Jane Austen famously wrote Mr. Darcy’s checklist of an accomplished woman in her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.
In Darcy’s eyes, a woman must paint tables, cover screens, net purses, have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and modern languages. She must possess a certain elegance in her manner, tone of voice and expressions. And she must be an extensive reader.
Of course, assumed and therefore not needing mention in the book, is that Darcy’s accomplished woman must be a good wife, pleasing her husband, caring for him and bearing him children.
Meanwhile, a man is accomplished simply by earning or maintaining the wealth of his family, riding a fine horse and possessing a manner of pomposity.
Am I the only person who wants to high-five Elizabeth Bennet every time I read or hear her counter “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any”?
Because, frankly, Darcy’s list was long for a woman in 1813. But fast-forward more than two centuries and isn’t there still some truth in the high level scrutiny placed on women? Isn’t the list of what makes an accomplished woman still far longer than the requirements of an accomplished man?
What Darcy’s checklist fails to take into account is that by 2020, women are expected to and want to work. We don’t all want to be financially dependent on our partners and in most circumstances we can’t afford to be. Life is not as simple as it once was and living costs have risen. The advent of social media has added pressures to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Digital technology has led to 24/7 accessibility of clients, customers, patients, employers.
Kids have thousands of groups and activities they want to go to. Our pets have become so much a part of our families that their needs are not much cheaper or less time-consuming than non-fur babies. We care more than ever about our own health and our obligation to keep our families healthy, not just with food and exercise but mental well-being too. We push to find an extra hour in the day to practice an activity for our mind, body and soul.
This is not to discount the efforts of the modern man (some better than others) but of the vast majority of female friends and family I have spoken with during ‘The Great Lockdown of 2020’, despite being in similar situations to their male counterparts, it is still the women who have taken the lead on cleaning, cooking three meals each day and home-schooling the children.
And to all of this, we must sing and dance and excel at modern languages. We must paint tables, dress impeccably and be elegant in all we do!
So, I am with Elizabeth Bennet. I’m surprised that there are any accomplished women if this is the standard we are held against. I’m more inclined to think it is about time Mr. Darcy changed his perception.
But can we expect Darcy’s perception to change if our own perception, as women, does not acknowledge how well we do at life and adulting?
We know how much we do, whether others see it and take it for granted or not. Yet, how many of us feel like we are never quite good enough at everything? That when work is going well, we are poor at parenting? That if we take half an hour to ourselves to meditate or read a book in the bath, we are being neglectful of all the other things we could and should be doing?
And the first things we stop when life gets too busy, are always the things that we do for ourselves, our own improvement of mind, as Darcy would call it.
Is the perception of others, and, yes, our male counterparts in particular, not partly due to us women being our own greatest critics?
My new book, Times Like These, follows three women in their thirties who are grappling with these questions. Can they have a career and a family? Can they have both of those things and still make time for their own health and passions? Can any woman truly have it all.
Ladies, I think we can. But first, we have to stop beating ourselves up for not being Mr. Darcy’s idea of perfect. Start praising ourselves for all of the things we do well. Let our significant others, our employers, our kids know how much we juggle and, importantly, let them know that a little support wouldn’t go amiss.
Asking for a little help so that you can take a glass of wine in the tub with a good book doesn’t mean you aren’t accomplished!
Laura Carter https:www.lauracarterauthor.com/