Sunday, February 5, 2012

feminism in Jane Austen

There is a lot of discussion (or disgustion, as the case may be) on feminism in Jane Austen. Feminism is a term that means different things to different people so I'm not sure if those who define themselves thus are conjuring up images of bra-burning or making the claim that doormats are doormats and women are women. But the "place of women" and the "place of men" has long been under examination. The desire for the woman to boss the man has been a problem since Eve, but another age-old problem was addressed by Saint Paul, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28) Being one in Christ makes the play for power over one another a non-starter. It does not destroy hierarchy or specific function, but rather subsumes them in the being of love.

Apparently unmindful of perichoresis and Trinitarian dance in being, feminists are obsessed with the dynamics of male-interaction towards women, and the presumed negative effect on the poor female (this itself already assumes the guilt, as well as the scale of value, which it is attacking and trying to disprove). I'm reminded of the lyrics, Anything you can do, /I can do better. /I can do anything /Better than you. One brand of feminists want to eradicate their sexuality by snarling at anything "girlie" and getting a super short femi-nazi haircut to show how manly and equal they can be; while another brand flings their sexuality in all of our faces and dare us to gawk. Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, I've heard men claim superiority in absolutely all things for their sex, which instantly pulls up the mental image of a guy giving birth. If a Judy Garland quote is allowable I will slip it in now, "Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else”. All this mutual, counter-insanity cries out the question "why?" - why do women (or men) feel we have to fight to hang on to an equality that must be purely imagined? If there is a master gardener and an exceptionally talented ballet dancer and we wanted to chart the equality of the two, what would we even be talking about, gardening or ballet? It's ridonkulous. They are absolutely unequal - one might as well compare the power of wind versus the strength of a lion. Aristotle understood this, and he lived a very long time ago. It is only in this mindset of a literal and degraded sensate equality that being feminine and womanly has to mean giving up a supposed position at the top; it's almost as stomach-turning as a foppish, effeminate man who asserts his right to sink to the bottom (as I guess he sees it). It is the desire for various forms of power, clawing for every scrap, not the desire for that which is true, good, and beautiful. This desire to dominate in a naked way or to outdo a perceived imbecility in women causes men to prey on those who are weaker and softer, either passively or actively through aggression. This (then) turns women into manipulative instruments of torture. All it really is, on either side, is Power for self & Black magic.

So what does this have to do with Jane Austen?

I won't be dealing with all of the arguments here because, frankly, I don't have 45 lifetimes. There is an inordinate amount of bilge on the subj.
I've read claims that Jane Austen was an extreme feminist who put secret coded messages in her works that can only be decoded by other fanatical feminists, which brings on derisive laughter and whatever beverage you are currently drinking to spray out your nose forthwith. The Patriarchal society of her day is blamed for all ills, and if this be so, Mrs Ferrars, Fanny Dashwood, and Aunt Norris, among others, have the Patriarchal society wrapped around their baby finger. Have they bothered to read Lady Susan? JA has already shown with Lady Susan that this is a misuse of woman's power. The undoubted power we've been given is what we should be considering what to do with (which is how JA also thought of it), not the amount of someone else's and not if we are in fact "equals". What does being "equal" mean? Is it "equal" to treat two individuals who are utterly different, down to their biology, the same? Would you just as soon have your teeth repaired by a chimney sweep, and your fireplace fixed by the white-gloved dentist? Feminists don't want equality - you can only be equal to yourself. 

In JA, those who held powerful positions had a corresponding duty to those in their community. In JA's world, failure to fulfill or execute this duty invalidated respect and affection for the power that went with it. One could not be a hero or a heroine. One was disqualified, and left to one's deserved Fate, however that turned out. JA was too much of a lady to want to dig in the mud for that, and she sent them on their way, packing, exercising undoubted feminine power and literary ability to render them the ridiculous fools they were in the nicest way possible, provided they made a discreet exit. One senses she would do quite the same with modern feminists who want to drape themselves in the rags they've torn from her classic dress. In JA's sub-created world, the landowners: Darcy, Knightly, and Crawford, to name a few, fulfilled an obligation in caring for those who were not blessed as they. Crawford, who is always away, is not honorable in this way. Emma was at the top of the social ladder so her snub of Miss Bates is awful precisely because they do not enjoy the same status and privileges. Knightly says, ...were she [Miss Bates] prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance; I would not quarrel with you for any liberalities of manner. Were she your equal in situation...Here is Austen opining on equality. We see that the only equality her characters exhibit is that they all inhabit her world, in various ranks and places in her hierarchy. We might add that all deserve, additionally, an equality of charity, and that the subcreated world they move in is a world dominated by a frankly unapologetic code which is shared by the author, not a sub-code to be decoded by clever modern ciphers. But there is no absolute equality, except to be what they already are, themselves, which is different.
What is set forth as the "one thing necessary" to be obtained in JA  isn't control or power over others or even the situation, but rather self-discipline and self-knowledge. We admire Miss Tilney for her "real elegance". Real elegance isn't brought about by money, but by virtue. Yes, JA will describe some characters as "low" (i.e. Mr Elliot's first wife or Nancy Steele), it is attributed to their lack of discrimination and sensibility; this is something that has to do with character and virtue as opposed to money and power. Catherine learns it, Lady Catherine does not. That makes Catherine "unequal", or (we might say) "better" - a heroine. Lady Catherine is a flawed type that shares the "equality" of being ignorant of her self.

We are all unequals. It is our faith, hope, love, fortitude, temperance, prudence, and justice that grant us excellence and genuine power. It is the coming together of the hero and heroine as compliments to each other that achieve strength. In every JA novel a hero and a heroine emerge, only after learning how to serve one another, as a perfectly balanced pair. They use what could be a bar to union, the opposition of sex and situation and temperament, as a rising thermal of wind to rise on the wings of virtue, together, becoming more perfectly themselves as they are more perfectly One. Equality means a base of individuality (which is unequal) or an attainment of more of that individuality through Love overcoming any residue of irritability in the hierarchy of transformed Being and virtue. Jane Austen was anything but a feminist.

(written by me, co-written by my hero)

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