I am, among many things, a feminist. This does not mean that I am a particularly good one, or that I have any great insight into feminist theory, but rather that it is a necessary cause of equality that is very close to my heart.
For one, I am very lucky to have been afforded the advantages that I have been given in life as a man, and perhaps for selfish reasons I would hope that those same privileges could be passed on to any children that I may have. If I were to ever have a daughter, I would hope that she could live in a world where she had just as much chance to succeed as if I were to have a son. Children or no, *every* woman should have that kind of opportunity. The very least that I can do is acknowledge that there is a disparity and that there is actionable change that can be done to improve things.
I am aware that it is somewhat idealistic to aspire towards a society that encourages a level playing field (it is far too complicated to assume that things would just *work* that way), yet I do try to hold myself to a standard that makes judgements based on merit rather than on gender.
Funny then, that the first reaction from the ticket counter at the Jane Austen centre was surprise. “It’s not often that a man comes in here alone, good on you” followed by “have you read much Of Austen?”
In truth, I have read some (not nearly enough), and plan to pick up where I left off in Persuasion someday. When I was younger, Austen (much like Shakespeare for me) represented a dense language and perspective that was entirely foreign. As I have grown older, I have learned to admire and appreciate these types of narratives, as they allow us to move beyond the confines of our own identities.
Having a chance to learn more of her origins was eye opening. Most of what I know of Austen is limited to her novels, as I had little experience with her history. Learning that she grew up in a family of several siblings, reading accounts of her close relationship with her sister, her attitude (from which her brilliant wit is derived), and her changing perception of the City of Bath did much to humanize her in my mind.
Oftentimes it is too easy to envision literary icons based on their accomplishments and forget that they were (are) people too. People that can and should always have the opportunity to achieve such accomplishments without arbitrary societal limitations. This tenet is at the crux of Austen’s work, and the reason why I am thankful for her writing and influence.