Study Guide

Emma Gender

By Jane Austen


Gender roles seem to blur in everyday life: men gossip as much – if not more – than women, women run the social and political networks of the community as much as their male counterparts do, and everybody vies to be the perfect host/hostess. Women, however, have fewer options than men. They can get married, or they can live with their families. Without options, they become defined by a very different set of expectations and images then men do. Men still marry for looks or money (or a combination of the two); the women who choose to ignore or change the ways the marriage market works run into lots and lots of trouble.

Questions About Gender

  1. Austen’s narrator tells us that Emma starts arranging Harriet’s life because she’s bored. What other options does a woman have to entertain herself? Is Austen making a comment on gender roles?
  2. Mr. Weston seems to be as much of a gossip as Miss Bates. Does this make him effeminate? Is gossip a woman’s occupation or not?
  3. The narrator inserts many asides about gendered experiences (i.e., how men can’t understand x, etc). Many of these sections aren’t explained in the novel. What effect does this have?
  4. Is the role of a governess looked down upon? By whom? What are their reasons?

Chew on This

By the novel’s standards, perfect women are also boring women.

Emma is really a novel about women. Men are only present as potential husbands or fathers.

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