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Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
November 7th, 2004
02:06 pm


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More Delicious Austen
What gown and what head-dress she should wear on the occasion became her chief concern. She cannot be justified in it. Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew all this very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of the time prevented her buying a new one for the evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man towards a new gown. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. But not one of these grave reflections troubled the tranquillity of Catherine.
--Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, ch. 10

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(12 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 12:27 pm (UTC)
the amazing thing is this common knowledge is in existence for so many years, and yet women still don't get it.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 01:27 pm (UTC)
I lost thirty pounds and acquired a new wardrobe. As far as I can tell, this has made zero impact on my husband's judgment of my attractiveness. I am not sure whether I should be annoyed or touched.

Yup. Guys.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 02:37 pm (UTC)
yet women still don't get it

Don't get what, exactly?
This paragraph does not suggest that fashion is redundant, nor that all men do not consider it *at all*.
It actually confirms that they do, even if only to a limited extent.
But considering the relevance of that excerpt to the time we live in, I don't think dichotomies such as,
'all women are x, and all men are y' apply anymore.
Everything depends on the specific man or woman.

What actually caught my attention, and proves Austen to be before her time,
unconventional in comparison to the majority of her contemporaries,
[and very much relevant for me, as a 21th century reader], was this -
"Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone.
No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it."
This goes beyond fashion; I think Austen subtly offers here a powerful perspective/
tool to her readers, especially to the deprived/ oppressed/ controlled [whatever their gender be] ones -
one of self-value, self-reliance, one that urges you to find the value within,
and listen; listen and find out what *you* think, what *you* wish for,
what pleases *you*, without considering/ relying on what others think/ do/ believe.
The freedom of the individual; it's part of the essence of modern life to me
[or post modern; or post-post modern; or whatever.] :)

[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 03:47 pm (UTC)
You said a lot of things here, with some I agree, with some not-so-much, but let's take it slowly.

It's very modern and post-post-post to say the men/women dichotomy is irrelevent to our 21st century world, but sadly, that is completely untrue. With all the metro-sexual men and all the hyper-feminist women, the real majority of women still care how they look and about fashion as a tool for attracting men, and most men still care more about what's underneath all the fashion... I knew a woman once who told me 'I don't know why I bothered shopping for that new dress so long yesterday, when the moment my boyfriend had a moment to look at it, it was already lying on the bedroom floor...'

Disclaimer: All the above is true (in my opinion, at least) to a majority of westen cultured current men and women, by no means to any individual or subgroup anywhere or anytime.

The quote you gave (and I agree that it's the most potent quote from the excerpt) says to me something else than it does to you. More than praising the power of self-relience, self-respect and self-love (all very esteemable and worthwhile properties), it seems to me to take a sniding look at the fashionable woman, and say "Can't you see you are not putting up this show for him? You are doing this for yourself! Be honest..."

And no, most women I know do not 'get it'. Get what? That the reason they dress nice is for their own self-esteem, and nothing more. Self-esteem itself draws men. Nice clothes alone do not.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 05:06 pm (UTC)
I agree.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2004 11:21 am (UTC)

Took me long, but still... :)

You also said two things I'd like to comment on -
Part I -
First, I agree; I wasn't accurate in my phrasing - these dichotomies still exist - no argument about it.
But my point was [still is] that even if they exist, they are no longer the *only* perspective available, nor the most important one.
To say it more bluntly, to me, there's no benefit in talking about a 'majority', even if it exists, because what interests me is the individual.
We live today in a world that offers a variety of opinions and ways of living. And yes, there probably are ways that are more 'popular' than others. Statistically, there may even be a majority. But, so what? Is that majority's choice/view more valuable than that of the individual? Personally, I think not [and why I appreciate living today :)]. Why? Because one does not necessarily need to live according to this 'majority'. That's the beauty of it - we have choices; and because we do, it doesn't matter [at least not to me], if a lot of individuals choose X; to me, choice X is equal to choice Z or B.
Of course, one can argue that in the end, the choice of the masses does affect you, because you are offered 'products' [whatever they may be - cloth, TV programs, Cafes], that are compatible to that certain 'target audience'.
To that I'll say there is such abundance today, that each can find something suitable.

You admit that what you said in the first paragraph ["the real majority of women still care how they look and about fashion as a tool for attracting men, and most men still care more about what's underneath all the fashion"], applies 'to a majority of western cultured current men and women, by no means to any individual or subgroup anywhere or anytime'.
So I guess I have to ask - what do you benefit from talking about the 'majority'?
I can only talk about what I know, i.e. me, the people in my life and the people I watch.
I must say that my experience, is different than your description; the majority of women I know don't care how they look *simply* to attract men, and I can only wish what you said about men was true [Where are those men hiding? I want one! ;)].

I also have to say, it's was not at all about being modern or not; it's about me actually conducting my life, believing something else.
Obviously, people [women too :)] still care how they look.
But, to me, the important question is, why? Care for themselves, or for other's approval.
What I'm saying is, even if you met some women who 'dress to impress',
not *all* women are like that, and my comment meant to say that I think speaking in terms of these dichotomies, not only does not do the others justice, but also helps establishing a fixation about women as a collective group, that is simply untrue anymore [and I think was never true].

Look, obviously there's a biological difference between men and women, which means there are certain experiences that unite all women, as there are experiences that unite all men. But other than that, I strongly believe in gender-free-individualism.
I am well aware that patterns are hard to break, especially historical-cultural ones.
I think we are in a transitional period, and that awareness is a crucial key.
That's why I felt obliged to say something when these dichotomies popped into the air;
it's simply important, I think, to balance it a bit, and maybe to open a debate.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2004 12:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Took me long, but still... :)

To begin with, I see I remarked to an observation you did not make - about the society or majority of women. If you speak of yourself and those around you, my first remark is meaningless, like you said. I don't care about the majority any more than you do, I was just responding to something you did not say.

About 'the dichotomy' - I hope all these arteficial gender differences go away too, but there are still natural gender differences we have to take into account. This specific difference (attitude towards fashion) is very arteficial, but it could have natural sources I don't know about. I agree that either way, we're at a cusp point (in this as in many other issues) that will be resolved in the future, but today we're still in a society where most women do not make their own choices and follow the fashion herd in a persuit of some essence I don't understand. And most men (most men I know anyway) don't get that race either.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2004 11:32 am (UTC)

My answer, part II

But let's go back to Austen, to the quote from the quote :), and to how you read it.
You said you think she's saying, "Can't you see you are not putting up this show for him? You are doing this for yourself! Be honest..." I must say the way you read it doesn't make sense to me, considering the lines preceding this one, where Austen writes, "It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire". This means, to me, that their endeavor was *not* for themselves alone, but rather, to impress men. Actually, I think impressing men was the original idea, which was then taken to a different level, and impressing men was just a way of justifying it for themselves consciously. But in no way do I think the new level was 'doing it for themselves'.
The fact they were doing much more than what men, according to Austen [and I disagree with her on that], care for, to me is an indication of a certain obsession women 'fell' into; doing something to an excess, taking something to an extreme, to the point it goes beyond the original purpose [being pretty and attract men, cause that's what you are expected to do as a woman], to the point it goes beyond reasonable ["she cannot be justified in it", etc]. Then comes the sentence "woman is fine for her satisfaction alone", which I think serves in two ways [at least :)] – the first irony, and the second, a suggestion for the future [as I explained in my first comment]. Irony, because as I see it, their behavior is an uncontrollable obsession; however, doing something for one's satisfaction alone, for me implies certain self-control, a consciousness choice. I think it's that obsession Austen criticizes, but at the same time this criticism allows her to say something about the condition of women in society [i.e. why women were in a position where they 'needed' this obsession].
I can go on and on about that 'something', but I won't here, and this is *way* long as it is. :).

All I can say is -- I wish you were right. I wish more women would dress for themselves alone,
for their own sense of self-esteem and worthiness.
And from were I'm standing, I would say – most of them still don't.

[Wow - I had to let it out. Hope I explained it better this time. :)]
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2004 12:27 pm (UTC)

Re: My answer, part II

I think there's still here something to nitpick about :)

Let's look at the classic Austen-type female. She's looking for a husband and spends most of her time making sure she's not only attractive, but up-to-the-second in all the current fashion. When she goes to a ball, she pagents back and forth in front of the men in hopes one of them asks her to dance. She lives her life with one intention - making herself the most attractive to male suitors.

What Austen said in that excerpt (in my opinion, of course), is that much of this effort is wasted on the men. They can see she's pretty and attractive, but they don't care if the dress she is wearing is the latest in french fashion, streight from Paris, or one of her grandma's old dresses, that happens to fit her. They care if she looks nice, but they don't care about the fashion behind it.

So Austen asks "Why then do women put all that effort into being so concurrent?" And there's the rub. There could be several reasons. One is that they really don't know that men couldn't care less. That's what I think Austen thinks, but I also think that's not true. Another reason could be that they do it to be more 'correct' than the other women in her group, fighting over the same pool of available men, and thus somehow surpass them and beat them to submission. I think that is much more plausible.

The women you talk about, I think you'd agree, do it for neither of these reasons. Today's gal knows that she has to be pretty for her own sake before she can do anything about finding men. So she dresses nice and puts on makeup even if she isn't looking for anyone, for her own sake - and thus she also loses interest in the ever-changning fashion industry. I think those two are linked - if you're doing it for the wrong reasons, you'll fall into the fashion trap.

Austen saw that it was a trap and the excerpt is a warning - beware! A trap! All the excerpt says is just a 'beware' - check what your motives are. If you're doing it for the men, you can stop. They won't notice. The line you quoted says something more, though. Not only why you shouldn't do it, but also why you should - for yourself. If you do it for yourself, be ready for no one else but yourself to appreciate it, but at least you'll be doing it for the right reason.
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 04:59 pm (UTC)

that's just sweet, really... :)

That part, in particular, did not impress me. What men don't get, in my opinion, is just how much they *are* affected by a women's look, with or without the ornaments. Most men I know haven't the slightest clue how deeply they can be affected by subtle changes in appearance, changes they won't always be totally aware of.

All the better for us women, I suppose. Wouldn’t want to give away the trade's secrets... ;)

BTW, I met an "Isabel" today. I was at awe - such people do exist!
[User Picture]
Date:November 7th, 2004 05:08 pm (UTC)

Re: that's just sweet, really... :)

Well, sure, but Austen wasn't satirizing men here, but women. I'm sure she can satirize men quite well, too, even though it is a common assumption that she knew very little of men's behavior on their own.

I find her imitation of a 18th-century young dandy's speech, embodied by John Thorpe, quite credible. (the 'famous' motif, the rough-hewn 'easy' manner...)
[User Picture]
Date:November 8th, 2004 03:58 pm (UTC)

Re: that's just sweet, really... :)

"I'm sure she can satirize men quite well, too, even though it is a common assumption that she knew very little of men's behavior on their own."

Of course Austen can satirize men, and does so frequently and, I may add, very well indeed (John Thorpe is a great example but not the only one; another good one is Sir Walter Elliot in "Persuasion" and HIS most amusing obsession with fashion).

The assumption she knew little of men's behaviour is very far from the truth, as she had 5 brothers and grew up in a boy's boarding school. She was very much involved in her brothers' lives ever since she was little.
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