Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death. To borrow from the brilliant scribe, it's a truth universally acknowledged that feminists in need of improving their status must be in want of a good role model. With that in mind, here's what today's feminists could learn from a true feminist of yore.
One of Austen's gifts, particularly in her landmark Pride and Prejudice, was the brilliant, sardonic, articulate way she provided extended social commentary about injustices of her day. She loathed the role class or economic distinction played in life, particularly romance.
Basically, women were viewed as unequal creatures whose social status only improved if they married a wealthy man of a higher class. Like the feminists after her who would campaign for the simple right to vote, Austen used fiction to show how despicable and unfair it was for a woman to remain unequal with or even lower than a man, until she married and then "reached" his status by proxy.
Contrast this with the absurd campaigns feminists launch today in the name of "injustices" — such as the Women's March on Washington protesting the potential closures or defunding of Planned Parenthood clinics, or protesting the NRA, an organization which simply promotes the right to keep and bear arms — and it's hard to believe Austen would get on board with such grievances.
Self-awareness is another wonderful trait Austen wrote into her characters. She created characters with enough self-awareness to distinguish actual injustices from just personal qualms. As Elizabeth says in Pride and Prejudice:
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried; "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly.
Feminists today are so consumed with how terrifying they believe the patriarchy to be, or how large the wage gap appears to be, or how their underwear costs more than a man's appears to cost, they lack the self-awareness needed to see much of this is a product of their own choices and have nothing to do with being repressed or treated unfairly.
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention a main theme of Austen's works, one almost every feminist loathes today: Love. While many of Austen's novels revolve around love and romance, they address many more issues and she certainly wasn't just writing chick-lit. That said, Austen did write some of the greatest love stories of her time—what romantic doesn't swoon over, "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same?"
Feminists today are so consumed with their hatred of the patriarchy, they seem to, by nature, hate men too (not just the system). Men offer valuable traits to society and people, as protectors and providers. As Pride and Prejudice revealed, men and women can complement each other because of these differences, not in spite of these differences.
Jane Austen was a feminist but a first-wave, traditional one who longed for equality in society and under the law. She would not recognize the outrageous, whiny, self-centered feminism of today. If feminists want to herald Jane Austen as one of them, they might want to take a closer look at her own life and the themes in her works and learn from some of her wisdom.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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