Feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes
Even before Jane Austen appeared on the £10 note, many have debated whether or not she and her writing could be classed as feminist. I really wanted to write a blog post offering my thoughts and opinions on this very debate…
Yes, Jane Austen was a feminist writer:
Personally, the way I read Jane Austen’s work and the way I interpret and see her writing is in a feminist style. It is very hard for me to disregard, what I see, as blatantly feminist notions in her stories. Though it is unlikely that Jane Austen would have considered herself a feminist, that is probably more to do with the term not really being popular at the time.
Jane Austen undoubtedly created some of the most strong-willed female characters in literary history (Lizzie Bennet for example!) She wrote her female characters to make their own decisions in life, to step outside of social norms and expectations of that time and to think for themselves. Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example; Jane Austen wrote the character of Lizzie Bennet to show how silly she believed a marriage based on fortune and wealth to be. Though I don’t want to spoil anything, Lizzie Bennet’s happy ending is shown to be a result of her boisterous, strong-willed and unrelenting opinion on marriage and the kind of man she would settle down with. The characters that thrive the most in Pride and Prejudice are those who did not submit to social expectations, alluding to the idea that Austen believed men and women’s opinions to be of equal importance.
In addition to the type of characters Austen wrote, the simple fact that Austen wrote books could be classed as a radical act of feminism in itself. There were not many female writers. Many female writers took male names in order to get their books published as there was a stigma associated with the female writer. Not only did Austen go against this, but she took it one step further and filled her books with strong female characters. Jane Austen was not the first woman to be published but she undeniably opened the gateway for more women to publish their works and to get a female voice out there, when the female voice had solely been written and dictated by men before her. You only have to read some of the quotes from her books as proof of her opinions:
Hargrave: “I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”
Anne: “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.” – Persuasion
No, Jane Austen was not a feminist writer:
Though I personally read Jane Austen’s work as feminist, I want to give both sides of the argument. There is no doubt that, despite her female character’s resillience and desire to not get married, the majority end up fitting into the mould of a patriarchal society regardless. Even Lizzie Bennet married a wealthy man and fulfilled her role as a wife.
Just as Jane Austen has written positive stories for those women who stand up for themselves, Austen also wrote unhappy endings for those women that were outspoken or did not behave in a polite manner. For example, the flirtatious Lydia Bennet ends up married to, potentially one of the worst men in Pride and Prejudice. Though this could be interpreted as a warning to the way that women should behave, I personally believe that Jane Austen wrote these characters and in such a way as a mocking narrative of the expectations of the time, rather than an unfeminist and patriarchal idea.
What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading!