Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am A Humorless Feminist

But then, you probably already knew that.

I am a humorless feminist because of quotes like this one: "The human male has had the most impact on the planet than any other life form. Women are responsible and men are more playful and it is this playfulness that is our species' greatest achievement." (That is a quote, in theory, from Desmond Morris, which was in this Daily Mail article which I was reading because of this Jezebel post. I don't know where the screwed up grammar in the first sentence came in. See, look how humorless I just was, worrying about the grammar.)

I was re-reading Pride and Prejudice the other night. And I was thinking how unattractive all the women in it, with the single exception of the heroine, are. Jane's all right, I guess. There's the aunt too, and Miss Darcy. They're good, but they don't have a lot to offer. Otherwise it's a minefield out there. Mrs. Bennet is monstrous, Lady Catherine is grotesque, Mary is smug and preening, Charlotte chooses her social establishment over any kind of integrity of character -- it's a parade of horribles.

Then there's Miss Bingley. Miss Bingley is presented as a genuinely bad person, someone who will destroy her brother's chance of happiness in hopes of bettering her own social position, someone who will undercut her friends, a liar, a hypocrite. Miss Bingley is also portrayed as obviously and embarrassingly wooing Mr. Darcy: she admires his handwriting, she runs down Elizabeth Bennet (and her family) to try to destroy his interest, she throws herself at him. Her failings of character are tied, inextricably, to a situation that makes her an actually embarrassing object of contemplation. And, in all this, she is given no charm to compensate for that, none of the grace or humor that make, say, Mr. Wickham personable to the end.

As much as I like that book, in some respects I feel like it illuminates the narrowness of attractive female roles. And the moral it points out is that if you cannot be sure that you are Elizabeth Bennet, rather than Lydia or Miss Bingley, your safest bet is to be Jane -- unfailingly sweet, perpetually modest, deeply reserved. Otherwise, you'll just be an asshole.

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