The women were in fashionable long sleeve gowns, their manner reserved as the men bowed and asked them for a dance; charisma was in style as were courtesies.

The Austenian world seemed as romantic as it did constraining: marriage dictated a woman’s stand in society and her stand in society determined her ability to marry well. Self-expression and freedom were limited and few chose to be as outspoken and vivacious as Lizzy Bennett.

Moving on, all the way to the 21st century and the contrast between the two is startling. While it can be argued that charisma was lost along the way, a place was carved out for women where decisions, opinions and votes are given as much consideration as anyone else’s.

Vivacity is no longer a form of rebellion, but a lifestyle.

Independence is taken so much for granted that news of Saudi Arabia’s recent decision giving women the right to vote comes as a surprise and Aliaa Elmahdy’s bold decision to post nude photographs on her blog last week in favour of equality and freedom of expression Egypt comes as a shock.

As Egyptian society contends with the extreme reactions to Elmahdy’s stand, I can’t help wonder at the seeming century of difference across countries. As protests against military rule continue in Tahrir square and women’s right campaigns grow across the Middle East, a slow and contested change in attitude seems imminent. 


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