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The Anti-Feminist Message Hidden in ‘Little Women’

3 ½ min

I’ve been bombarded with ads for the new “Little Women” movie for the last few months. It appears Google knows my preferences well, because, yes, I am curious to see it.

But even while I’m curious, I’m also a tad apprehensive. Dana Stevens’ Slate review of the movie fails to quell these fears, for she describes the film as “Greta Gerwig’s very 21st century adaptation.”

I’ve seen the progression of “Little Women” movies, and while I always love seeing this classic story reenacted, I cringe at the postmodern political tones that have crept in over the years. One of the most obvious is the feminist lens through which the book is increasingly viewed.

It shouldn’t surprise me. “Little Women” is a story which plays easily into the feminist ideal. After all, it has a ready-made sisterhood which spends a good portion of the story living in a matriarchal household. Jo is an independent and ambitious female lead, ready to buck society’s conventions with exuberance, even to the point of rejecting marriage for the more exciting lifestyle of career and travel. What more could one ask when seeking a plot to bolster modern day feminism?

Yet whenever I see “Little Women” portrayed in such a light, I wonder if the feminist-minded individuals writing these scripts have ever read the entire book. Perhaps they simply overlooked my favorite passage in the novel. It’s easy to understand why they might: It’s enough to cause weeping and gnashing of teeth with its utterance of feminist blasphemy.

The scene is set with Marmee having a heart to heart chat with her daughters, Meg and Jo. Marmee admits that she has very high goals for her girls:

I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send.

Almost any mother would happily affirm the same goals for her own girls. But then Marmee continues to the subject of marriage, and that’s where things get a bit dicey for the feminist mind:

To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.

In essence, Marmee encourages her daughters to hope for and expect marriage, and to view it as a worthy goal, particularly when with a man of character and virtue.

That’s a taboo message today. Women are supposed to break free from marriage and childbearing, to dream of being a corporate executive, rather than the capable manager of a home and family.

But is this a message that today’s girls need? Do they need to realize that it’s okay to march to a different beat than the one popular culture peddles?

I have yet to see Gerwig’s version of “Little Women,” so I don’t know the tack she will take in approaching this classic tale. But I hope I’m pleasantly surprised to find that she, like Marmee, endorses the opinion that marriage and motherhood are worthy goals for the feminine mind to ponder and pursue.

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[Image Credit: YouTube]

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.

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