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  • August 21, 2014
  • PropellHer
  • Careers

Jane Austen v Modern Times: What is an ‘accomplished woman’?

Famously coined in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, the ‘accomplished woman’ is regarded as a female who is successful and capable in almost every aspect of life. The concept suggests that a woman is superior to others where she is an all-rounder in a variety of fields that men deem desirable. The men in question consider an accomplished woman to be well-read, able to sew, musically talented, a dancer, an artist and well versed in multiple languages. Oh, and one is expected to have a “certain air” about oneself. Too easy, right?

Throwing women a bone, the novel does acknowledge that a great deal is expected of an accomplished woman. Bingley’s assistant says, “No one can really be esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.”  So not only are the expectations high, but they are admittedly unachievable by most. Thank God men have been kind enough to settle for less-than-mediocre women for centuries.

It would seem that despite the fact that historically, women have only recently become recognised for their professional and intellectual worth, there has always been a male expectation for us to be perfect. Whilst both genders will always place pressure on themselves individually to achieve certain goals, literature and history indicate that males have been much more vocal about their high expectations that they believe women should meet.

In the 21st century, it is not only accepted that women are capable of having careers, but it is financially necessary in most cases for both genders to work full-time. However, it would appear that the accomplished woman does not have a lighter load, they are just expected to balance working full-time with all of their previous roles. The concept of the ‘Accomplished Woman’ has not been overcome, it has become more unrealistic and burdensome.

Whilst there are greater pressures on everyone to work longer hours, the ratio of women completing the majority of housework and primarily caring for children has not changed proportionate to the number of women now working. Just 1 in 10 women say that their husband does more housework than them whilst the majority of mothers with children under 18 years of age work full-time.

Does the problem lie within women pressuring themselves to do it all and have it all, feeling like they need to be both the perfect mother, housekeeper and employee in order to be “successful”? Or are there still more deeply entrenched issues embedded deep within societal gender roles and romantic relationships? Do men feel emasculated by the notion of being a ‘stay at home dad’? Do women simply feel a stronger maternal desire to care for children after they give birth? Whilst women are certainly appreciated for their intellectual contributions to society, perhaps men should consider their capabilities in cleaning and maintaining a house and rearing children.

Whilst there is no easy solution, Sheryl Sandberg, CFO of Facebook and author of “Lean in” says, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” Perhaps we’re further from gender equality than we previously thought….

WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY. If you have something to say about women in the workforce, why not contribute an article to our community page? Contact editor@propellher.com. For more feminist reads, take a look at the rest of the community page.

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