I finally got around to reading a classic, whole and unabridged. This was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (not to be confused with Gurinder Chadda’s almost-namesake horror show with Ashen-faced Rai in the lead).

Books I like are usually ones that I remember some pearls of wisdom from. Here’s something from this book that will stay with me a long, long time. I quote Mr.Benett, the father of the soon-to-be-wed female protagonist, Elizabeth.

“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Wise words of a father, those. A father who encourages independent thought in a daughter even in a time and age that accords them the status of showpieces. Small wonder then, that the daughter is just as ahead of her times as her father is. She’s wilful, headstrong, sarcastic and brash. Also quick-witted, ruthlessly logical and deeply loyal to people who have earned her caring. Thats not so far from the Modern Woman, is it?

Another portrayal of a woman with a strong identity…Scarlett O’ Hara. The pampered, beautiful heroine of Gone with the Wind who displays confusing and contradictory traits of loyalty, selfishness, warmth, cold-blooded ambition, ruthlessness, tenderness, optimism as well as pragmatism. Once again, how far from today’s reality, this one?

There’s a line in this book that says that a woman should never lose her fear. A woman without fears has nothing to hope for….something to that effect. The book is about Scarlett battling her fears, emerging an easy victor and life beyond that. Which doesn’t turn out a bed of roses. She is the society belle toying with the affections of all the men who adore her (and whom she has no respect for) The one man who wins her respect (and her heart) is the one who sees her for what she is and treats her accordingly. With indulgence but not subservience. With firmness but not cruelty.

Where is the connection? Both are women who know their own strenghts and in some manner look down on men who aren’t their equals. While Elizabeth Bennett treats them a dose of her wicked wit, Scarlett toys with them and discards them like waste papers. Each of them finds a man who is an equal in some way, someone they just have to respect. The similarity is in the fact that each of them refuses to or is unable to settle down in relationships with people they do not respect.

Do I identify with them? Yes I do. I think they typify the character I’ve termed Modern Woman (for lack of a better name). Yes, we are all doomed since we lose our fears so early. We will only find happiness in something greater and love with someone better. Or at least equal. Which is getting to be a sticky situation all things considered. The better we get, the more we expect. And the less those expectations are fulfiled, the more dissatisfied and jaded we are. While the pressures continue to mount, stemming from the disillusionment and frustration of the opposite sex.

No surprise then, that the changing gender equations are hitting modern relationships right in the centre. My father asked me once why it was so important to me that a man be my equal at least for me to consider having a relationship with him. Was it, he reasoned, necessarily an indicator of a good relationship? Yes, I told him. Lets leave aside all those biases about the male ego (though that is a major deciding factor, I’d think). A relationship is about understanding, connecting, supporting and growing. It isn’t a one-way street. And I’d think an unequal relationship would be imbalanced…slightly unhealthy.

Men seem to have a better grasp of how to live with someone who is not equal to them. There was certain solidity to the structure of the stronger-smarter-better male and the weaker sex to be protected and cared for. It isn’t working, it just isn’t working any more. Or at least, the ‘little woman’ is growing too big for that tiny shell she’s in. And if the structure is to be maintained, the man will just have to provide a far bigger shell. Or be devoured alive by the female piranha. Don’t tell me about role reversal. Women have started to earn the title of ‘stronger sex’. We just haven’t gotten around to wearing it with grace as yet.

Maybe it is an ego thing. An attitude of “I am this plus this plus this. Why should I care for someone who is not at least this much?” We treat even relationships as status symbols. I can’t resolve this….I do it unwittingly myself. The only way is to seek equality. A relationship without equality just is not stable or long-lasting. I know hundreds of couples do settle down comfortably with people who are less intelligent, healthy, sucessful, attractive or strong. I know no two people are alike. But I’m saying the equality has to be at an overall level. In totality, what one person can do well and contributes to the relationship needs to balance with his/her weakness and that which he/she seeks in the relationship.

You can know an association between equals from the respect they have for each other. Such relationships always work. I’d say they are the only ones that work. In business, in friendship, in sex, in love, in family. You can even see it in people who seemingly can’t stand each other. If they still respect each other, they can live with each other, all other differences overcome. And that respect rises from recognition of the other as an equal.

Is this an unrealistic ideal, then?

Do not lead me, I may not follow.

Do not follow me, I may not be your best guide.

Just walk by me and be my friend.

7 thoughts on “Equality In Relationships?”
  1. it is about roles, men were supposed to be providers and protectors. somewhere along the line as the man moved out of the cave, the scene changed; protectign and providign needed more brain and less brawn. the stereotype went on though… woman caught on, if the commodity in question was brain, they were just as well endowed… men however haven’t quite realized that, yet πŸ™‚
    my take on it is simple, the lines dividing roles based on gender are now mostly in the mind. There are people of varying capabilities, it just so happens that they can be male or female. Being male by it self no longer attributes points to you( just as being a woman doesn’t).
    People find security in relationships, some find security by being pigeonholed into traditional roles, others want equality. There are plenty of people in both buckets.
    You( like a lot of women today) want equality and respect. But there are others(women) who want to be protected and take care of and be given a special status, which is not based not on equality but specialization of roles.
    The point of my discourse is: people have different needs .. elizabeth bennet wanted something that was not was not usual in her times ( she was not *usual* for her times…). Today, women who want to give up their jobs after they find a man and have him take care of her aren’t usual… traditional and modern are words to summarize these needs… and they should remain so. They are not value judgements on people. I wish intelligent and accomplished girls like you woudl not bandy these words around with such abandon. these are choices and are personal πŸ™‚
    good luck in your quest! you shal find what you seek, if you look hard enough( and I do empathize with your quest, it is hard one).

  2. You know both characters you talk about I very much admired. I didnt like Scarlett O’ Hara the first time I saw teh movie..ITs hard to justify her character..but she does meet her match in Red Butler.

    But equality of minds is a relative thing. The difference is that women have stopped compromising on each and everything in marraige which was more traditional. Staying at home now is not a compromise..its a choice.. Its how it should..and it would be truly modern world when staying at home becomes a choice for men too. When roles of a person in a family is not predefined by gender.. even though biologically they are some things which cannot be switched.. But I wonder how many woman can be broadminded to let their husbands stay at home and take care of the children..forget abotu hwo many husbands might actually do it πŸ™‚
    ok am going tangent from what you were writing about..but what the heck πŸ™‚

  3. Eliza Bennet and Scarlett O’ Hara have always been my favourite characters and their ideal match in Darcy and Rhett are something that justifies the characters.

    The reason that these books have always been endearing is that they reflect the exact feeling that I would want to have for my partner. Am sure the quest is quite a tough one… and would let you know if I did find one…

    All the best to you too in finding your Equal!

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