Women Talk: Jane Eyre and I Don't Know How She Does It

© Photo : Mikhail Kharlamov/Marie Claire RussiaSvetlana Kolchik
Svetlana Kolchik - Sputnik International
Last week two movies tackling women's issues premiered in Moscow. One, a vivacious comedy titled I Don't Know How She Does It, is about a modern multitasking woman who runs like a rat in a maze to mix career and family. Another film is yet another screen adaptation of the renowned Jane Eyre novel by Charlotte Bronte.

Last week two movies tackling women's issues premiered in Moscow. One, a vivacious comedy titled I Don't Know How She Does It, is about a modern multitasking woman who runs like a rat in a maze to mix career and family. Another film is yet another screen adaptation of the renowned Jane Eyre novel by Charlotte Bronte.

The first movie, starring seasoned comedienne Sarah Jessica Parker, features a woman who seemingly has it all: an exciting investment banking job, a beautiful house in a nice area of Boston, two adorable kids, an understanding and sexy husband who tolerates her leaving for a business trip in the midst of a Thanksgiving dinner and is always available to babysit, and even a high profile, impeccably suave and courtly suitor from Wall Street played by Pierce Brosnan. Quite a chocolate-glazed life, as we say in Russia.

Jane Eyre, the fabled young heroine of the 1847 classic, doesn't have much except a charity school education and her own innate wits, tenacity and commonsense. Yet as a poor orphan governess serving in a ghostly Victorian manor she dreams of reaching out for much more than her social status and physical “plainness and obscurity” entail. Regardless of society's conventions, she longs for “a power of vision which might overpass that limit.”

I first read, or rather, devoured, Jane Eyre when I was twelve, in Russian and then, as soon as I could, in English. Since then, I've reread this novel nearly every year, each time finding new inspiration. While a teenager, I was taken by the plot's romantic twists — Jane Eyre falling in love with the manor's noble master and after having surpassed all impossible social barriers and other obstacles of sorts, finding absolute bliss. As I got older, I began to appreciate the book's other aspects, such as the central character's remarkable strength and wholeness, sanity and wisdom.

Scholars, in fact, call this novel one of world literature's first feminist texts. I am not sure if Jane Eyre was indeed a feminist, but she did sport some qualities that late 20th century women’s rights activists would have totally embraced. She was restless yet objective, outspoken and fiercely independent. She resisted the lavish gifts her wealthy fiancé would try showering her with and she wanted to keep working as a governess after marrying just to be economically free. She also openly expressed views that were rather radical for her time. Like these, for instance:

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

Jane Eyre's high-earning, but rather hysterical sister in I Don't Know How She Does It buys puddings and stockings in the supermarket, marries whoever she wants and lands million-dollar deals but still doesn't seem to be that content. She dearly loves her husband, kids and her job, but trying to juggle it all brings her to the verge of a nervous breakdown and a marriage crisis. Chronically unable to delegate and prioritize, she frantically makes “to do” lists she never manages to follow and constantly feels guilty.

Still, this 21st century woman definitely boasts what Jane Eyre-likes 160 years ago longed for. Why then she's more exasperated than fulfilled? If Charlotte Bronte's character were living today, during times of limitless opportunities for women, what path would she choose? That of a complacent housewife? Or of a successful professional ignoring society's conventions that a woman should settle down and have a family? Or would she, too, strive to have it all, and be a juggler, just perhaps a more efficient one?

I somehow believe today's Jane Eyre wouldn't necessarily have it all. But she'd certainly have it her way. She'd play it fair but stand and, if necessary, fight for what she believed in. Negotiate more flexible work hours and a decent maternity leave, set priorities straight, compete but not fear to lose or let go of things when more important stuff (such as a relationship or health matters) is at stake. Actually, Sarah Jessica Parker's character starts to breath only when she starts behaving just like that: she dares to come up to her boss and manages to convince him to let set off for a business trip the following Monday instead of the weekend. She even starts to consider changing jobs if corporate slavery continues to prevail.

That's exactly what I think we women are incredibly good at — our ability to always find our way. Jane Eyre was as much feminine as she was a feminist. She just kept doing what she wanted, and challenging what was expected of her.

Because, as the French say, ce que femme veut, Deut le veut. What woman wants, God wants. 

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.

Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.

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