Sewing, painting, dancing, reading, music, singing, languages and taste. We all know what it took to be considered an accomplished woman in Jane Austen’s day. A checklist criteria that young middle and upper-class women were required to meet unless they happened to be excessively beautiful or wealthy. Of course, this was under the pretext that they intended to make a good marriage, which was of course the basic point of a girl’s upbringing and education. Outdated? Yes. Boring? Quite possibly. Fair? Not really. But at least it was simple – you were either accomplished or you weren’t.
What about now, here in the 21st Century? Society’s preference for the beautiful and the rich has not altered greatly, but for those of us who are not supermodels or millionaires, what is it that now sets us apart? What now constitutes ‘accomplished’?
One might consider answering by asking: ‘What have you accomplished?’ Are we well-travelled? Earning a decent wage-packet at the end of each month? Managing to maintain a successful career and social life? Playing on a certain talent? Finishing a great project of some sort?
Is the accomplished woman the career girl? The Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada figure? She’s glamorous, talented and successful. Ruthless, even. Or is she the one who has it all? The job, the marriage, the home, the friends, the life? Or is she the artistic one? The one with all the answers, who seems to know all about music, dance, fashion, art and literature?
Or is the 21st century accomplished women any of the above? In a society of freedom and individuality, maybe she is just the one who has accomplished what she loves. Maybe she’s a career woman, maybe she’s a perfect housewife and mother. Maybe she’s a writer or artist, maybe she paints her own house, or maybe she just manages to balance the pressures and priorities of modern life. Our lives have more complexity than those of Austen’s heroines, and our society is one that embraces individuality rather than just norms and customs. So maybe there is no longer a set mould for an accomplished woman. Maybe it’s just about accomplishing whatever it is we most desire.