My first book, That Girl, Darcy, was recently published by Future House Publishing. It is essentially a YA retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which all of the main characters’ genders have been reversed. Trying to reinterpret such a classic and beloved novel was a daunting task, and I tried very hard to preserve the spirit of Jane Austen’s original work. That said, In reading (and rereading, and rereading) P&P, there were a few things that stuck out to me, and one of the biggest was the issue of sexism.
P&P took place in a patriarchal society, and this in turn effects the characters, their behavior, and their attitudes. In analyzing the novel, I saw that Jane Austen did critique the inherently sexist social constructs of her time. Moreover, a large take-away from the story for me was that Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy were equals. Despite the socioeconomic disparity between the two, ultimately a large part of the story went toward Elizabeth establishing to herself and to others that she was in no way inferior to Mr. Darcy, and concurrently Mr. Darcy’s coming to grasp that he was in no way superior to Miss Bennett. To me, this was an important theme of the novel, one that I wanted to preserve in writing my own take on the story.
A sad and frustrating fact about our current society is that sexism is still very much ingrained in our culture, as is the objectification of women. In writing a novel in a contemporary setting, I could not and did not wish to shy away from that. One of the things I did hope to convey, however, is that these attitudes and behaviors are wrong.
In That Girl, Darcy, there are several characters who are, shall we say, crude. These characters are teenage boys. This is not an excuse, and in writing these characters this way I was in no way trying to normalize or condone their attitudes. By having them consistently called out on their behavior, I hoped to highlight that being a boy or a youth—both of which are often given in defense of these attitudes and actions; e.g. “boys will be boys”—is not an excuse or valid justification for treating or viewing women as objects.
Sexism is not inherent to human beings. It is learned. It can also be unlearned. But in order for these attitudes and behaviors to be undone, it is important that we recognize that they exist. I believe that it is the responsibility of all writers (especially fiction writers) to be aware of these things, and to understand that our work can either promote or deconstruct these harmful attitudes.