Cultural Considerations on Sexism in Knowledge Production

Alice Walker’s commentary on how limited black women are and were in the production of knowledge (in literary/artistic works) mirrors a lot of what we’ve seen in Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” They both discuss how important it is for one to have moments free from interruption in order to have the freedom to produce creative works. Walker tells the story of her mother who worked every day from before sunrise until after sunset to take care of her family. She says that he mother never had a spare moment to “…unravel her own private thoughts…” (238). This is similar to Woolf’s suggestion that one needs a room of their own and 500 pounds to have the freedom to create. However, what I find interesting, is how Walker finds that although the creative outlets of black women are not necessarily traditional, they do exist in other forms. Walker describes the care and creative spirit that went into her mother’s garden. People in the town and surrounding counties knew about it and even strangers adored it. Though her creative outlet was not literary or a work of art in the traditional sense (painting, drawing, etc…), her mother still allowed her muted creative spirit to thrive through her garden. So, maybe it isn’t necessary to have a room of one’s own to express one’s creative spirit, but it is necessary to have such freedom to create works in the more traditional literary and artistic sense.

Moreover, from Alice Walker, we gain an important cultural perspective that was lacking in Woolf. Woolf does not take issue with cultural or class-based differences that may also contribute to the limitations in knowledge production that many people face. This may be because Woolf’s goal was to focus on and make an argument for women and not to have this muddled by arguments for class and race in knowledge production. However, we do not gain this perspective until Walker elaborates on the extended difficulties of black women. I think that it is really important  to take culture and class into account when considering sexism in knowledge production. I feel like Woolf’s analysis was a bit two dimensional in that she really only focused on one part of the human experience that has limited knowledge production (being a woman) and not focusing on other aspects of those women’s lives that may have also contributed to their lack of knowledge production.

In the end, I wonder what is a greater contributor to limitations in knowledge production: sex, class, race, a combination of these, or something else? And, in the face of hardships in knowledge production, are we ever satisfied with alternative outlets of creative expression (like Walker’s mother’s garden), or are we always longing for a greater level of expression?

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Considerations on Sexism in Knowledge Production

  1. I agree with you that Woolf’s analysis seems 2-dimensional. Walker’s description of her mother provides an important cultural perspective that seems, quite frankly, more real and believable than the model that Woolf establishes.

    I wonder if it is that too often there are texts written by white women who don’t take into account (or are unable to take into account) the cultural aspects, which are nonetheless important, and sometimes even more important to knowledge production than the types of arguments that Woolf makes.

  2. I like the argument you raise and it reminded me of an article that I once read that pointed out that black women’s history is not told just by telling women’s history and then African American history. Black women have a distinct identity and history. So I guess if there are many factors that contribute to someone’s lack of access to artistic creation, we can’t really separate and prioritize those factors because they make up a new unique identity that allows for special circumstances.

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