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Jane Austen and “No”

Screen shot 2014-11-15 at 9.45.52 AMI’m a sucker for anything Jane Austen related, doubly so when references to Pride and Prejudice are involved.* Heck, I can’t even mention Ms. A without wanting to stand on a balcony and yell to the good people of Oakland, “Have you seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and if not why don’t you come eat some tasty popcorn I’ve slathered with butter and marathon watch them with me?!”

Austen-addiction tendencies aside, I’ve been following the recent media blitz about very personal experience of being a woman in America. From Stop Telling Woman to Smile to the women who allowed herself to be filmed walking the streets of NYC for 10 hours (and the subsequent backlash about race which is quite well discussed on QZ), to #YesAllWomen (and the subsequent #NotAllMen) – which leads me back to Jane Austen because The Atlantic combined her and the blitz in one article: Jane Austen on Men Who Refuse to Hear No.

Naively, I never considered the fact that Elizabeth Bennet was in a quite precarious situation when Mr. Collins not only asked her to marry him, but forced the issue once she said no. He presses. She refuses. He presses. Her dad gets involved and only then does Mr. C back down. Mr. Collins’ insistence that Liz is just being coy is far to easily relatable to a more modern setting: the one where rape is involved, as The Atlantic points out:

“But map their exchange onto a different context, where a woman is confronted by a man who refuses to accept that his sexual advances are unwanted, and the situation takes on a fraught urgency.”

Which of course happens daily, and rarely are fathers on hand to get in the way.

Refusing to hear “No” doesn’t play out as poised and articulately as Austen would have us believe. And rarely is it so black and white. Elizabeth Bennett is blessed with a good head on her shoulders, rational thought, and unless it comes to Mr. Darcy does not seem to struggle with feelings of guilt for speaking her mind. Many ladies aren’t so lucky.

Sure, there is still a proposal – refusal scenario (with sex on the table, not marriage), but the refusal comes at a cost. Sophia Katz recently posted a piece on Medium, We Don’t Have to do Anythingabout accepting a place to stay when visiting from out of town with a man who promises it wouldn’t get physical. He invites her into his bed just to sleep, almost begs her, still giving that mantra, and then, inevitably, tries to sleep with her.

And sadly, he eventually does. Because after saying “No” for a long time and not being listened to, it Katz actually feels safer just giving consent and praying it’s over soon. Sometimes it’s easier just to play along.

I wonder why we, as a species, are both capable of hearing and comprehending, yet simultaneously unwilling to accept what we are being told even when it’s being said as plainly and clearly as one of the first concepts we all learn, “No”? This entitlement is centuries old, and it’s hard to say if the situation is improving. **

All that said, and to lighten the mood, I offer you this hilarious yet accurate discussion and look at what it’s like to be a lady in urban America:

Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere

*With the exception of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which I’m not entirely for or against, just definitely not interested in.

** Perhaps that’s part of the problem: the media is showcasing stories of men who don’t take “no” well (or at all). And art tells those stories. Hell, I told that story. And as much as art imitates life, life imitates art. I wonder why telling the story of “the good guy” isn’t a thing? I feel like saying that is just asking for getting slack, but I wonder if, in the long run, it wouldn’t hurt to tell both sides of the stories.


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