A Room of One's Own
by Virginia Woolf
Food is super important to Woolf in A Room of One's Own. After all, "one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well" (1.26). She describes two meals—one at Oxbridge, a cushy all-male university, and at Fernham, a down-at-the-heels all women's college—to make larger points about men's and women's situations.
The difference? Mary Seton, a friend of Mary Beton's and a professor at Fernham, eats a miserable meal of string beef, prunes, custard, and dry biscuits. The Professor von X's of the world eat partridges and drink fancy wine over at Oxbridge.
Hm, which would you rather eat?
Professor von X and his ilk are "the proprietor of the paper [...] the Foreign Secretary and the Judge [...] the director of the company [...] " (2.12). In other words? They've got all of the important jobs.
So what's left for women? Well, they're either wives and mothers or, if they're working, have some version of Mary's experience before receiving her inheritance: "I had made my living by cadging odd jobs from the newspapers [...] by addressing envelopes, reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet to small children in kindergarten. Such were the chief occupations that were open to women before 1918" (2.14).
Here's the thing. A lot of times, writers tell you occupations to give you a clue about the characters. Kindergarten teachers? Warm and snuggly. Company directors? Hard-nosed and hard-working.
But if the job you can do is decided by the genitalia you have, then it really doesn't say much at all. A hard-nosed and hard-working woman might be forced into the role of kindergartner teacher, while a nurturing and gentle man might be forced to head up a large company. And Mary's point is that, mostly, what we learn from Professor von X's occupation is that he believes he's better than women.