A Society is one of the short stories that was published in Viginia Woolf’s anthology, Monday or Tuesday. It tackles the patriarchy and male domination that prevails in their (and our) time and women’s efforts for equality.
Almost all the characters were treated unfairly throughout the story, sometimes by fellow women, but most times, by men or superiors. The story started with Poll’s task to read all the books in the London Library just so she could get her inheritance from her father. She asked her friends’ help, and they created a society that aims to know the truths of the world before they fulfill their ultimate role, “to produce good people.”
While reading is an excellent way to widen one’s perspective and intelligence, it’s quite problematic to think that she has to go through all that trouble just to get the money that’s rightfully hers. Had she been a man, would her father make her read all those books before giving her the inheritance? Besides, most of the books in the library were written by men. In fact, when they were reading poetries, the women of the “Society” remarked that 9 of 10 of the poems were written by men. Was her father trying to hone her mind a certain way?
The women had been brainwashed into thinking that they should live and think according to society’s expectations. When they read a verbose poem, they immediately came to the conclusion that a woman wrote it, even though it was written by a famous male writer. When Castalia became pregnant, she thought of herself as “impure.”
Having other women contest that she should be the president of their society — which I think means that mothers can have successful careers too — was a breath of fresh air.
Woolf wrote this story decades ago, probably because of the state of her society that time and the sexual abuse that she’d been through; but the theme of the story is still very relevant today. Capable and smart women still opt for a purely domestic life just because it is expected of them — a perfect example of the members of the society who can “read but don’t do it.” Women who give up their careers after being mother are still increasing; women are still discouraged (by fathers, brothers, mentors, and even their own selves) to pursue their passion, thinking that they can’t focus on their work anyways as soon as they get pregnant. The road to gender equality today continues to be as difficult as it was in Woolf’s time.
In the end, Castalia and Cassandra made Ann (Castalia’s 5 yr-old daughter) the new president of the society, which can mean that all their efforts had been futile that a little girl can take on the job. It can also mean that they’re passing the baton to the next generation; but Cassandra’s last words were “poor little girl.” To me, it meant distrust that Ann will be successful.
The women in “A Society” didn’t resolve the problem of their time, and as it is, I don’t see the state of the society changing anytime soon — unless we keep fighting. The Society, however, was successful in one aspect. They began asking questions.