Friday Speak Out!: Virginia Woolf Was Right, Guest Post by Jenny Ryan

Friday, July 01, 2011
Virginia Woolf Was Right: a personal account of how I realized I was the luckiest writer

by Jenny Ryan

I once went to dinner with a guy I wanted to impress. “I’m a writer,” I told him. “No, I haven’t published anything. It’s hard to be a woman writer.”

“How so?” he asked.

“Women are caregivers: friends, sisters, girlfriends. We look out for people, we take relationships seriously.”

“Aren’t you single?”

“It’s psychological.  We have that caring instinct that prevents us from committing to art.  Men can just, like, disappear and live in garrets, or grottoes, they can distance themselves. Women can’t do that. We have to exist in the world in order to be relevant. Virginia Woolf wrote that women writers need rooms of their own. We need our own spaces within which to create. And we don’t have those spaces.”

“Don’t you live alone?”

“Well, yes. But, see, it’s dangerous to be a woman who wants to live outside the boundaries of what society says we’re supposed to want.”

He looked at me for a long time. Which should have been exciting, but this look wasn’t sexy, or full of admiration. He mostly looked bemused.

“So you’re telling me that you live alone, have no family, have a decent job with decent hours, and just took two months off to travel?”


“And you can’t find the time to write, or you can’t find the will to write, because you’re a woman?”

“Sure...” My voice was not nearly as strident as it had been only moments before.

“Listen,” he said. “I’m not a writer, or a woman, but I’m telling you right now: if I had a daughter who wanted to be a writer, I would tell her to go and be a writer, and that her gender had nothing to do with her ability to create art.”

Usually when you tell a guy, “I’m a woman and it’s hard,” he nods and says, “I can see that.” (The truth is, the more empathetic he is with your feminist angst, the more likely you are to sleep with him).

But this guy said what no one else would: I was using my gender as an excuse. It wasn’t that I was oppressed. I was lazy and afraid. And those states of being are not exclusive to women.

I’m not saying there isn’t a gender divide. Many women artists find themselves overstretched , overworked, and overlooked. Their struggle for equality and the right to practice art is real. But by claiming that oppression, I was only mocking those artists’ legitimate situations. I certainly did not have the right to complain about my lot in life, which in reality was pretty much Virginia Woolf’s dream.

I have a whole house of my own, an income of my own, and a supportive partner. (Four years since that embarrassing first date and we’re still together.)

I write every day. I’ve realized that the best thing I can do for the cause of women writers is to be one. 

* * *
Jenny Ryan is a librarian, improv actor, and writer living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She divides her time between Twitter and Facebook. You can read her novel-in-progress at


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Sarah Tokeley said...

I love this. Most of all, I love that you're still with the man who challenged your (mis)conceptions. On a first date, that's a good and brave man :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

I'm with Sarah. How funny that you're still with that guy that saw through your guise.

Yes, we can whine all we want, but no one is going to serve cheese with it. So just quit your belly achin' and write!

Shyxter said...

I particularly like this line "Many women artists find themselves overstretched , overworked, and overlooked"...Somehow I can relate to this. I get so busy complaining and pitying myself, it makes me feel uninspired to do anything productive. Sometimes we tend to worry or talk a lot. If we just get down to business I'm sure with all our creativity, there is so much we can accomplish!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

This was excellent! Thank you for sharing...and for giving me a wake up call. :)

jennysararyan said...

thanks everyone!

@Sarah: yes, I love that we're still together, too. I hope that I challenge him as much as he challenges me!

@Sioux: "guise" is totally right! he has helped me to learn how to keep myself grounded. I am lucky to have such a good friend in my corner. And you're right -- unless you're writing a really awesome novel about a really whiny person, whining doesn't help!

@Shyxter: glad the piece resonated with you. pity is definitely a seductive tool for self-destruction, i agree. keep on being productive!

jennysararyan said...

@madeline: oh, wow! thanks for the kind words. writing it was a bit of a wake up call for myself, too -- a reminder to me about the importance of just getting down to business.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you would ever think that being a woman would slow you down or stop you from achieving your goals. Glad you got that wake up call and passing it on to others who need it.

jennysararyan said...

@masksthebook: you're right. i was pretty clueless for a while there. i was totally blaming the wrong thing for my creative paralysis!

Kirsten Cliff said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing your story.
As I read, I was thinking that I have all those roles around the house and still get more writting done and submitted than my partner who also writes.
You go girl!
Cheers, Kirsten x

A T said...

well put. the excuse trait knows no bounds.

jennysararyan said...

@kirsten: well done with out-writing your partner! i hope s/he appreciates all the work you do around the house as well as creatively.

@AT: you're right--we can all make excuses. but in the end they are not helpful....

A T said...

so true jennysararyan. never ever helpful!

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