The fight for women’s voices to be heard has been ongoing for hundreds of years. Many writers have fought for change in their work, some loudly, others quietly. It is a battle still being fought in literature today. That isn’t to say people aren’t listening; women have many more opportunities and respect today than ever before, but change is always going to be a slow progression.
Jane Austen, the 18th Century novelist, has provided us with so many classic pieces of literature that her face adorns our new £10 note. The question to whether Jane Austen was in fact a feminist is one many literary critics are still debating. The majority of her books may be about finding a husband, but her female characters are often headstrong and unwilling to settle for being second best. In one of her most beloved novels ‘Pride and Prejudice’ the protagonist, Elizabeth, turns down Mr Darcy despite his wealth and prospects. What some people fail to realise is that feminism has become a subjective term. Yes, Austen may stick to conventional ideas in her novels; the men sometimes save the day and the women usually get married, but feminism isn’t about shunning men or being a heroine. Feminism is about proving to society that women are equal to their male counterparts.
There are many other writers who focus solely on feminism. 30 years before Austen published her first book, Mary Wollstonecraft published ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ a progressive work of feminist philosophy. Wollstonecraft responded to male theorists who thought women shouldn’t receive an education. She expressed her view that women shouldn’t be merely ornamental, they should be a companion to their husbands and an educator to their children. Although Wollstonecraft’s feminist theory isn’t as evolved as our modern views, it was proof that even in 1792, women were ready to fight for more.
Unfortunately, 200 years on, women writers are still having to publish work on why feminism is important. Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’, published in 2011, takes a new perspective on feminism. Her witty, relatable novel takes the reader through her own life experiences, trivial things like hair removal and putting on weight, to more serious issues such as marriage and abortion. Moran takes away the stigma the word ‘feminist’ sometimes attracts, and disguises her serious hope for change within her humour. Moran wants women to be happy; for them to be seen and accepted no matter their age, size, or how attractive they are.
In the modern day, a ‘feminist’ can often be someone to fear. People shy away from the stereotype because they don’t want to be viewed as extreme or man-hating. The truth is, feminism is important. It is as important now as it was 200 years ago. Whether it’s Jane Austen who made her characters stronger and more defiant than the usual woman of her day, or Caitlin Moran who re-assures us that all women share the same struggle and are still equal to men in everything they set out to achieve. Feminist writers remind us that despite everything, women’s voices will always be heard.