The Jane Austen Social Scene Part IX: Marriage and Friendship

pride-and-prejudice-wedding-scene

(Photo source: themerrybride.files.wordpress.com)

Emma Woodhouse and Miss Taylor. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. What do these pairs have in common? They each represent a pair of Jane Austen characters whose friendships were altered when one of them married. It then became Emma Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston. Elizabeth Bennet and Mrs. Collins.

One of the motifs of Austen’s novels is that of marriage. I would argue that a more specific theme would be how marriage alters friendships between female characters. Regardless of whether or not the marriage is to a likable character, such as Mr. Weston, or to a not so well liked character, such as Mr. Collins, the institution of marriage impacts the friendship and usually in a way that weakens it. Look at Lizzy and the former Miss Lucas: sure, Lizzy visits her friend and new hubby at their home, but Charlotte is no longer the friend Lizzy could confide in and gossip to at the beginning of the novel.

Austen’s observations regarding marriage and friendship ring true today. In getting married, the woman takes on the additional identity of someone’s wife, a role society promotes with traditional connotations. In other words, in marrying, the spouse is expected to become the priority while pre-existing relationships take a back seat. It’s no wonder that when Harriet Smith tells Emma about Robert Martin’s initial marriage proposal, Emma’s reaction is to persuade her friend to turn him down; in her eyes, she’s already lost one friend to a marriage, and she’s not about to lose another.

Does putting a ring on it mean putting an end to a friendship? Not necessarily. But it does mean that the friendship will not be the same as before.

 

 

 

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If I Ever Needed a Reason Why I Study Gender Studies…

I was on my way back from a field trip.  I was sitting at the front of the bus next to a one-on-one aide who I worked with in classes.  Somewhere during our conversation, the issue was raised about having kids.

“I don’t want to have kids.”

The aide looked at me with a mixture of confusion and amusement.

“I just don’t,” I added.

She smiled smugly.  “You never know,” she said, chuckling to herself as though she knew something I did not.

“No, I’m content without kids.  I like kids.  It’s just, when I look to the future and what I want in my future, kids are just not part of that.  For a lot of people, kids are.  For me, they just aren’t.”

“Well, you never know,” she repeated the phrase.  “You could change your mind.  You find the right guy and decide you want ’em.”

“No,” I answered.  “See, when I look at dating, I know that if a guy definitely wants kids, then it’s not going to work between us.  I know if I meet someone and we do start to get serious, that if the issue comes up and he wants kids, then it’s not fair to either of us to continue to stay in the relationship.”

Her expression turned serious.  “Yeah, but even if you do meet someone who says they don’t want kids either, they could change their mind.  That’s what happened to a girlfriend of mine.  She was in love with this guy, they were married, and he decided he wanted to have kids and she didn’t.  So, he went and had them with someone else.”  She shook her head.  “I don’t think she ever got over him.”

I had the feeling the rest of the ride back to school was going to be this woman’s version of Tales from the Childless: Heartbreak, Regret, and Longing, her attempt to influence my thinking.

“Then I had this other girlfriend who, like you, said she didn’t want to have children.  She and her husband both said they didn’t.  Then, one day, she found out she was pregnant.  She ended up losing the baby.  That made her realize she really did want kids.  She and her husband kept trying, but she kept losing the babies.  Finally, she had one.  But, you know, she started out thinking she didn’t want kids either.  Realized she did.  You know, never know what you want until you think it’s gone.”

I didn’t know how this woman thought I would react to her narrative.  Perhaps she underestimated my intelligence, believing that I would not pick up on the placement of her stories with my statement “I don’t want kids.”  Or maybe she felt that as my senior, she was sharing her presumably greater life experience with me.  Either way, she was talking to the wrong person if she thought her words could have any impact on my decision to not have children.  

I’m an English major.  I study language.  I examine how individuals choose to compose their works and the effects and implications those choices have on the audience.  The area I am choosing to specialize in?  Gender Studies.

As for the implication that because this woman is older than me and could therefore advise me on my life decision, I remember my grandmother.  My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life.  Years ago, I was over my grandmother’s apartment, talking about my future, and I said, “Of course I’d want to get married and have a family,” because before I better understood about a woman’s choices in life, to say I wanted to get married and have kids seemed like the socially correct, appropriate response to what I wanted in my future.  My grandmother stared at me in one of her ‘I mean business’ expressions that made me sit up stiffer and straighter, and she said to me, “Don’t worry about those things.  Focus on your career.”

I was raised by remarkably strong women who always encouraged me to make my own decisions, regardless of what others think.  More than that, they instilled in me the knowledge that I do not have to justify my decisions to anyone.

Including the woman sitting next to me on the bus.  As I sat there, looking at her as she belittled my decision, I was tempted to be angry with her.  But, no.  Her reaction to my statement, “I don’t want to have kids,” speaks to larger issues within culture and society about women and self-autonomy.  The restrictive norms regarding women and motherhood that have existed for years still persist today.  We must continue to better improve our understanding so that when a woman says “I don’t want kids,” she will not be demeaned or looked at like an ignorant child.

Everyday Feminism has an excellent article called “5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Women Who Don’t Want Children.”  Before people judge a woman for not wanting children, they should read this article:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/05/5-things-women-no-children/ 

 

 

Project Thankful: Reason #99: Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

I see our world as one that has a very long road ahead until we can truly say there is gender equality.  Yet that road was started by all of the women who came before who built, blazed, and were brilliantly courageous.  I am extremely grateful for all of the women who lit torches amid darkening oppression; their legacy continues to inspire many, including me.