On Conformity and Rebellion, In Honor of Jane Austen's Birthday

Today is Jane Austen’s birthday!




She was born 239 years ago, on December 16th 1775. It was a long time ago, but she was a woman ahead of her time. Her female characters had strong personalities and opinions and they fought for what they believed. They were, for the time, daring! Back then, Austen herself was extremely brave to even dare to write any creative story at all. It was not often that a woman was allowed to think, much less to be published. Did you know her first novels were originally published as “by a Lady”? Only the last novel published when she was alive had her name (Emma, published in 1816, one year before she died).


Writing and publishing a book is probably not much if you think solely from a 21st century point of view (although I will repeatedly tell you I think it is, to this day, the bravest thing anyone can do). But if you think that in Austen’s time women weren’t allowed to vote, to own property or inherit it, to work, or even to walk down the streets side by side to a man unless they were their father, brother or husband, you’ll understand the kind of grit it took to dare like that. A women’s hopes, dreams and especially actions were frequently restricted by the way their society saw their gender.


Well, much has changed since then. But did that change much?


Sure, we are all restricted by our society’s norms and conventions. I would even say that some degree of conformity is normal and even healthy, from a sociological point of view. But so is a certain degree of rebellion. And what is rebellion nowadays? In a society where so much is allowed, how does one rebel? What does rebellion even mean today?


I know, I know, we are a long way from being a tolerant society. There is plenty of room to rebel everywhere in the world. I’m not a sociologist, an anthropologist, or a human rights advocate (even though I am a supporter) to come here and tell you an educated answer either way. But I do mean to pose a reflection (I’m big on those!):


Before anyone commits a rebellious act – may that be to write a book when you are a woman in 1811, to write and publish a diverse book in 2014, to speak up against something you believe to be wrong when you know your opinion is controversial, or to open yourself up to criticism in any way whatsoever – you have to first rebel against yourself.


Yes! You have to rebel against that little voice inside your head that says “Are you sure?”, or “You are being ridiculous!”, or “That’s never going to work out!”. That little voice that takes hold of your heart and your guts, and crushes them because it’s afraid. That little voice that is usually, honestly, just trying to save you some heartache. That little voice that absolutely has to be defied!


So, when was the last time you rebelled against yourself?


source: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, published by Hub Editorial