What Do Women Want?

What is it that the modern woman really wants from life?

Posted Jan 16, 2020

Do women want to enter a man's world and live as men do and have done for thousands of years, making war constantly, killing in the name of peace, grasping after power and position and sexual gratification? Do we want to step into a man's shoes and tread in his path? 

Is all we need, as Virginia Woolf wrote 80 years ago in "A Room of One's Own"; thus possession of property and the possibility of being alone, independent to write or say what we wish? What do we wish to write? "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace?" Or do we wish, like Jane Austen to chronicle domestic dramas, marriage, and love and death? Virginia Woolf suggests that we may as women have to invent a new structure, to create our own feminine literature where the link between our lives as women rather than impeding the quality of our work might actually inform and ameliorate.

At a reading I gave recently with another woman writer, a man stood up at the end and said, "I don't know your work, but it seems to me from what you read that you are interested in domestic dramas." The audience came to our assistance protesting his masculine arrogance and denigrating attitude but I wondered if he were paradoxically right.

In Doris Lessing's story, "To Room 19," a married woman with children goes in the afternoon to a seedy hotel room where she lies down on the bed. She feels the need to free herself from the impingement of the constant company of her husband, her children. Slowly we understand that what she wants is to sever her ties with existence itself.  Eventually, she kills herself. Her solitude and her independence lead to her death. She seems to prefer death to a compromise and the furtherance of masculine values.

D.H. Lawrence has written that what women want is satisfaction: "Physical at least as much as psychic, sex as much as soul."

Do we want to work in a man's world, as men do, to cope with the problems of running a company or an army? Or in the end is family, children, friendship, even keeping a house with art and taste, cooking a good meal—what has been called disparagingly women's work—what we might prefer? Should we take on, as Rachel Cusk says, "femaleness and female values as our subject." Might we as writers prefer to delve into the depths of a different world where our strength lies in our difference.