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How Women Could Help Prevent War: Thoughts on Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas

Three Guineas Virginia Woolf

By Melissa S.

Almost seven decades ago, Virginia Woolf explained how women could help prevent war. Her advice still applies today as war continues to brew among nations.

In her book Three Guineas, Woolf argues that everything about male-dominated society leads to war. She associates men’s desire for glory in battle with the ruined houses and dead bodies that result from war. Yet, it is not just male aggression but also men’s education, professions, and pageantry that cause war. Colleges develop graduates with imperialist outlooks by teaching men how to dominate others and attain capital. Because they fear losing power in the workforce, men become “possessive, jealous of any infringement of their rights, and highly combative if anyone dares dispute them” (Woolf, 66). Uniforms, badges, and degrees not only provide a sense of false pride but also “rouse competition and jealousy—emotions which…have their share encouraging a disposition towards war” (21). Woolf suggests that the best example of the inherent connection between war and uniforms is the pride that men have toward military uniforms. The numerous badges on their coats proudly symbolize their rank. Soldiers even win prizes after war for their bravery in killing others.

Since Woolf believes that a male-led society in general leads to combat, she suggests that women use their differences to help prevent war. She asks that women’s colleges teach against men’s values of competition and jealousy. Educators should encourage students to learn for knowledge itself and prohibit degrees and uniforms (34). Woolf suggests that women can enter the professions without becoming contaminated with male vices by: (1) making only enough money to survive (2) refusing forms of advertising merit such as badges, orders or degrees, and (3) abandoning pride of nation, religion, college, and gender (80). Therefore, Woolf says to men: “[women] can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods” (143).

As 21st century women, we can learn from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas that we hold the key to world peace. We could chose to pursue liberal arts degrees rather than vocational certificates. We could enter professions that have public benefits such as education or health. We could refrain from showing off our degrees and accomplishments, and instead focus on applying our knowledge and experiences to helping others. We could refuse to follow male conventions that perpetuate greed and violence and instead develop new attitudes that promote social responsibility and diplomacy.