On Feminism and Jane; Or, Why the Quiet BAMF-itude of Austen's Heroines Actually Matters
One of my women’s studies professors told our class on multiple occasions that telling women’s stories was the first and one of the most fundamental parts of feminism. That women have been erased from the narrative for so long, the first step to equality is simply to tell women’s stories. Whether they are the stories of women speaking out, women fighting back, women rejecting convention or simply the stories of women living lives, women in domesticity, women in the quiet background of history, we need to tell their stories. I would add to this queer people, trans* people, people of color, everyone whose story is never told — the silent majority, if you will. The first step to fighting back is simply telling our story, saying out loud, “We are here.”
This same professor hates Jane Austen. Like really, really hates her and her books. And she was so disappointed by the fact that I love Austen, I actually felt a bit guilty about it. But then I thought, aha, watch me use your own argument against you, Irlene! And so now I am.
Because see, Austen was all about telling women’s stories. Yes, she was writing about a very small socioeconomic niche in society — the landed gentry somewhere between the nobility and the professional classes. So, yes, a bunch of privileged white British women. And yes, the stories are just these tedious little snapshots of the day to day, and they are all romances in the end, but don’t you see how the tedium is important? The stories are small because real women in their situation lived small lives. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important; it doesn’t mean they aren’t stories worth telling.
Lizze Bennet, who rejected two perfectly good offers of marriage, knowing full well she was expected to accept whatever was offered and consider herself lucky, knowing she could die an impoverished old maid. Elinor Dashwood, emotionally supporting her whole family and putting her own suffering to the side because she loves them and they need her to protect them from the cruelties of society. Emma Woodhouse, running this show and talking too much, and laughing at the world that seeks to silence her. Fanny Price, who steadfastly refused to give in, no matter that she was threatened with rejection, poverty, and the disapproval of the only family she’d ever known.
Read these books and tell me these women aren’t strong. Tell me they’re not fighting the society they’re trapped in. Hell, for their time in place, the idea of marrying for love rather than social politics and money was absurd and nearly revolutionary. And here was Austen, writing them the ending she never had, writing them the endings society at the time could never truly allow, writing the little lives of the women she knew, telling their stories, because they were important, because they were there.
A Guide to Finding the Women and Gender Studies Graduate Program for You
I was recently asked how I went about choosing the Graduate Program I’m in. I figured this was a question several other people might be interested in, so I made a helpful little guide!
When choosing a graduate school, it is important to keep in mind several things:
- cost of tuition
- cost of moving
- cost of living (Let’s face it: there are a lot of costs. All totally worth it if you love what you’re doing.)
- focus of the program (Is it teaching-focused?/research-focused?/etc.)
- key aspects of the program (Do you want a program that focuses more on gender studies? Feminism? Womanism? Spirituality? Academia? etc.)
- research interests of the professors (as you will be doing a thesis/dissertation at some point, and it is much more exciting/helpful to have professors interested in your area of work/research.)
- Teaching/Research Assisting Opportunities
Essentially, just make sure you read everything you can about the programs you’re interested in. I made a list of options I was interested in, and kept adding information to it. The one left standing with the most interesting and excited notes was the program I ended up in.
There’s not many Women’s Studies/Gender Studies/Feminist Studies programs in the United States, so there aren’t an infinite number of options. It’s also very important to keep the name of the program in mind, as that will be how it is focused. For example, “Feminist Studies” will be more oriented towards feminism rather than all of “Women’s Studies.” “Women’s Studies” is likely to more fully explore Womanism and the various contributions of all types of women throughout history. (Feminism being included, of course.) So definitely keep the name of the program in mind.
Also, for my fellow Southerners growing up in states without Women’s Studies graduate programs, be sure to check out: The Academic Common Market: Southern Regional Education Board. Through this, I got in-state tuition in Texas since Arkansas didn’t have a Women’s Studies program.
1. A list of Master’s and PhD Programs in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies - http://graduate-school.phds.org/find/programs/gender-studies (Though this needs to be updated because some of the names of the programs are wrong. If you find something you’re interested in, be sure to get your information from that program’s site.)
2. Ms. Magazine has a map of the Women’s Studies PhD programs in the US - http://www.msmagazine.com/womensstudies/phd.asp - (This also needs to be updated because Texas Woman’s University does have a Women’s Studies PhD program.)
3. A list of ALL Women’s Studies programs in the US (Graduate and Undergraduate) - http://www.artemisguide.com
And if anyone has further questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.