Is Elizabeth Bennet a heartless bitch?

Well, according to HBI (that’s Heartless Bitches International) she is.  Elizabeth Bennet, along with Whoopi Goldberg, Hatshepsut, Joan of Arc, Georgia O’Keefe and Margaret Thatcher, is apparently an “Honorary Heartless Bitch”.  But is this as terrible, and downright mean, as it sounds?  And why would you list a fictional character along with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Virgina Woolf?

HBI lists her “for not only her intelligence, independence, wit, and refusal to accept the position in society that her “betters” mandated, but also for her wonderful, scathingly worded, and marvelously effective refusal of Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal.” I know what you’re thinking… “So, um, how does that make her heartlessly bitchy?”  Well, this is bitch with a difference.  For Heartless Bitches, being a BITCH is a compliment, a word that stands for “Being In Total Control, Honey” and, in the greater scheme of things, a bit of healthy feminism- a refusal to tolerate sexism and stupidity.  But this is no average feminist-type website, and it’s definitely not for the weak-hearted or easily-offended, and what is said should be taken as amusing. 

Heartless Bitches International is a volunteer-run group of (often feisty) women with a whole lot of attitude, and a heart-with-an-axe-in-it logo to boot.  And it’s refreshing.  Pride and Prejudice is cited as a Heartlessly Bitchy book “though somewhat toned down due to the time in which it was written” and I think that when considering that, it explains exactly the sort of community that the website is.  It isn’t a quiet place and the words practically leap off the screen.  These are the women who organise Anti-Valentines events and don’t take unwarranted rubbish from people.  Obscenities, anger and a whole lot of humour characterises this site- and they have everything from a collection of rants, quotes and popular culture references to a “BitchBoard” and even a shop where you can buy related merchandise.

But does Lizzy really fit into this whole bitchy thing?  Sort of.  Although HBI shuts down all ideas of Regency decorem in their FAQ citing that the title of the website should make it obvious about the content as unless “you’re a complete fucking moron, you could hardly mistake that for an embossed fucking invitation to high tea” some of the guidelines on their homepage definitely relate to Lizzy, in particular:
“Are you fed up with women who feel they HAVE to be in a “Relationship” in order to be whole, and will sacrifice their self-esteem and personal growth in order to avoid being on their own?”
“Have you HAD IT with people telling you that you are TOO LOUD, TOO ASSERTIVE, or TOO OPINIONATED?”
“Do you feel like you might as well “get hung for a sheep as a lamb”, because no matter how POLITELY you try to turn down some guy’s advances, you invariably get called a “Bitch”?”
So, considering that she fits these criteria, it begs the question… would Lizzy be like this if she lived today?  What do you think?

Vivien Jones, in the introduction to Penguin Classics Pride and Prejudice says: “Does she, as some critics have suggested, present a subversive, proto-feminist critique which conflicts with her class politics? Or is she demonstrably anti-feminist…” and several others have questioned whether Pride and Prejudice is potentially anti-feminist (mainly citing the marriage at the end to this means), but personally I see no anti-feminist traits in P&P, particularly when considering the norm for females at the time, and the completely different character of Lizzy Bennet.  She may end up with a bit of a fairytale, subversive conclusion- but she does this on her own terms.  Feminism is about choice if nothing else. 

I have read in several forums that a lot of readers consider it to be anti-feminist.  For example, one said that it seemed to be “a very male dominated story, and the only goal the women have is to marry a richguy (sic)”, which seems to be a bit of a shallow way to look at it (in fact, it feels as though all they did was read what Mrs. Bennet had to say) however scholars, including Ashley Tauchert in “Are women oppressed?  Or ‘the straight girls dilemma’” talks about how “Realism gives way to romance” and that she has a “last-minute retreat from the critique of marriage”, possibly suggesting that Austen is half-half when it comes to feminism. 

So what do you think?  Is Lizzy a feminist?  Is Austen anti-feminist?  What is actually happening in this book regarding sexism, feminism and all those other gender “isms”?  Does it even matter?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is Elizabeth Bennet a heartless bitch?

  1. Audrey

    I am an avid Austen fan, let me start by saying Austen was by no means anti-feminist. Elizabeth was a character, who would rather be consider a poor spinster than marry. It doesn’t matter that she eventually did marry. The fact that she was willing to NOT marry was the controversial and feminist idea for that time. Marrying was flat out the main goal for any women during this time, to not marry was considered failure.
    Lizzy said no to her Mom, society, her own and families future wellness, Mr. Collins, and even Mr. Darcy at one point, saying its my choice to choose my happiness and it doesn’t have to involve a man, or marriage. That right there is a feminist idea.

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