When perusing the classics, the general consensus is that the constructs of society were still stuck in ye olde archaic times, knee-deep in the norms of the patriarchy. Most women were meant to be seen, and not heard. If women were pretty and well off, they married up. If women were anything less, they received less. But a few authors and their characters defied these norms, brought us feminist moments in classic books.
Thank goodness for these authors. Without their avant-garde notions about a woman's place in society and their radical notions that women should be seen and heard, can you imagine where literature would be today? Much less feminist than it is. (And trust me, there's still room for today's literature to grow and reap the benefits of integrating feminism into their novels. Interesting female protagonists that pass the Bechdel Test, and aren't involved in a love triangle? Anyone? Anyone?)
Thanks to the following classic female characters and the authors who crafted the, the way for feminist decisions, storylines, and futures was paved. These women have stood the test of time, due in part to the fact that they are feminist characters, and the fact that they created a conversation around themselves that had more to say than who they wound up marrying.
1. When Sara Tells Stories To The Girls In 'A Little Princess'
Sara Crewe not only offers the girls at the boarding school solace by telling stories of grand adventures, she includes everyone in on the fun, binding the girls together in friendship and more. When she's relegated to servant status with Becky, she embraces Becky, and does her damndest to keep both of them positive throughout their terrible time under Miss Minchin's reign.
2. When Jane Decides Not To Go To France in 'Jane Eyre'
Rather than trot off to a romantic French villa with the man she loves, Jane chooses to stay out of the messy Mr. Rochester business (he's married, though his wife is in an asylum), and work on her own. She's afraid of being considered Mr. Rochester's mistress, and puts her own honor, and self esteem, above a man. Kudos to you, Jane.
3. When Celie Stands Up For Herself In 'The Color Purple'
Celie's spent her entire life being beaten down, physically, and mentally. She's portrayed as timid and insecure in the novel, and has always been taught to keep silent, regardless of the way she's being treated. With the help of Shug, Celie learns to stand up for herself, and is empowered to become more than what she has been given. She curses Mr. _____, becomes her own woman, and somehow finds redemption for a lifetime of being treated as less than.
4. When Scarlett Disregards Public Opinion In 'Gone With The Wind'
Scarlett O'Hara does plenty of things in Gone With The Wind that classify as feminist moments, but perhaps my favorite of all is when she takes to the fields of Tara herself to ensure that they get a good cotton crop. Practically unheard of, Scarlett does everything in her power to keep Tara from falling. Including rolling up her sleeves and getting to work.
5. When Jo March Follows Her Dreams
Rather than stay home, or wife up, Jo heads to the city to pursue her dreams of being a writer, and getting published, much to the dismay of, well, practically everyone. And she succeeds. Jo March was one of my first feminist role models, and I still channel her when I'm in need of the courage to stand up and stand out.