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In a groundbreaking book published in 1929 (“A Room of One’s Own“), the British writer Virginia Woolf showed that what had most hindered the development of women’s literature in Britain was the fact that women, even in good society, had neither personal money to travel nor a room of their own in which to be alone and write. Whereas men, in the same good British society, had the means to travel and a room to set up a desk, read, write… Thus she explained (in response to a bishop who had explained that no woman had, or would ever have, the talent of Shakespeare) that if the author of Hamlet had had a sister, she would never have had the same material facilities as her brother to write his work.
The current pandemic is a cruel reminder of the topicality of this thesis: it would seem, for example, that since 2020, in France at least, researchers have published a little more than they did on average in previous years; while female researchers will have completed far fewer of their works. For everything suggests that, in these environments as in many others, domestic work has not been divided equally between family members, and that men have been able to occupy the family space more easily in order to work there; while women have had to abandon at least some of their activities, and in particular those that required the most concentration and solitude, in order to take care of domestic tasks and children, or to combine them, when they could not do otherwise: there is no point in developing the internet or any other technology if you don’t have a room to use it in peace.
These differences will have lasting consequences on the lives of these researchers: they will be less able than they should have been to claim rewarding positions, the direction of laboratories, and progress in their careers. Novels, works of art and discoveries will have been lost.
More generally, women teachers and researchers will have suffered particularly from this crisis. Not only because of the workload and the risks involved, but also because of the difficulties of isolating themselves for the preparation of courses and their personal research. The consequences will be seen in the years to come. Not only in the career advancement of these women, but also in the quality of their children’s education, for which they provide the bulk. For what penalises women teachers and researchers also penalises the boys and girls of future generations.
More generally, these two years (even if there is not a third) will have led to a decline in the rights and career prospects of many people, depriving them more than ever of a personal space. Women, first of all, but also children, and more generally the most vulnerable. More particularly, in France, women and children in the neighbourhoods, who are already widely discriminated against and who will have suffered more than others from the narrowness of their homes and the difficulty of concentrating on personal work when so many family obligations beset them. Teleworking without a means of isolation is sexually discriminatory.
This is not especially French or European. On a global scale, telework penalises those who have the least access to the means of solitude, necessary in particular for research and creative work. And women will have lost a large part of their hard-won autonomy in this crisis. Women teachers, unable to teach, have been dismissed by the thousands; and millions of children, deprived of school, will pay all their lives for the shortcomings they will have thus irreversibly accumulated.
One of the first things to be done, once this parenthesis is closed (and especially where telework is going to take hold for a long time), will be to rethink housing in a completely different way, so that each person can have his or her own place, so that the right to solitude, concentration and self-discovery is recognised as being just as important as the right to eat, drink, wash and sleep, the importance of which in domestic architecture is not disputed.