‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1922)
This quote, now legendary, is also revolutionary. It asserts the need of a woman called to do work she loves (in this case writing fiction) for both resources and private space.
Women’s circumstances have changed since Woolf was writing and some of us do theoretically have access to resources and spaces of our own. But we are still less well paid than our male counter parts, in the UK the overall pay gap in 2016 was still 18.1%. That means that ‘on avergae’ we are working an extra day to earn the equivalent of the average man. This gap becomes most significant once women reach their forties and many are also juggling significant caring responsibilities as well. Even where we do have access to resources these are often are needed for our homes and families and precious little may be retained to support our own work. On top of this Women still disproportionately bear the burden of care for others, household work, holding things together. We still struggle with our own self talk in this respect as well, chastising ourselves for doing something ‘just for us’, imagining ourselves ‘selfish’ when we dare to spend even a few short minutes focused on ourselves.
All this means many of us struggle to find space, resources and time both in the literal sense that Woolf meant it AND in the sense of time to ourselves, to look after ourselves and focus on the work we feel called to do.
We may not necessarily be longing to writing fiction, but many of the women I talk to, mission driven, inspired and passionate about creating change in the world need both space (literanl and metaphorical) and resources too, and have a significant struggle accessing them.
When we don’t have space and adequate resources we are often plunged in to a cycle of overwhelm, busyness and burnout. A cycle which, if we allow it to, can trap us in the thought that, if only we could do just a little bit more, then things would get better.
They won’t. You can solve burnout with more work. You have to take space. You may start with 5 mins a day. But you have to start. And you have to resist the idea, so prevalent in our culture, that more work will improve the situation.
When we are in this space, this cycles of overwhelm, we may also find ourselves ‘dropping balls’ and acting out of integrity, such is the importance of this time and space for ourselves to keep us on track. The integral importance of an ability to notice, accept and honour our own needs.
The truth is, the majority of women are both over-burdened and under-paid.
And this squashes our time for ourselves perpetuating the cycle.
I’ve come to believe that the over-work of women which is both demanded of us by our culture(s) and expected of us by ourselves is directly linked to patriarchy because keeping women busy, exhausted, resource-starved and overburdened is part of making sure that not too many of us achieve our full potential. And thus the patriarchy remains intact.
Last year when we launched Jijaze we began a practice of taking a monthly Away Day. We host a call for our members at the beginning of the day in which I invite them to set an intention, one thing that they want to hold for themselves as the focus of their day. And then I also invite them to set some rules for themselves. My own are usually, stay off email and social media, don’t answer the phone, eat well, move and do some writing. These are the things I need to create a metaphorical room of my own. Not everyone is able to set a day aside each month but I invite you to think about setting some time, just for yourself, aside. You might work on the things that truly call you or simple take a well earned rest. You might also want to use the time you carve to connect with others in a meaningful, nourishing way. Developing this habit is not about cutting yourself off from the world long-term, rather it is about recharging and replenishing your resources.
In September, we ran an online event called Replenish: An Away Day for Women who Create Change and during that day we explored this topic more deeply and offered some tool and practices to support you creating time and space for yourself. You can still access the recordings by following this link: https://maryannclements.com/recordings-page-for-replenish-away-day/