My cousin subscribes to a peculiar and aggravating kind of feminism. (He calls it feminism anyway.) He says he judges women harshly because they are made of better stalk than men. He is jealous of them because they are morally superior and more capable. Apparently, if you worship women, you can blame them. If they can save you, they are responsible for your demise. I've encountered this attitude elsewhere, mostly in emo music and emo boys. I was surprised to find it in two of Woolf's characters, Septimus and Peter. Of course, they are not feminists (much like my cousin), but they invest women with the power of salvation--an oppressive expectation to lay on a mere mortal. A lovely hand motif helps illustrate my point.
Septimus marries Lucrezia so that she will cure him of his inability to feel (86). One night it caused him to panic and "he asked Lucrezia to marry him, the younger of the two, the gay, the frivolous, with those little artist's fingers that she would hold up and say 'it is all in them.' Silk, feathers, what not were alive to them" (87). Poor Lucrezia didn't know she was volunteering to bring Septimus back to the land of the living. Her hands could make hats, not cure PTSD, depression, or madness. The weight of this expectation leads to the symbolic undoing of their marriage. Her hand becomes too thin for her wedding ring and with that, Septimus declares himself the lord of all men and free from his marriage (67). So much for Lucrezia’s lively hands.
As Septimus gives up on his marriage, Peter is nearby dreaming of women. He invests the trees with womanhood and notices how they then dispense charity, comprehension, and absolution (57). Continuing the revelry, he imagines a female shape being "sucked up out of the waves to shower down from her magnificent hands compassion, comprehension, absolution” (57). Even the hands of a fantastic woman can cure! Earlier he had seen a woman and imagined that her cloak was opening like "arms that would open and take the tired" (53). For Peter, femininity and sainthood are one and the same. We’ve seen what those expectations did to Lucrezia. Poor Daisy seems headed for a similar fate…unless she takes one of those hands and gives Peter a good slap.
The faith that these men put in women is oppressive but the bit about the water woman and her magnificent hands is emo-tastic. Couple that with Peter’s lament about Clarissa’s ability to make him suffer and we’ve got a hit. But if girls rule and boys drool, why are girls oppressed? I think Woolf is trying to say that girls are people too and canonizing them doesn’t do anyone any good.