After thinking of the concept of «vulnerability» by Judith Butler I have come to realise that there is definitely huge similarities in how they both, Butler and Virginia Woolf, conceive the point from which the reaction against social impositions starts, a point that can initially be seen as (and actually it is) a flaw but is charged with possibilities from which we can begin to build the material of such a reaction. It is something like the critique is contained within the flaw and so naturally from the critique (and then from the flaw) we erect the reaction.
In Undoing gender Butler says:
«To understand gender as a historical category, however, is to accept that gender, understood as one way of culturally configuring a body, is open to a continual remaking, and that 'anatomy' and 'sex' are not without cultural framing».
Well, I am very sure she would agree in applying this not only to gender/anatomy/sex but to any of our social components or composition. Actually, Butler is saying that we are ‘social construction’ to a great extent and that gender/anatomy/sex are not least on (or out of) this respect. And, beyond, she thinks that reaction against that situation does not start from a rational reflection but from the sense of vulnerability that results of the way we are made by outer impositions without controlling it at all. It starts as a «disposition of ourselves outside ourselves [which] seems to follow from bodily life, from its vulnerability and its exposure» (Precarious life. The powers of mourning and violence.). After this, perhaps rational reflection (and organized reaction) comes. So we do not have to avoid or restrain «vulnerability» but to explore it, and do it against the mechanism that generated it.
Going to Virginia Woolf and particularly to To the lighthouse, we see the day by day of a group of people living their social role and the internal uneasiness it generates in the face of their expectations and desires. Not all of them aim to conceal that restlessness at all, but we can see two feminine main characters doing the best efforts in this sense (adult masculine main characters are perhaps more established in the part they play, without trying to challenge or to explore it / they complain about things of course, but they do not take action, as if the world has to make its movement for a change and they had done enough already): Mrs. Ramsay and Lily react from their vulnerabilities. In the case of Mrs. Ramsay, when she feels her familiar world is under threat (often because of the blindness and self-indulgence of Mr. Ramsay) she becomes more strongly conscious of her own role and consciously works for the equilibrium that is momentarily lost, she is actually making and exercise of introspection that project outside herself to the world for everybody's benefit. Actually she is herself the equilibrium. But, on the other hand, we could say that the position of Mrs. Ramsay will never reach the end of the dialectics between «vulnerability» and «social impositions» since she is solving problems one to one, not the structure itself (which she is actually reinforcing). Then, we have the character of Lily, really an outsider that, again, tries to explore her own vulnerability to enquire into the cause and perhaps to reach an end for it. Lily does not want to solve a specific problem, but to solve causality; such a determination would be more difficult to assume by Mrs. Ramsay who, against Lily, has her own place/role in the world. The place/role for Lily is (momentarily at least) more indefinite (she is, I said already, an «outsider») and then she is better able to exploit the possibilities of her vulnerability, to an extent that goes beyond just patching things
I think both characters (Mrs. Ramsay and Lily) are, in either case, good practical examples of the concept and possibilities of «vulnerability» in the sense Judith Butler use this term.