Who’s Your Protector?

In our modern world, we do not see ourselves in the situation that some of Jane Austen’s characters have to face.  But beware, these problems may still exist.

In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor discusses the fact that, due to their being born gentlewomen, they could not choose a profession and work to support themselves.  Technically, they could have, for they could have become seamstresses, or work in a shop, but that was working in trade.  That would be a degradation, far beneath a gentlewoman to think of unless she was forced into such a situation.

In Pride and Prejudice, we have the Bennet family, who have the threat of potential eviction from their home upon the father/husband’s death, as the females could not inherit the estate.  This causes Mrs Bennet to be flighty and fretful.  You also have Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who, in a way, has taken on the dominant male role of ruling over her estate.  Most of the time, in JAFF, we see Lady Catherine as the evil witch, but I can also see a woman struggling to keep her place, without having to have a man take charge of her life.  Perhaps the freedom from being under the thumb of, first her father, then her husband, leads her to behave as she does.  Does this have impact on Lady Catherine’s desire to have her daughter married to Darcy?  Is the reason behind her demands for the wedding to protect her daughter from having to endure how a cruel man might treat Anne, knowing Darcy would not be cruel to Anne?

So, instead of lowering themselves to working in trade, the Dashwood ladies live in a cottage owned by a cousin, and have to survive on a minimum financial settlement after the death of their husband/father.  They only have the funds for the bare necessities.  Women were left at the mercy of men, and if the men in their lives were heartless, as in the case of John Dashwood, the women were made to suffer.  With the Bennets, Elizabeth teases that she could tend her sister’s children, being a governess.  But we have all read that being a governess or nanny was a dangerous position, especially if the father was a rake.  Such positions were usually taken by widows or young ladies who had lost their father and had no brother.  This left them at the mercy of their employers.

Believe it or not, even in the United States, we still see this to some extent.  My mother was a stay at home mom, not working a job which paid Social Security taxes.  Most of the items, such as a house or car, was purchased in my father’s name, with his credit.  When my father passed away nine years ago, there was a lot of work to make the world see her as just as important as my father.  She had no credit, the Social Security was from my father’s employment.  In her mid 60’s, she had to nearly be reborn as herself, not as Mrs Deryl Schertz, but as Diana Schertz.

We believe we, as women of the 21st century, are equal with men, but it is not true.  We see the discrimination constantly, not nearly as bad in the U.S. as in other countries, but it still exists in the U.S.  I know this, as I lived through it myself.

When I went to work as a crime lab/crime scene technician, in 1993, it was relatively a new thing.  Women working at a man’s job?  There were two of us to begin with.  The other lady was older, married, with a ten year old son.  I was a single mom with a 3 year old daughter.  The bosses I had discriminated, not only between male and female, but also between me, as single mom, and the other lady, who was a married mother.  We had a time each day (3am to 6am) that we were subject to call out, as there was no one on duty.  The other lady was not expected to come out, as her husband worked graveyard shift, and she couldn’t leave her son home alone.  Yet I had to find someone to watch my daughter if I got called in to take a case.

One of my bosses told me that he was not used to dealing with strong willed, independent women, especially a single mother, and that he had no respect for me for not having a husband.  But, if I had been married, and a mild mannered lady, I would have been acceptable.  That attitude continued until 2007, when that boss retired.

Fortunately, because of strong willed women, who refuse to be put in a stereotypical role in life, we are seeing the changes in many countries.  But there are so many women and girls in the world who are still punished for not having a man take care of them and think for them. Jane Austen, your struggles helped make a difference, and will continue to show future generations that women can have a life they wish, man or no man to protect them.  It is my hope that when we celebrate the 300 year anniversary of Jane Austen’s work, we can say that this issue is no longer a problem in the world.

16 Responses to Who’s Your Protector?

  1. After 40 years of teaching and devotion to the job, at my retirement luncheon, all my last principal could say of me was “If you ever served on a committee with Regina, you know she’ll tell you what you think.” That could be translated into “I ruffled his Southern boy feathers on more than one occasion.” LOL!

  2. This was really interesting, Melanie.Sexism definitely still exists. I’ve been dealing with it as I experience my parents aging. I have 5 brothers and 1 disabled sister. It is so frustrating that my parents simply won’t let me do so many things because I am a woman. They didn’t want me to drive when I visited, for example. I find that the younger generation tends to treat women more equally, but I’m still annoyed that women are held to higher standards for physical attractiveness than men are.

  3. I’m definitely grateful for a society that is striving to improve the place of women in society. It’s a challenge to sort out what sorts of cultural changes actually improve the lot of all of us without penalizing anyone unfairly for choosing “the road less traveled” or punish men for the sins of previous generations.

  4. Melanie, thank you for sharing the difficulties women endured in the past. We should never take for granted the freedom we have today. May we always remember those who went before us.

  5. I have always wondered how Lady C obtained control over Rosings. Even if she owned the property, wouldn’t she have been subject to the rule of her nearest male relative? Would there not have been a guardian in place, if not for her, but for Anne? Or maybe this guardian just did not want to put up with her as long as things were going well. Or was Darcy a successor guardian to his father? Inquiring minds want to know!

    • It depends on interpretation. If there was no entail eliminating the women being able to inherit, and depended on how the will was written, Lady Cat may have inherited. But most likely, Lord Matlock or Darcy would act as her protector.

  6. It is hard to imagine that women in Jane’s day were totally at the mercy of men. Really sad.

    But, like you, I faced the problem of being a woman in a man’s world from the time I joined the workforce at 17 and up and until I began writing at home in my 60′. some harassment was being young. As I got older it was just being a woman period. When I started working I expected harassment for I got it every day, work or not. That was before the ‘treatment of women’ in the workplace became an issue. Even the nicer bosses I had thought I should listen to ‘nasty jokes’ and innuendos and smile. Makes me sick to think it is still happening, but I know that it is.

    And, don’t get me started on the pay differences. My last job I followed 2 men in six months that could not do the job. I learned later that I was paid less that both of them . . . much less. 🙁

    • And you are left feeling less important or that you have to be more masculine to fit in the work, to be “one of the guys” to be accepted. Thanks Brenda.

  7. I’m still amazed when some of the male faculty come in and start to talk to me like I”m a stenographer from 1935. I am a bit farther up the food chain than you give me credit for SIR. :-p You are so right, for all the advances that have been made, we’re still not equals. Many years ago I worked for a small company and the owner would say very inappropriate things, want me to print out his porn and then send me to the cleaners after his laundry and I couldn’t convince him that wasn’t part of my job description. Absolutely unacceptable. I have a DH but I have that illusion that someday it won’t matter. Great post!

  8. Hey Melanie, Thanks for the reminder of what women have suffered in the past and the many hardships they still endure. I love being married and having a partner to work with. However, after my first DH passed on, I had a 7 year famine and it was really difficult until I met and married Greg. My kudos to you for working so hard to take care of your daughter and support yourself on your own. Thanks for sharing. Jen Red

  9. Thank you for this post, Melanie. It was a nice refresher of what Jane’s times were like. There is still discrimination, but it’s nice to see how you forged through it.

    • I hope that my granddaughters and future generations will see the end of the struggle, though if it took more than 200 years to get this far, it might be more like my great, great, great granddaughters.

Your thoughts are precious!