Shakespeare’s Sister (A Challenge for You and Me)

What if Shakespeare had a sister?

Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite authors, never married or had children, and from this vantage point, she observed (and critiqued) society’s expectations of women in a provocative way that still holds true today, almost 100 years later.

In A Room of One’s Own, she asks us to consider what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister. Would she have been a writer, too? Virginia thinks not, but rather than lamenting this, she challenges us to bring her to life.

“Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word.

Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed.

But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.

Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, she will be born. I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”

– Adapted from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

How does this translate today, for you and for me?

Like Virginia, I have hope. Rather than seeing the absence, I see possibility.

For every woman who is not leading today, I see a tomorrow where she is.

For every mother who is conflicted by the pressure to work inside and outside of the home, I see a tomorrow where these expectations support and enhance, rather than detract, from her wellbeing.

For every college woman who struggles with body image, I see a tomorrow where she is valued for her contributions, not the size of her jeans.

For every little girl who says she wants to be president someday, I see a tomorrow where she is.

As Virginia encourages us to do, we must work, perhaps in poverty and obscurity, for this vision of women’s leadership to be born. I invite you to work alongside me, to give yourself and other women this opportunity.

To bring Shakespeare’s sister to life.


Let’s go.