Unexpected Lessons in Empowerment

My Humanities Moment involves a connection between two individuals that might not initially seem to have anything in common: Jane Austen and Quentin Tarantino. One of the first places I found inspiration for the tenacity that has always kept me going through numerous personal and professional challenges was in the novels of Jane Austen. The rather conventional Austen can hardly be called a feminist since her strongest characters ultimately bend to the social and gender expectations of their time. When I was in middle school, however, I didn’t know that. I read for pleasure, rather than analysis, and had a greater desire to accept a much more romantic vision of the world. This caused me to see characters like Elizabeth Bennett and Elinor Dashwood as strong women who faced difficult circumstances with grace and determination and spoke up for the things they believed in. I remember admiring their ability to put actions behind their words and positions—they seemed to fight hardest when things got tough.

Flash forward about fifteen years to the first time I saw Tarantino’s Kill Bill series. Ironically, The Bride (Beatrix Kiddo) spoke to me in the same way as the Austen characters. Kiddo is attacked by people she considered her allies and left for dead in a way that pretty much should have assured her demise. The most inspiring scene for me has always been in the second movie, which depicts her escape from a grave in which she has been buried alive. I found her will to survive circumstances that would have destroyed another person—both literally and figuratively—incredibly motivating.

Getting my masters’ degrees and my PhD has been a struggle to say the least. When I began my quest for an advanced education, I was a young mother who lived in a tiny rural town, fighting for a way to effectively express my value system in an environment that was much more conservative than I was. But whenever I felt like giving up—like when I was overwhelmed with work, life, or whatever—I tried to remember these fictional women. They refused to wallow in self-pity, but simply picked themselves up, reorganized, or even crawled out of the dirt to face the next moment with purpose and resolve. I still think of them when I find myself faltering and credit them for giving me the willpower to fight my own battles. They truly have made me the person I am today.