We all know Lydia Bennet has a rather girlish infatuation with the militia. I also know we Austenites prefer to scold Lydia and write her off as a silly girl who nearly ruined her family's reputation. (All true, unfortunately.) A few days ago, I asked my Instagram followers to tell me what the first word that comes to mind when they think of Lydia Bennet. Here are just a few of the responses:
- Waste (bit harsh)
- Hoe (also a little harsh)
- Ditsy (absolutely)
- Frivolous (a terrific word)
Out of all the responses, I think my favorite word to describe Lydia is "impetuous," meaning acting or done quickly and without thought or care. Lydia is absolutely impetuous. She is also boisterous, outgoing, obnoxious, and unreasonable. As I was thinking about Lydia, I started to think about the men Lydia would've danced and flirted with, whether they're characters like Wickham that we know of, or just a nameless face in the middle of a crowded paragraph. How would those men have reacted to Lydia's forwardness?
These days, that sort of confidence (or impertinence) can really go either way: he could admire your boldness and it sparks a connection or conversation, or he might roll his eyes and walk away. I've seen both of these scenarios play out.
I was fortunate enough to accompany a few professors and fellow students to AWP Writers' Conference in Washington, D.C. a few months ago. Leaving the book fair, I witnessed an exchange between a man and woman that I've continued to ponder since then. The guy--tall, dark, and scruffy--was exiting the book fair area, carrying a box of miscellaneous titles. A woman, who (from her slight stumble) was probably a little tipsy, walked past the guy and loudly declared, "You're hot!" He glanced at his friend, eyes wide, chuckling awkwardly. As I passed him, he muttered to his friend rhetorically, "Thanks for objectifying me"
His reaction honestly surprised me a little bit. I assumed he'd just laugh and walk away, as I've always done in the same situation. I often wonder how common it is for a man to be catcalled. Considering women's rather new ability to walk freely in cities (if you're interested in this topic, read Lauren Elkin's book, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London--she recently spoke with my class, and she's amazing), women catcalling men might also be new(ish) happening. (By "new," I mean like the last 75 years or so, but really a very short period of time in the scheme of history.) I think the main reason that this Lydia-style behavior was rejected so strongly was because it was downright offensive. It objectified him, and he wasn't going to just let it slide.
I've also seen this forward tactic work to a girl's advantage (from personal experience). I had brought my car into a Toyota dealership to get my airbags replaced due to a recent recall. When I stepped out of my car to hand the keys to the employee, I was immediately struck by his obvious hotness. He asked me a question, and I fumbled for a response (confused because I'd been thinking what a shame it was that I had on no makeup and was wearing my comfy Saturday homework clothes). Over the next few hours, I sat in the waiting room, writing and reading. Every once in a while, he would pass through the lobby, but never make any eye contact. I texted my friend, asking her if it was possible that he kept coming to the lobby because of me. She asked what I was wearing. And when I told her (a turtleneck and skinny sweats with no makeup), she replied no. He was probably just working.
Fortunately, I deluded myself into thinking he found me kind of cute. So after I got my car, I wrote my number on a slip of paper, walked up to him, and said, "Hey, so you're super cute. Maybe give me a call sometime." His face betrayed his obvious surprise. He smiled and replied, "Yeah!" I left grinning. (He did text me, too. *self-five*)
So the moral of the story is that sometimes it's okay to be forward, when the intention is pure and not oozing with inappropriate or demeaning undertones. I've discussed this before, but after seeing all the negative comments from my Instagram about Lydia, I think we all need the reminder. There is something to be said for Lydia's confidence. She's outgoing, and she certainly knows what she wants and how to get it.
If I wasn't occasionally forward, if I don't put myself out there from time to time, I would literally never meet anybody new--new friend or potential boyfriend. If I hadn't said to the girl sitting next to me in my theology class, "Hey, do you want to get coffee and talk about the homework next week?" I wouldn't have my dear friend Katie. If I hadn't asked the cute guy in the coffeeshop about his book, I never would've met the bookish blonde. And even though we didn't work out, I'm still happy I met him and had that experience. Things didn't work out with the Toyota dealership hottie, either. But it's an experience. Life sometimes requires us to be a little forward--that is if we're interested in changing our own circumstances and getting out of our own way.