Although Pride and Prejudice begins with the anonymous figure of a rich, single man, the novel is actually concerned with the plight of the poor (OK, middle-class), single woman. Most of the women we see here (the Bennet girls, Charlotte Lucas) are caught in a bind. These girls are too high class to get jobs (jobs aren't really an option for proper young ladies in early 19th-century England), but not high class enough to inherit wealth to support themselves. Basically these women have two options: wedding bells or penny-pinching old maidhood. Pride and Prejudice offers us a look into this rather intensely feminine world of courting, marriage decisions, and social realities.
The novel offers a startlingly complete continuum of women's characters, with Lydia and Mrs. Bennet on one side as the least responsible and capable, and with Lady de Bourgh on the other as the most powerful and controlling. This range is much wider and more diverse than the range of male characters.
Elizabeth is held up as an alternative role model for females. By providing a female character who is bold, independent, honest, and forthright, Jane Austen is making a radical critique of the social construction of female identity in early nineteenth-century England.