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Gender Differences in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice: A Literature-based Study

Sanya Singhal is a Law Student from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Published onDec 15, 2021
Gender Differences in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice: A Literature-based Study


This research paper focuses on the social and economic gender difference present in society especially in the field of marriage. The objectives of the study are to understand the basis on which marriage was made the path to achieve every facility in a women’s life and the difference in expectations on the basis of gender.

“In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen criticizes society’s construct of marriage and questions the traditional stereotypical gender roles which considered women as objects and beautiful statues that have no rights. Through Bennetts, Collins and Wickham’s she portrays negative models of marriage based on a long-established understanding of gender roles and the desire to meet pragmatic social needs. They fall short of an ideal marriage. On the other side, in the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy and through the strong independent heroine, she suggests a new model that is built on understanding, love equality and respect.” (Badinjki, 2019)

Men are expected to be powerful, rich, strong, brave, and are expected to be married as soon as they have are settled financially. Women are expected to fall under the so-called category of “beauty” i.e. rosy cheeks, slender body, silky hair, fair skin, and attractive eyes. They are expected to be fragile, and submissive.

These gender role differences are present in every society and country through the levels vary. This difference starts from the very birth of the child when girls are wrapped in pink cloth and boys in blue. Gender differences have historical references as well which can be seen in the texts like Mahabharata in which men are shown as warriors and women have to depend upon men for their protection.

There are many books written on the topic of gender differences that are created by society like Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. The author writes about how society believes that there are biological differences between the male and a female’s minds. She openly criticizes society’s old habit of always proving that women are inferior to men. Then there is the Palace of Illusions an enlightening novel by Chitra Banerjee. Her book is inspired by the absence of point of view of the female characters of Mahabharata. In her book Chitra has beautifully brought gender-specific roles decided by society to the forefront where women are meant to be dependent, caring, gullible, nurturing, and men are meant to be powerful, strong, clever, and witty.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen depicts the gender difference set by society in Austen’s satirical way. The story is set in, Hertfordshire, an imaginary town. The novel talks about the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic story. It also highlights the so-called beauty standards that are set by society for women. Its humor lies in its honest depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the Regency era in Great Britain. The sole motive of women in this novel is to get married to a rich husband so that they can live a peaceful and comfortable life. Most of the women are characterized by gossiping as their favorite hobby. Any single man in possession of a good fortune is by default considered to be in want of a wife and is therefore taken as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters irrespective of the feelings and views of such a man. This assumption of the society in Hertfordshire is broken by the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet when she rejects Mr. Darcy as she found him too proud, self-centered, and miss judge him as a fraud. Later, she marries Mr. Darcy, not because of his social status but because she falls in love with him.

KEYWORDS: Gender Stereotype, Jane Austen, Economic and Social dependence, Marriage and Wealth, Law and Literature


Since age’s gender of a person has been taken as a parameter for the type of life they are bound to perform [because nobody can really live a predetermined life]. Everyone is placed on a social scale where females are mainly weighed on their so-called “beauty” parameters and males on their “money value”. The difference continues to prevail with the workload being divided not as per the abilities but according to the gender of a person. Women are bound to be the homemaker while men are the bread earners but that’s not the real problem the grey spot is not appreciating women when they work equally hard and many times even more than men. When a girl child is born she is considered a burden for her parents as they are subjected to the social evil of dowry even when it’s illegal. Then there are gender-specific behavioral expectations. Males and Females both are generally expected to behave and dress in the typical masculine and feminine ways set by the society for them and whoever does not follow these norms is either taken as disagreeable or shameful.


Jane Austen was a British novelist known majorly for her novels mainly commenting upon the hypocrisy and favourability of British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Jane Austen’s plot mostly deals with the gender-biased society where women only hope of getting a good future or some social and economic standing is getting married about. Her realism, biting irony, and social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critiques. She also talks about the earlier laws which favored male members of the society.

Austen lived her life with her family especially after she divorced her husband who can be taken as a source of the depth of love and understanding in her novels.

“Through the description of marriage in her novels, it actually represented the life of British society at that time in the frame which women need to marry for survival and there was a high level of social and class snobbery. Maybe that became one of the reasons why she decided not to marry in her life besides her love story tragedy. She just spent her entire life among family and friends in a peaceful rural county in Hampshire, southern England” (Sharma, 2018) 



Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful novel written by Jane Austen, first published in 1813.  The book revolves around issues of marriage which were considered as the most important decision in a male’s life and the only one in females. Women taken as the inferior were to marry a resourceful and powerful man to ensure that they are socially and economically stable. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennett as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of orthodoxies of early 19th-century England. Mr. Darcy who is taken opposite to Elizabeth is a reserved, nobleman who is believed to be a proud, disagreeable man on his refusal to talk to any other ladies apart from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurts who he believed to be of his status.

In short, this story is about Bennett’s daughters who are of age and are expected to get married in rich families as their parents (Mr & Mrs. Bennett) have five daughters and no son. This means that the estate held by Mr. Bennett would be given to Mr. Collins his brother which will leave the daughter’s poor so they have to marry in powerful families to ensure a promising future. Their wish is fulfilled by Mr. Bingley arriving in the town along with his sisters and Mr. Bingley and falling in love with Jane, the eldest Bennett daughter, and Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth but is rejected because of his behavioral conduct and rudeness. This novel mainly focuses on women getting married for the sake of a secured future and Elizabeth breaking the norm by marrying for love. Mr & Mrs. Bennett are both loving and caring parents who wish for their daughters to have a secured future but they under the impression of society choose to get well-settled spouses for their husbands. They diverted the energies of their daughters towards finding someone to depend on in spite of encouraging them to be self-dependent which led to one of their daughters getting cheated. There are many lines that prove the gender role differences. The recognition of female characters is social and economic dependence on male members either by birth or marriage. It is juxtaposed against male characters of the book that are either already very powerful or shown power hungry which helps in our understanding of how society takes power as a means of differentiating between the genders.

“The novel explores Austen's intentions through introducing different models of marriages as economical arrangements where women do not have a chance to decide for themselves. She shows how the ladies were in need of rich men. She criticizes society’s construct of marriage and questions the stereotypical gender roles which considered women as objects and beautiful statues that have no rights. The woman’s place was at home, and her sole duty was to serve and please her husband. The ultimate goal of almost every unmarried girl was to find a husband and get the approval of society. Women had to go through many obstacles to achieve their goals. She portrays negative models of marriage and gives a new model that is built on understanding, loves, and respect” (Austen, 1813)

“Based on the sociological analysis, it can be concluded that in Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen reflects the social realities of the English society including social, economic, political, science and technology, cultural and religious aspect at late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. The dominant aspect included in the novel is the social aspect, especially social stratification and social relation. In this novel, Jane Austen also criticizes the society that tends to consider social class as this only issue” (HARIYANTI, 2014).


  1. In “Georgette Heyer’s Regency World” by Jennifer Kloester- The article discusses the Regency period during which Young women try to marry the wealthiest man possible to secure their life and to become economically and socially stable love really won in the fight of becoming the richest person possible and to have a high standard. Being with an upper-class man and having a comfortable and luxurious life mattered more than having someone who loved you.

  2. In “Some Reflections upon Marriage”, Mary Astell an early English feminist writes This article talks about A woman who was supposed to make an ideal wife to get a rich husband in a world where a husband was measured at a very high and valuable level who had the power how to make his wife live comfortable and worth living.

  3. Londa Schiebinger’s book, "Has Feminism Changed Science?", “She claimed that "Married men with families on average earn more money, live longer and happier, and progress faster in their careers," while "for a working woman, a family is a liability, extra baggage threatening to drag down her career. Furthermore, statistics had shown that "only 17 percent of the women who are full professors of engineering have children, while 82 percent of the men do."” (Schiebinger, 1999) Despite the increase in women in the labor force since the mid-1900s, traditional gender roles are still prevalent in American society. Women may be expected to put their educational and career goals on hold in order to raise children, while their husbands work. However, women who choose to work as well as fulfill a superficial gender role of cleaning the house and taking care of the children. Despite the fact that different households may divide household tasks more evenly, there is evidence that supports that women have retained the primary caregiver role within ancestral life despite contributions economically. This evidence suggests that women who work outside the home often put in an extra 18 hours a week doing household or childcare-related tasks as opposed to men who average 12 minutes a day in childcare activities.

  4. “EXCHANGE MARRIAGE SYSTEM, TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES AND OBSCURED TRANSFORMATION IN A COMMUNITY OF PAKISTAN: Interplay of Structure Agency and Social Change” by “Muhammad Zaman, Muhammad Zakria Zakar, Abida Sharif, Imran Sabir, Rubeena Zakar, and Muhammad Arif”- “This article deals with the traditional and changing gender roles and relationships in the exchange marriage system South Punjab, Pakistan. It examines structural roles and individual' independent choices. In-depth interviews were conducted with 24 families who have the system of exchange. The study found that pre-determined structured roles were more influential and they have more importance than the individual's choices. It revealed a perpetual tension between structural forces and individual agency: emancipated individuals tried to assert and wanted to exercise their choices but the structural pressures were powerful. A contention is undergoing between the structural agents and the individual agency for the emancipation of the individual's emancipated role. The paper analyses the interplay between structure and agency. It also analyses the tensions and the process of slight social change under given social conditions”. (MUHAMMAD ZAMAN, 2013)

  5. “Reassessing the Discrimination against Women in Higher Education” by Kenneth L. Wilson and Eui Hang Shin- “This paper argues that the sex composition of college curricula is the major source of sex inequality in higher education today. Census data are analyzed to demonstrate that while women are obtaining an ever-growing proportion of college degrees, fields of specialty are still segregated to an important extent. A model of prejudice and discrimination is constructed and analyzed as a possible explanation of the sex composition of college curricula. College curricula are ranked according to their potential for yielding high levels of income, power, and prestige in the occupational structure. The impact of discrimination in higher education is assessed by examining the extent to which the income, power, and prestige potential of college curricula can explain (a) the sex composition of those curricula, and (b) the female/male attrition rates in those curricula. Results show that men are disproportionately represented in curricula ranked high on the three stratification dimensions and that those curricula have the highest amounts of prejudicial attitudes against women. Implications are drawn for status attainment research, and the direction of policy development is discussed.” (Shin, 1983)

  6. “The Economics of Discrimination against Women: Some New Findings” by Isabel V. Sawhill – “In this day of "women's liberation," it is somewhat surprising that not much has been written in the professional literature on the economics of discrimination against women and that few attempts have been made to estimate the magnitude of this discrimination. At the theoretical level, there is Becker's seminal work as well as the more recent contributions of Bergmann, Arrow, and Thurow [1, 2, 4, 19]. At the empirical level, there are a growing number of studies, but their findings have not yet been widely publicized. This paper provides a brief review of this literature and then presents some additional evidence based on data from the 1967 Current Population Survey. More importantly, it attempts to specify more completely than heretofore the way in which discrimination interacts with other variables to reduce female earnings.” (Sawhill, 1973)

  7. “GENDER DISCRIMINATION AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IN INDIA: A VIEW” by Anju Beniwal- “This paper deals with the concept of gender discrimination and how this concept affects the empowerment of women in the Indian context. Indian society is a highly hierarchical society. It is a patriarchal society too. Even where matrilineal societies prevail, as in the northeast and the far south, the only politically correct position is to enhance the status of women to equal status in the political sense only and not in an economic or social status sense. In this paper, we discussed various forms, challenges and solutions of women empowerment” (Beniwal, 2013)

  8. “INEQUALITY INDECISION-MAKING AND MARITAL POWER AMONG THE SIKHS” by Parveen Kaur and Arif Jawaid- “Marital power is a very complex dimension of decision-making in the household structure of power between husband and wife. One dimension of equality in a marriage is the domination of a spouse in household decision-making. This reflects on the power relationship in that marriage. Often in patriarchal societies, the domination in decision-making is held by men but this article seeks to examine the marital power of Sikh households as Sikhism emphasizes egalitarianism and equality of men and women in this society. This plays a vital role in influencing the relationship between husband and wife by contributing to the power relations between them. Marital power is an interesting phenomenon for it is a power structure that is influenced by many factors” (JAWAID, 2012).

  9. “Social stratification reflected at Jane Austen’s pride and prejudice novel (1813): a sociological approach” by MEI HARIYANTI This article uses social logical approach towards Pride and Prejudice and establishes a link between the relationships which are mentioned and the social background studies in depth how the society affects different relations in different ways.


The lines “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” and "shares his wife's concern to find husbands for their daughters, since the girls are without fortune or security, and marriage is the only hope for their future'' are mentioned in the very start of the book (pride and prejudice) which typically terms living men who are financially stable as the property of society to be used as a suitable match for their daughters. This not only depicts the conservatism of the society but also its shallow-mindedness. When Mrs. Bennet describes her happiness on the arrival of Mr. Bingely and exclaims “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for one of our girls!” This line is such a disgrace seen from the perspective of humanity. Parent dreaming for her daughter’s marriage is not wrong but getting your daughter married for the sake of financial stability is no less than a crime. It is sad how Miss Bennet says ‘that marrying nearly any husband is more pleasant than remaining single and poor” as in spite of spending money on daughter’s education parents tend to spend it on dowry.


The gender-related stereotypes have been there for a very long time and still exist where the daughter is considered as a burden like an unwanted creature and burden of all the expectation is put on the Shoulders of a male child.

A woman is expected to learn all the household work and never to speak her heart in front of males and a man is expected to do what is best for his family to earn all the wealth in this world and sacrifice himself and his desire and passion.

Society's structural gender roles have to change for the benefit and growth of humankind as it is important to allow people from their early childhood years to play with toys they want and not to follow a standard protocol of girls playing with Barbie dolls and boys with automatic remote control cars.


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