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Jane Austen Saves Woman From Feminism

The statistics for this blog’s readership in November came in today from the Mothership. I’m thrilled to announce that for the ninth month in a row, we’ve had well over a million page views, including unique page views. Thank you all so very much! Wherever I travel, I am always complimented on the quality of the readers who comment here. Below is one of the best e-mails I’ve received in a long time.

It’s an answer to the “Advice For the Weary Ghost” post [1] from last week, in which I asked readers to offer counsel to a lost young woman who had been ill-served by the Ask Polly advice columnist. The reader below offers her own superb advice:

You asked your readers to step up and help the Weary Ghost, and I’m answering the call. I feel qualified to do so because I have faced some of the issues she has faced and come out on the other side.

Some years ago, I went from West Texas to Oberlin College (home of trigger warnings) and emerged an obnoxious, raging feminist. After graduation, I moved to New York. God saw fit to send me a handsome, conservative Catholic boyfriend, who spent hours patiently making me re-examine my positions. He had studied Philosophy at Columbia, and his good liberal arts training was a blessing to me. From there the ship began to turn.

In graduate school at Columbia (classical history and languages), I observed overbearing and undereducated female graduate students use their postmodern weapons to wage war on older, distinguished male classicists. I will never forget the time I went to see Ang Lee’s masterpiece “Sense and Sensibility” with one of my feminist, Foucault-spouting girlfriends from the department. Say what you will about Jane Austen, her lovely marriage fantasies are like heat-seeking missiles in the female psyche. We love them.

When the film was over, after the gallant and self-sacrificing Colonel Brandon had rescued the wayward sister, married her and set her up in a big house, my friend turned to me and said, “I just want to go back there.” And, as the depth of feminist hypocrisy revealed itself, whatever remaining feminist platform I still stood on cracked underneath me. “If this woman wants to go back to the 18th Century, why am I even pretending to care about feminism?” I thought. And so I became an apostate.

In New York I experienced urban life as a single woman first hand. I saw the entire pipeline: young women entering, giving all their energy to their jobs and the city, and exiting in their late thirties, childless, lonely, broke. After I got my priorities straight, I met a man from Milan. We married, I moved to Italy and had two boys. We just celebrated our twentieth anniversary last month. Learning to speak Italian fluently, for some reason I don’t fully understand, opened my mind to the nuance of God and helped my faith begin to grow roots. I wish I had known you were coming here last September, because it would have been wonderful to hear you speak in person.

But on to the corpse-strewn battlefield of single life. Here’s the advice I would give to your Weary Ghost:


Dear Haunted,

The rambling and verbose response you received from Polly was inversely proportional to the usefulness of her ideas. If she had any good advice for you, she would get to the point. And why are you writing to New York magazine for life advice in the first place? That’s like going to Taco Bell for a glass of Barolo. You need to get in line at the right place.

This is what you need to do:

1. Move near your family. Right now. Whatever job you have, it clearly isn’t paying you enough to save any money and therefore you can get a similar job anywhere. Living near your family, even if you don’t have great relationships with them, you will begin to construct a foundation for living the rest of your life. Be an incredible aunt. It is possible that you may never have children at this stage, but you would be amazed at how satisfying it can be to help nurture your siblings’ children. Be positive with them, be loving and always be hugely excited to see them. That’s how my aunts were with me and it made a big difference in my life. Help tend to your relatives who need you, who may be lonely or need help managing different aspects of their lives. Become a positive force in the family and your house will fill up with people who want to spend time with you. You might even become a matriarch.

2. Meet the right man and say the right things to him. How do you meet the right man? Get to a place where men go to dedicate themselves to something greater — a volunteer organisation or a church. Don’t have expectations, just go there and work hard at helping. That will earn you respect and make you happy.

If you do meet a man with similar values, why do you think you should be embarrassed to tell him you want a family? That’s what men were made to give you. There is nothing more pathetic than a woman who has to apologise for fulfilling her essential nature, to be a mother. A very wise man once told me: “If you meet a man you really like, after a certain period of time, not too long, ask him: ‘Are you going to give me babies?’ If he likes you it will turn him on, immediately. If he is the wrong guy, he will walk away and you will be saved a lot of trouble.”

I found this to be an excellent sorting device when I was younger. Use it. There are so many self-sacrificing and good men out there, and they are just waiting for the chance. Give it to them.

That sorting device is perfection itself.

116 Comments (Open | Close)

116 Comments To "Jane Austen Saves Woman From Feminism"

#1 Comment By elspeth On December 5, 2018 @ 9:36 am

Good morning, Gretchen.

Nobody is saying that this woman is going to give up these rights. They’re saying that she takes these rights so much for granted that it hasn’t occurred to her that a different life, such as going back to the 18th century, would involve things being taken from her that she can’t imagine having taken from her. She’s so immersed in her own situation that she doesn’t have the imagination to realize that other situations are possible.

all of this may be true, but that’s not what the comment said, and in the times I’ve read it over the years (and I truly have read it a lot in a particular corner of the web), it has always been offered in a way which suggests that women could, somehow, prove their aversion to feminism by agreeing to give up their rights.

As if those of us who have voluntarily given up many rights on a personal level aren’t bona fide unless we politically agitate to see the impossible happen.

When has their ever been a right or entitlement bestowed in this country which was later rescinded?

Perhaps I am picking a nit about semantics, but I don’t think I am.

#2 Comment By JonF On December 5, 2018 @ 10:10 am

Gretchen, it’s still pretty normal for a single kid to live with an older parent. I just saw an older (60ish) woman friend in Michigan over Thanksgiving weekend. She wishes her younger son would move out as she’d prefer to live alone- and that preference is far from rare. It’s also pretty common for older people to have kids/grandkids maybe siblibgs in the same community, or general area. My 80 year old cousin in Florida has two kids and assorted grandkids living within a reasonable distance of her condo there. She had a younget sister living with her until that cousin of mine died almost two years ago. Also, to the extent older folk have their health and mobility still they need not sit home and pine. Some become active in churches and volunteer groups. And of course there’s also pets- don’t diss cats, or dogs!

#3 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On December 5, 2018 @ 10:35 am

If all that’s going on in your life is that Sunday-night FaceTime with your kids, you’re going to be pretty miserable. You have to arrange your own life, even if you were once the matriarch.

So arrange your own life and move closer to your children once your husband passes?

I swear, this country’s popular conception of “family” is so shallow that it barely encompasses the kind of relationship you’d have with a close friend… What’s more important, being independent or being close to family? I know most people would answer that first thing, and that’s a terrible tragedy, IMO. Says a lot about our culture, little of it good.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 5, 2018 @ 11:21 am

A fundamentalist Baptist friend, who I first met in high school 58 years ago, majored in accounting at a Christian university and upon graduation in 1966 landed a good job in the accounting department of a large Fortune 500 company.

She was the only woman in her job classification and she soon learned that the men hired at the same time she was hired were paid more than she was paid for doing the same work. She thought that was unfair. She “prayed on it”—she told me years later—and she decided that she would raise the issue with management and asked to be paid the same salary as the men in her department who did the same work.

It turned out to be a bit of a watershed moment in the life of that corporation. After some vigorous internal debate at the upper levels of management the decision came down that she would receive the same pay as the men in her department who did the same work.

Some people might say that what she did at that big Fortune 500 corporation in 1966 made her something of a “feminist pioneer.” But that is not how she looks at it. She maintains that the only issue for her was basic fairness.

To this day her husband and her kids and grandkids sometimes tease her by saying things like “grandma was feminist pioneer.” And as much as she recognizes right away what they’re doing—teasing her, trying to “get her goat”—she still gets quite angry and insists, “NO, I am NOT a feminist.”

#5 Comment By a commenter On December 5, 2018 @ 11:29 am

“I don’t have a dog in this race, so I’ll just say that I am glad that feminism has allowed women who lack a maternal instinct to become evolutionary dead ends instead of passing their genes into the human pool and probably creating anti-social children.”

Actually I think nowadays those women still have children but tend to become highly paid professionals who outsource the childcare to poorly paid women who enjoy mothering.

#6 Comment By LFM On December 5, 2018 @ 12:06 pm

Gretchen and Grumpy Realist both write as if the problem with living Jane Austen’s world in the early 19th century was that women had no rights. I always dislike this explanation because it places blame on society and on men for problems that were not really their fault, that had to do with issues that lay beyond the reach of male good will or social reform.

Yes, men and the law were unjust to women back then, but women’s real enemy was and is nature. (Do I sound like Camille Paglia? Probably, but I was a kind of Paglia, at least on this subject, long before she came along.)

The thing is that saying, as someone here did earlier, that you’d rather live in a feminist world than a non-feminist one, is absurd because feminism as we know it could scarcely have existed before the technological innovations of the 20th century. Women’s careers required celibacy, because frequent and unpredictable pregnancies were exhausting and could kill you. The law favored husbands and legitimate children as a way of limiting (not preventing, alas) men’s tendency to wander around impregnating women and then failing to support their children. Social security should have protected women, you say? Where would that come from, at a time when even rich capitalists’ incomes were largely invested in machinery and the vagaries of the market led to terrible crashes every few years? Rich aristocrats’ incomes largely came from the land, of course, and could drop when crops failed. Anyway, most of the work that needed to be done (and paid for) in the early 19th century was manual labour, backbreaking or otherwise exhausting. Did you know that before modern diapers were invented, the cloth ones I mean, swaddling clothes and other receptacles were merely emptied out and dried, seldom washed? Hot water, fuel, and coal were expensive, after all.

I get irritated with a certain kind of post-modern Marxist, too, the kind who never grasped (as Marx himself did) that industrial capitalism and its advances are necessary to the kind of egalitarian life that such people dream of. Without it, social inequality is inevitable, unless you insist on everyone doing their own water-carrying, wood-hewing, food-growing, and baby-minding. Fine, if you like, but difficult to achieve. Even the Cistercians, who were highly motivated, failed to do so. It turned out that the manual work then necessary for survival was so exhausting that no one had the energy to pray half the night as well. They had to specialize, which led to division into ranks. Without it, all other advances in human comfort and efficiency became impossible.

#7 Comment By Gretchen On December 5, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

Kurt Gayle – she’s not a feminist, she just thinks women should be treated fairly? I hate to break it to her, but that’s exactly what feminism means.

#8 Comment By Gretchen On December 5, 2018 @ 1:28 pm

JonF: I’m lucky enough to have four kids – two live nearby, while two live far away. So certainly some of us are lucky enough to still have lots of family activity even in retirement. But I have friends who have one or two children who live far away. Young people often need to move for career, so moving to where one’s children are often isn’t an option. My brother moved to where his only son lived, only to have the son transferred elsewhere. Certainly mobile older people can keep busy with other activities, but that nullifies the view of people here who insist that the single and childless are doomed to an empty existence.

#9 Comment By JonF On December 5, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

Hi Gretechen, I’ve moved a fair amount for career reasons too. But then I am somewhat unattached since my parents are dead and my closest living relatives are now cousins and step-siblings. However one reason I accepted a job offer to St. Pete in 2003 was because I had family there who could help me get going (I also had a job offer in Chicago which I turned down). My elderly cousin has two kids in the area because they moved there for work after she retired there.
A piece of advise I would give any young person who cares about family: Do the sort of career for which there is demand everywhere reasonably populated, not some hothouse thing that forces you to live in NYC, DC or LA ( unless that’s where your family is). Note that there are actually finance and IT jobs (as an example) in any and all metro areas- you don’t need to work on Wall Street or on Silicon Valley.

#10 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 5, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

@Gretchen who say (Dec 5, 1:24 pm): “Kurt Gayle – she’s not a feminist, she just thinks women should be treated fairly? I hate to break it to her, but that’s exactly what feminism means”:

According to a YouGov poll (Feb 23, 2016, sample size 1,000, margin of error +/- 4.1) when asked the question “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist or not?” only 32% of women answered “yes,” while 45% answered “no.”


In spite of the fact that only 32% of women consider themselves to be feminists, I would wager that 100% of women believe that they should be treated fairly.

I would suggest that there are issues connected with being called a “feminist”–issues besides being treated fairly–that many women reject. Do you think maybe that’s the case, Gretchen?

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 5, 2018 @ 4:27 pm

There is no objective, authoritative, definition of feminism. Both Kurt Gayle and Gretchen seem to be following Humpty Dumpty’s advice that “When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean.” Which with this word, may be valid, since the word sort of “just grew” into the English language.

The most well known definition is “I only know that men call me a feminist when I try to differentiate myself from a doormat.” Certainly that’s workable, but I doubt that 68 percent of women identify as doormats either.

Nobody is saying that this woman is going to give up these rights. They’re saying that she takes these rights so much for granted that it hasn’t occurred to her that a different life, such as going back to the 18th century, would involve things being taken from her that she can’t imagine having taken from her. She’s so immersed in her own situation that she doesn’t have the imagination to realize that other situations are possible.

This is true of most forms of nostalgia. It is easy to admire the esthetics of the middle ages, from a 21st century living room after a lifetime of vaccinatins, antibiotics, free elections (however sordid the offerings), living for decades without once being called to wield weapons in defense of one’s community, much less overlord…

Some Americans of African descent admire the black owned businesses in segregated communities, having never experienced the level of sheer degradation and abuse that was daily fare in a Jim Crow context.

#12 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 5, 2018 @ 9:03 pm

Siarlys Jenkins says (Dec 5, 4:27 pm): “There is no objective, authoritative, definition of feminism. Both Kurt Gayle and Gretchen seem to be following Humpty Dumpty’s advice that ‘When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean’.”

Whether an “objective, authoritative, definition of feminism” exists or does not exist is not my concern. I never claimed to know the definition of feminism. Neither did my friend ever claim to know such a definition. My friend merely said that she doesn’t like to be called a feminist.

Likewise, the 2016 YouGov poll I cited gave no definition of feminism. what the poll did show is that only 32% of women consider themselves to be feminists—whatever the definition may be.

Gretchen, on the other hand, has actually provided her own definition of feminism: “Women should be treated fairly [is] exactly what feminism means.”

Thus, Mr. Jenkins, you’d best direct your “Humpty Dumpty’s advice” to Gretchen.

Mr. Jenkins, you said that “the most well known definition [of feminism] is ‘I only know that men call me a feminist when I try to differentiate myself from a doormat’.”

Actually, the complete and accurate Rebecca West quote is the following:

“I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

(“Mr. Chesterton in Hysterics,” in The Clarion, [14 November 1913], re-published in The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-17[1982], p. 219.)

#13 Comment By Gretchen On December 5, 2018 @ 11:53 pm

Kurt Gayle: Agreed. The word feminism is associated with things many women reject. The problem is that conservatism has worked very hard to associate the word with negative connotations – feminists are man-hating, bra-burning, never-satisfies harpies who want men to suffer. Young women look at that and think, I’m not a man-hating harpie – I love men! So I must not be a feminist!
Don’t look at what conservatives say about feminists. Look at what feminists have done. The early feminists fought for the right to vote. Find me a young woman who doesn’t think she should be allowed to vote. They don’t realize that this didn’t happen without a fight by feminists.
When I was a young woman, classified ads were still Help wanted male/help wanted female. If I applied for a « male » job, I would be rejected outright, not because of ability, but because girls don’t do that. I couldn’t get a credit card or a bank loan without a husband or male relative signing off on it. Law and Medical school classes were 95% male. When Sandra Day O’Connor graduated from law school, she had to take a job as a legal secretary because nobody would hire her as a lawyer. 60’s feminists fought all these things, so that women could get equal consideration for schools, jobs and credit. Young women take it for granted that of course they will be equally considered for these things, judged on their merit. They don’t realize that the only reason they are judged on their merit is that feminists fought and sued to make it so. when they threw out women’s applications, their merit didn’t matter. Nobody saw their merit.
When my father-in-law applied to medical school at Columbia University, he received his rejection before he sent his transcript. He called and asked how they could evaluate him without seeing his transcript. They replied that they didn’t need to see it. They could fill the class with smart Eye-talian boys from New York. Forget it.
Young women now think that they don’t have to be feminists. They won their place in med school by their own hard work. They don’t realize that without the hard work of others who came before them, it wouldn’t matter how great their application is, if it’s thrown in the trash because it has the wrong kind of name on it.

#14 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 6, 2018 @ 9:32 am

@ Gretchen: You make a lot of valid points.

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 6, 2018 @ 9:19 pm

Thus, Mr. Jenkins, you’d best direct your “Humpty Dumpty’s advice” to Gretchen.

A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. But as the argument continues, Gretchen seems to be making more sense, as she goes into some depth and detail, acknowledges relevant facts, notes where Kurt Gayle makes a valid point, and affirms some real concerns that motivated her in the first place. Stridency is no substitute for reason.

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 7, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

Update, I see that Kurt Gayle is also recognizing Gretchen has valid points. Credit where credit is due. Now perhaps we could all sit down and draft a position acceptable to 85 percent of us. Maybe we don’t even need to define feminism to do so.