I finally got around to reading a classic, whole and unabridged. This was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (not to be confused with Gurinder Chadda’s almost-namesake horror show with Ashen-faced Rai in the lead).
Books I like are usually ones that I remember some pearls of wisdom from. Here’s something from this book that will stay with me a long, long time. I quote Mr.Benett, the father of the soon-to-be-wed female protagonist, Elizabeth.
“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”
Wise words of a father, those. A father who encourages independent thought in a daughter even in a time and age that accords them the status of showpieces. Small wonder then, that the daughter is just as ahead of her times as her father is. She’s wilful, headstrong, sarcastic and brash. Also quick-witted, ruthlessly logical and deeply loyal to people who have earned her caring. Thats not so far from the Modern Woman, is it?
Another portrayal of a woman with a strong identity…Scarlett O’ Hara. The pampered, beautiful heroine of Gone with the Wind who displays confusing and contradictory traits of loyalty, selfishness, warmth, cold-blooded ambition, ruthlessness, tenderness, optimism as well as pragmatism. Once again, how far from today’s reality, this one?
There’s a line in this book that says that a woman should never lose her fear. A woman without fears has nothing to hope for….something to that effect. The book is about Scarlett battling her fears, emerging an easy victor and life beyond that. Which doesn’t turn out a bed of roses. She is the society belle toying with the affections of all the men who adore her (and whom she has no respect for) The one man who wins her respect (and her heart) is the one who sees her for what she is and treats her accordingly. With indulgence but not subservience. With firmness but not cruelty.
Where is the connection? Both are women who know their own strenghts and in some manner look down on men who aren’t their equals. While Elizabeth Bennett treats them a dose of her wicked wit, Scarlett toys with them and discards them like waste papers. Each of them finds a man who is an equal in some way, someone they just have to respect. The similarity is in the fact that each of them refuses to or is unable to settle down in relationships with people they do not respect.
Do I identify with them? Yes I do. I think they typify the character I’ve termed Modern Woman (for lack of a better name). Yes, we are all doomed since we lose our fears so early. We will only find happiness in something greater and love with someone better. Or at least equal. Which is getting to be a sticky situation all things considered. The better we get, the more we expect. And the less those expectations are fulfiled, the more dissatisfied and jaded we are. While the pressures continue to mount, stemming from the disillusionment and frustration of the opposite sex.
No surprise then, that the changing gender equations are hitting modern relationships right in the centre. My father asked me once why it was so important to me that a man be my equal at least for me to consider having a relationship with him. Was it, he reasoned, necessarily an indicator of a good relationship? Yes, I told him. Lets leave aside all those biases about the male ego (though that is a major deciding factor, I’d think). A relationship is about understanding, connecting, supporting and growing. It isn’t a one-way street. And I’d think an unequal relationship would be imbalanced…slightly unhealthy.
Men seem to have a better grasp of how to live with someone who is not equal to them. There was certain solidity to the structure of the stronger-smarter-better male and the weaker sex to be protected and cared for. It isn’t working, it just isn’t working any more. Or at least, the ‘little woman’ is growing too big for that tiny shell she’s in. And if the structure is to be maintained, the man will just have to provide a far bigger shell. Or be devoured alive by the female piranha. Don’t tell me about role reversal. Women have started to earn the title of ‘stronger sex’. We just haven’t gotten around to wearing it with grace as yet.
Maybe it is an ego thing. An attitude of “I am this plus this plus this. Why should I care for someone who is not at least this much?” We treat even relationships as status symbols. I can’t resolve this….I do it unwittingly myself. The only way is to seek equality. A relationship without equality just is not stable or long-lasting. I know hundreds of couples do settle down comfortably with people who are less intelligent, healthy, sucessful, attractive or strong. I know no two people are alike. But I’m saying the equality has to be at an overall level. In totality, what one person can do well and contributes to the relationship needs to balance with his/her weakness and that which he/she seeks in the relationship.
You can know an association between equals from the respect they have for each other. Such relationships always work. I’d say they are the only ones that work. In business, in friendship, in sex, in love, in family. You can even see it in people who seemingly can’t stand each other. If they still respect each other, they can live with each other, all other differences overcome. And that respect rises from recognition of the other as an equal.
Is this an unrealistic ideal, then?
Do not lead me, I may not follow.
Do not follow me, I may not be your best guide.
Just walk by me and be my friend.