman. Woolf declares, “this freedom 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” (Woolf, 1931). Woolf claims that in order for a woman to be a writer one must overcome a few obstacles that are inflicted upon women writers. One obstacle to her success is “The Angel in the House.” Woolf uses an allusion to a nineteenth-century Victorian poem, “Angel in the House” to reference her obstacles as “phantoms” and the “Angel” as society telling her that she's doing wrong by not following the woman stereotype of the 1930s. The Angel or society tells Woolf that she shouldn't think freely and that she should be flirtatious and seductive. This is one of the phantoms or obstacles that Woolf encounters in her profession of writing. 

This angel prevents her from fully writing what she wants since it persistently tells her what society is expecting. The phantoms (illusions) she mentions are what people expect from women. For instance, Woolf is “suppose” to be sympathetic, respectful, pure, charming, and unselfish. She constantly kills the phantom, but it always manages to find a way back. Therefore, she advises other writers to have an unconscious mind due to the fact that it will help them write what they truly want. Writing consciously leads to writing what society wants, thus not being able to express one’s true opinion. Woolf wants women to continue trying to fight these phantoms and obstacles. For instance, she uses a metaphor of an empty house and asks questions like how it will be decorated, who it will be shared with, etc. Just because one has rights does not mean that one should give up on fighting the injustices they are still bound to face. She inspires women to fight for equal rights for men and women and to try and put an end to stereotypes.


Woolf, V. (2021). Professions for Women. In S. Lohani, Visions: A Thematic Anthology (pp. 163-171). Kathmandu: Vidyarthi Pustak Bhandar.


Popular posts from this blog

BBS First Year English Question Paper with Possible Answers (TU 2021)

The Etiquette of Freedom - Gary Snyder

  In his essay " The Etiquette of Freedom ," Gary Snyder explores the concept of freedom in relation to nature and culture. He argues that freedom is not simply the absence of constraints (restrictions), but rather the ability to live in harmony with the natural world. This requires a deep understanding of the environment and a willingness to respect its limits. Snyder begins by defining the terms " wild " and " culture ." He argues that " wild " does not mean " untamed " or " uncivilised ," but rather " self-organizing ." A wild system is one that is able to maintain its own equilibrium (balance) without the intervention of humans. Culture, on the other hand, is a human-made system that is designed to meet our needs. Snyder then goes on to discuss the relationship between freedom and culture. He argues that our culture has become increasingly alienated from nature and that this has led to a loss of freedom. We have