Pride and Prejudice
“It is the sole case, now that negro slavery has been abolished, in which a human being in the plenitude of every faculty is delivered up to the tender mercies of another human being, in the hope forsooth that this other will use the power solely for the good of the person subjected to it. Marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house.”
It’s interesting to think about how people have similar ideals in similar times. After reading Chapter 4 of Mill’s book, The Subjection of Women, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite classics, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Mill was arguably the first man of his time to fight for women’s rights, an issue that started to really be addressed in the early 1800’s. Austen, as a women, did not so directly address feminist ideals, but rather she used her characters, like Elizabeth, to boldly assert themselves to men, suggesting more gender equity. While I think that the quote that I opened this post with may be a bit of a hasty generalization by Mill, even for that time period, I do see some truth in it, in terms of Pride and Prejudice and even today. Mrs. Bennet, the mother of Elizabeth Bennet, was a foolish women that cared only of superficial values and she surrendered very easily to her husband. She really only cared to see her daughters married as to her they were objects that were created solely to gain status. Mr. Bennet was slightly more liberal for the time in that he cared about his daughters’ happiness more than their social status in life. I think that this paradoxically reflects the views of Mill, because to me the feminism of the time seems like more of a brainwash than a reality. Yes, women were not always equal to men, and they still aren’t, but I think that gender roles of the time had a lot to do with the culture, and I think that many of the women that subjected to these “slave-ish” situations, did not mind, but even liked the marriage they were in, especially if it brought them status.
Although the gender gap has significantly closed since the time of Mill and Austen, there still exists a division based off of societal ideals that probably will not change. The statement “marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law,” may be slightly extreme, but women today still subject themselves to “traditional” gender roles, because they should. The reason I find this topic so interesting is because I did an english paper on it last semester, and still can’t seem to understand why this is still the case.
This article explains how even working women admit to doing all of the cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping around the house. They also do more carpooling and care-taking, even if they are the breadwinner of the household. It’s a very hypocritical situation in my eyes, considering how much equality women think they have, but really they are still “slaves of the household”, so to speak. It gets even more interesting in thinking about the roots of why this is the case. Is it men who feel superior to housework and need to maintain their masculinity by remaining the head of the household (whether they are or not)? OR– could it be women who feel like its their responsibility to do these things because they feel that they would be better at it?
It could be a combination of the two, but I could definitely see myself taking over all of the chores because I feel like I would be better at them. Maybe that’s just me, but people like me like to have control over their life and I feel like controlling the household would give satisfaction in that realm. I may just be crazy/sexist/feminist or something else, but that’s just me. We live in a weird society that way. I am hugely generalizing by saying women do all of the chores in the household because I know many families where there is an equitable share, or situations where the man does much of the cooking and cleaning and working (my house), but I still wonder if the majority of marital couples will ever end up being truly equal, and if women will ever stop their potentially self-induced “slavery”.