Jane Austen- A Figure Of Controversy?

As you are probably aware there has been a lot of controversy raging in the UK about the famous figures who adorn our currency.  The replacement of Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill as the face of the £5 note would have left us with no women (barring the Queen, who’s there because of who she is not what she achieved) represented on our banknotes.

One lady in particular decided to challenge this and what was the result? She has been subjected to repeated  threats of rape via social media. This is a disgusting crime and frankly the fact that it happened at all is exactly why the representation of women is so important.

Surely only by equal representation and education can we ever overcome this ridiculous oppression and threatening behaviour. Threatening to rape a woman is not manly, it is not promoting male dominance in fact it’s doing the opposite. Why would civilised people want to live in a world dominated by men who think sexual violence is the way to gain power. If that’s the case, then the evolution of human intelligence was pointless. I don’t mean this in a religious sense, but I believe crimes of this nature are truly evil.

Of course you could argue that these are online threats and they had no intention of carrying them out. It doesn’t matter, just because you are hiding behind a computer screen doesn’t mean it is acceptable. What I find worrying about this is the way people behave when they feel they are protected my a shield of anonymity. Is the anonymity actually allowing us to see what’s really going on in the minds of our society? I’m sure all of us have found ourselves divulging more of our inner thoughts online than we ever would in normal conversation so my question is this: Is social networking actually just exposing what’s really been lurking out there all along?  Is this the kind of thinking that people really have? I find this deeply worrying and very disturbing.

Does it matter if a woman is represented? If we lived in a truly equal society I would probably say no. If on this particular cycle of notes we didn’t have any women it wouldn’t matter as long as it wasn’t permanent. Sadly, as much as we like to pretend, we don’t live in an equal society; until that changes, YES I do think it’s important.

The battle to be represented at least has been won. In a few years time Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note. Now this has produced more controversy. Though happily not nearly so unpleasant. The question now is: Is Jane Austen fit to grace our hard earned cash.

It’s a tricky one. She is a famous woman, she has made a big impact on literature, though her books do have that love them or hate them quality. She has many fans but probably just as many who hate her works with a passion. Now I’ve read a few Austen novels and I quite like her style. There are some subtle witticisms in them which I find raise a smile.

Some have criticised her for her writing about repressed woman torn between love and the primary consideration of marrying for money.  I think this is vastly unfair after all she was a woman in regency England. writing about the life she knew. Women couldn’t just go out and get a job marrying for money was their only option to make sure they were provided for!

BUT…

That is part of the problem isn’t it? I’m not questioning her talent or the quality of her writing I’m not even questioning having a novelist on a banknote (Dickens anyone?) Literature can play a hugely important part in society. I am however questioning whether she is in fact the best candidate.  Her books are written from and represent a time of female oppression. Is Jane’s face, being put out there as a symbol of victory in the fight to keep a woman on our banknotes really sending out the right message?Perhaps a suffragette would have been a better choice given the circumstances?

N.B  A point I forgot to include before, the fact that a woman from back then was able to make her mark on the world through her work at all was an achievement in itself.  Jane Austen whether you like her books or not, whether you think she should be on the note or not, was a remarkable woman and her role in history should not be overlooked.

Are there any women you’d like to see represented? Or do you feel Jane Austen deserves her place? Answers and opinions in the comments section below please!

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