Mariella Frostrup over at The Guardian recently wrote this in an advice column:
Despite achieving a position in the modern world where we are not only self-supporting but also increasingly outshining the men, we act like a gaggle of competitive girls whose most important goal is how blokes view us. Female-to-female behaviour hasn’t evolved much since Jane Austen’s day and the sad result is we continue to fail to provide sisterhood.
The rest of the column is similarly depressing. Mariella does suggest that the 40-something woman who feels life is slipping out of her grasp should age gracefully while at the same time make a noise, and “Rage, rage, rage when they attempt to turn out the light.” Sounds like a plan to me.
What about this talk of lack of sisterhood, now and in Jane Austen? Surely Jane and Cassandra Austen themselves are in the Sisterhood Hall of Fame? And Jane wrote about all sorts of sisters. Here’s Lizzie and Jane Bennet: “. . . do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” Not the words of someone who’s putting a bloke above a sister. Elinor and Marianne are another loving pair of sisters, though it’s true that Marianne does put her romantic notions above Elinor’s feelings sometimes. But isn’t that her great failing, what Jane Austen is warning us against? It’s also true that there’s some unpleasant sisters in the books. Maria and Julia Bertram certainly get into a catfight over Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and, more chillingly, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price take their separation from each other with perfect calm. As with the Elliot sisters in Persuasion, Austen seems to assume that there’s no reason that sisters would hang together, if circumstances or temperament didn’t allow it. And it’s true that we see very little genuine womanly friendship in Austen: Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas and Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney are the only examples I can think of. I guess it would make sense when getting a husband was like getting a job that you mightn’t be very nice to the competition, especially in a limited pool. So, I concede, Austen was pretty cynical about the whole sisterhood thing.
But what about now? Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and I don’t have any sisters. We came together as Beloved Sisters through a shared love of Jane Austen, eating, and talking smack. So we can’t comment on the modern state of sisterhood between actual sisters. But between women in general? I think it’s a pretty mixed bag. I personally haven’t seen much catfight action, have you? And also, isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that women should get along all the time? As if men do!
OK, obviously it’d be nice if we all got along. As it says in our header, Jane will keep us together. This may be terribly ironic, considering the above, but I suggest we try it. Send loving thoughts to all those of your acquaintance, even if there are few people you really love, and still fewer of whom you think well. It’s either that or back to the meat market, apparently.
Photo credit: ©David Stephensen. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
I’ve enjoyed connecting with old friends on Facebook (and keeping up with my children). The trouble started when an old boyfriend friended me. At first I was flattered—we dated when I was in my thirties, which was, ahem, awhile ago! However, he seemed rather obsessed with me, always phoning, chatting, etc. And when I agreed to visit him (which I admit was a mistake) he not only posted status updates about how excited he was that I was coming, but berated me for not doing the same! Even before I went, I was remembering why I broke up with him, but now that I’ve seen him in person. . . ! He’s pompous, arrogant, he never lets me finish a sentence, and he simply doesn’t believe me when I tell him it can’t work between us. Please tell me how to convince this knuckleheaded “gentleman,” once and for all, that it’s OVER!
Reconnecting with gentlemen you’ve been attached to and quarreled with can be done, but it’s tricky work. There generally must be some change of mind on one side or the other to overcome the reason for the separation (such as the acquisition of a large sum of money by at least one party.) This can be true even though he may be using you as a standard which no woman, not even yourself, can reach.
When the gentleman has not overcome his faults, and you are no more willing to put up with them than you were, it’s a different story. You now have to re-crush his hopes, and this can be difficult. Many gentleman are knuckleheaded, and so full of their own importance that they can believe a woman to be accepting them even when she is refusing them in the plainest language. My first advice would be to refer the matter to your father, whose refusal may not be mistaken for the delicacy of an elegant female. However, if you don’t have a father or brother who can tell him to get lost, your best recourse is to ensure that he fancies himself in love with someone else. Have you no friends panting for such obsessive attention, who wouldn’t mind the annoyances you describe? Hook him up with an eligible spinster of your acquaintance. I promise you, if she is amiability itself, he will soon forget about you, or at least only remember you enough to constantly remind you what you have lost, and I’m sure you can bear that very well!
pp Jane Austen (signed in her absence)
P.S. A further piece of advice: renewing old acquaintances is all very well, but you don’t know what these people have become, and their rapacious children may try to marry yours for their fortunes. Light chat and status updates can be deceiving. So, be careful!
I recently met a young man at a party, and I think I’d like to date him. He’s very cute, and I think he likes me. But I’m shy, and we don’t live near each other. How should I proceed?
Beware! Before you embark on any journey of affection, it would be wise to discover the man’s history with as much veracity as possible. Good-looking and personable men are, as we all know, typically cads and liars. Prepare yourself.
What do you know about this gentleman’s family? Has he any cherished siblings whom you might engage in conversation? Seek out handsome, true-hearted childhood friends from whom you may learn the truth, and remember: handsome, true-hearted childhood friends must always make superior lovers. Were it not for the smiling, beguiling leeches of our honor and decency, many an honest match would never have been made, and thank the heavens for them!
If you have any sisters, be sure to spread the news about this treacherous young man as quickly as possible; the more attractive and honorable his manner, the more likely it is that he will soon make off with the first silly, naive creature to cross his crooked path. Save your family the expense and the trouble of a midnight search party. It is your duty to report the future misdeeds of this young scoundrel-to-be.
You must now congratulate yourself, Adoring, on preventing such scandal from approaching your door. Better to attach yourself to this lout’s sworn enemy, and save yourself the trouble of a charming, good-looking husband.