What Hemingway Taught Me About Being A Feminist

A woman with braids in her standing at the edge of a building looking off into the distance

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. Ever since I was little, I carried the beliefs of a feminist and held myself as such. I prided myself on being able to do the most pull-ups out of anyone in my class and being one of the only kids to be able to climb all the way up the rope in gym class. I didn’t want people to think less of me or think that I couldn’t keep up because I totally could. Being a feminist was never something I had to think about. It just happened, the same way that anything that is supposed to be happens.

The bigger pinnacle in my feminist life came when I could no longer keep my feminist beliefs separate from any other part of my life. In the past if asked, I would always say I was a feminist, but never asserted that information into a conversation. That all changed during a fiction course I took in college.

We were reading “The Sun Also Rises.” Everyone in my class essentially hated on the female lead in the story named Brett. Brett was a troubled and hurt woman. She was a flawed character for sure, and she even seemed to be self-aware about this. And for some reason everyone in my class hated her. They didn’t care about her flaws or even the flaws of the other characters. They all thought she was a deceitful woman who only wanted to lead men on (ie. the three guys who follow her around throughout the whole story).

Now I know my literature, and I know Hemingway well enough to know he wasn’t the biggest fan of women. I could take you down a complete literary trail, breaking down the story and building my case as to why Brett was awesome and not the devil as so many of my classmates seemed to want to make her, but that’s not the point.

The point is this: Brett led me to insert my feminist views into my everyday life loudly and constantly. She gave me the courage to speak to others about what I felt was right, and when I saw injustice or heard it, I stood up for the truth – I stood up for Brett. I felt that my feminist ways were no longer just a part of me, they became more than that. I need them to be more than that.

The paper I ended up writing to go with my reading of “The Sun Also Rises” was entitled “She Bears a Devilish Resemblance to Christ.” I made an argument based off many of the comments I made to my classmates, that not only was Brett not the devil, but in fact she was a Christ figure.

I had found my symbol for feminists in Brett, a woman who Hemingway had created to look unattractive toward readers, who many readers found to be selfish. “She had so many men dying over her, why couldn’t she just choose one and be happy?” I heard people ask. But that’s not right. Brett never owed those men anything. It was not her job to find their happiness for them before coming to her own.

What I find most interesting in my absolute love of Brett is in the history of her book. Hemingway wrote Brett as a representative character for all the flappers coming out of the 1920s. He wasn’t happy about flappers or their feminist movements, and Brett was the product of his feelings toward that. But when I read the story I didn’t react as many of my classmates did. I didn’t despise her for the character she had been created to be; instead, I related to something in her.

Almost a century after the book was originally published, I found a connection in a character meant to represent the original feminist movement. Even today I find a beauty in that, that feminists through the ages continue to inspire and give courage to one another.


Anna Phillips : Writer. Reader. Education Advocate. Lover of 80’s movies and Mindy Kaling. Working to give a voice to the voiceless and remembering there’s still a lot of work to be done in this world.