Consent as defined by Elizabeth, Darcy, and Fanny Price

Consent as defined by Elizabeth, Darcy, and Fanny Price

It’s a familiar scene in movies—the male lead grabs the female lead and forcefully kisses her, despite her protests. She then melts in his arms, and theater audiences sigh.

The forced kiss is also a familiar scene in books. I’ve even written one.

Lately, though, because I’ve become more concerned about the problem of sexual assault, I’ve decided I’m not going to write scenes like this anymore. I don’t want to condition my readers, especially young readers, to acquiesce to a man when they haven’t yet decided whether they want physical affection from him. This is not to say that women are responsible for physical violence against them, simply that in some cases, women don’t say no when they want to.

Although I don’t have very many male readers, I would hope that when a man does read my work, he comes away with a better idea of how to date a woman. Force isn’t romantic. What’s really romantic is a man who asks for permission. I love to compare Mr. Darcy, who seeks and waits for Elizabeth’s affection, to Mr. Wickham, who kisses Elizabeth’s hand without asking. This is one of the reasons I think Pride and Prejudice should be read by both young men and young women.

The proposal scene between Elizabeth and Mr. Collins is another scene that modern authors would do well to emulate because it shows a woman asserting her will despite everyone else’s expectations. Mr. Collins really isn’t ready to take no for an answer, but Elizabeth holds her ground. She is a great role model for women, even today.

The issue of consent is even bigger for Fanny Price who is shunned by her family for refusing Henry Crawford’s affections. I’m afraid poor Fanny often comes across as a bit of a prude to modern audiences because she does such a good job of standing her moral ground. She certainly wouldn’t be a good fit for a John Wayne movie or anything in that vein, which is why I think she deserves more respect.

 

Austen addresses the issue of woman’s consent in many of her novels, sometimes showing the negative consequences for women like Anne Elliott or Harriet Smith, who let others make decisions for them. For most of my life, I’ve considered it to be an old-fashioned issue that was resolved long ago, but once again, Austen’s novels are proving their timeless qualities. The details may be different, but the basic theme of a woman’s right to make her own decisions is still relevant today.

13 Responses to Consent as defined by Elizabeth, Darcy, and Fanny Price

  1. It’s interesting how things change. I grew up watching many movies and tv shows where this was quite common. And The Quiet Man was one of my mother’s favorite movies so I grew up watching it with her. I’m glad to see things change as seeing this portrayed on screen just perpetuates the idea that when I woman says no, she really means yes.

  2. I agree with Jeanne about The Quiet Man, a favorite of mine. When watching, it seems funny, but actually the way Mary Kate is treated is pretty abusive. Nice perspective on Austen.

  3. Funny you should pick a scene from a John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie. My mother and I loved The Quiet Man. If it was on TV, she would call me and we would watch it together no matter where I lived. We could quote much of the dialogue.

    I have noticed that many of Wayne’s movies with O’Hara had him manhandling her a bit and even throwing her over his lap and spanking her a few times. For her part it was always a feigned reluctance… like she secretly enjoyed it. Perhaps an early Shades of Gray… who knows. Anyway, O’Hara was the best at resisting the kiss and then melting into his embrace. As good actors, they were following the screenplay… whether it was based on a book, short story or whatever… someone had to write that script with that particular scene. Perhaps they were writing specifically for Wayne and O’Hara… they were the best at being in conflict.

    There were several things in The Quite Man that showed Regency proprieties were still relevant at that time. When O’Hara’s character tried to leave Wayne, he caught her at the train station and walked/dragged her across the countryside back to her brother’s house. At one point an older lady picked up a fallen limb and handed it to Wayne… “here is a stick to beat the lovely lady.” Yeah, that was helpful. The brother of O’Hara’s character had refused to give Wayne her fortune… I assume her dowry. When Wayne returned O’Hara back to her brother, he declared, “No fortune, no marriage. It’s your rule, not mine.” That was the turning point in the movie.

    Of course, women’s rights organizations crucified the movie due to the scenes with violence against women.

    • My husband and I love the Quiet Man too. That’s why it sprang to mind so easily as an illustration. I think we mostly laugh through the scenes because John Wayne’s character really wants to be gentle with Maureen’s character, but she wants him to be more forceful and violent. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t really the Irish way. It was just what the writers wanted to have happen.

  4. Great post, Rebecca! I totally agree. It makes me want to go back through all of my work and make sure I don’t have a forced kiss and if I do, edit it right out of there!

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