First edition cover of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own by Vanessa BellPolitics

Reading “A Room of One’s Own” in 2023

Josh Povall

Nearly 100 years on, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is as pertinent as ever in the era of Andrew Tate.

I received a copy of A Room of One’s Own over Christmas as it was a text I was yet to fully read. As I made my way through it, I couldn’t help but feel alarmed by how relevant Virginia Woolf’s various musings felt with the rise of “alpha male” culture in recent years. On the 29th December, Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan were arrested in Romania on charges of rape and human trafficking. This came shortly after a Twitter spat with Greta Thunberg. Tate was thrust into the mainstream media’s spotlight, already a concerningly enormous presence on social media, and with this the pertinence of A Room became all the more emphatic in the current social climate.

“Moreover, in a hundred years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex,” notes Woolf at the close of a chapter. In this, she imagines that women will be on a level with men in spaces such as employment and that they would be more liberated from rooms that they could not own. Whilst many barriers have indeed fallen 100 years on, although gender pay disputes still rumble on despite the 2010 Equality Act’s provisions, the rise of incel culture online and amongst young men suggests some opposition still remains. Incel stands for “involuntary celibate” and relates to an online community of men who share their views on this feeling, often resulting in hostility toward women. There is a concerning crossover here between “alpha males” and “incels” in that there is clearly a demand for influencers like Tate, who espouse an almost slapstick hyper-masculinity whilst also arguing that women should be put back into the rooms that Woolf sought to escape.

Woolf’s takedown of the institutional professor resonates here, especially when Andrew Tate is the self-created head of the online “Hustlers University.” In considering her feelings, Woolf admits that anger plays a role, as she feels surrounded by “the red light of emotion and not […] the white light of truth.” In our current socio-political climate, it is easy to feel that life continues to be coloured by this red light, especially with the seemingly never-ending reach of social media. Woolf’s consideration of her own anger leads into a consideration of the anger of the patriarchy, and its insecurity: “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.” Tate and his peers present themselves as offering young men the means to reach this position of superiority: money, fast cars, and the supposedly “right” mindset.

Part of the blame for this masculine insecurity, for Woolf, lies with the educational institutions that she saw as driving “the instinct for possession, the rage for acquisition which drives them to desire other people’s fields and goods perpetually.” In our recent late-stage-capitalism years, education around the world has been hindered, with covid keeping young people at home, (much to the delight of some incels), and disputes about teachers pay leading to strikes in the UK. Further afield, the Taliban have come under global scrutiny for their banning of girls from education at all levels. These disruptions to education, and the attitudes spread about women online alarmingly point to a world all too similar to Virginia Woolf’s 100 years ago.

In this moment, seminal texts like A Room of One’s Own prove their own value, ever in conversation with the world that surrounds them. 

Categories: Politics

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