Little Women

The other day we caught a bit of Little Women on TV. What I think of as the new version, even though since it’s got Winona Ryder as Jo I guess that shows my age? I’ve read of Marmee March being referred to as one of the first feminist mothers in literature, so I was paying extra attention to her. There was a scene where she was discussing the difference between how society treated men and women with Meg and Jo and she said to them, “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring you girls into a more just world. But I know you’ll make it a better place.” (Something like that.) And I’ve been thinking about that line ever since.

Emma is a lucky girl, as I was. She was a wanted baby, she is healthy and loved, she will go to school and be surrounded by books and have a job and be able to do just about anything she wants in life. And yet, as lucky as she is to be born into this family in this country at this time, because she is female she is also more likely to be poor, to be homeless, to be abused or assaulted even by the people who are supposed to love her the most. She is more likely to be in a low-paid job, and even if she’s not, she could still be paid less than the man doing the same job beside her. If she defies her genetic makeup and is a member of a world class sports team, few will know or care and she almost certainly won’t be able to make a living from it. She will be judged on her looks as much as – if not more than – her brains. Men – politicians, doctors, bureaucrats, hopefully not partners – will assume to understand her body and therefore control it and what she does with it. When she looks at, and listens to, so-called important people – leaders, thinkers, achievers – she will see and hear mostly men. She will find at many turns in life that things just don’t seem the same for her as they do the boys, for no apparent reason. These facts of life are enough to break my heart when I look at my girl and see only perfection and possibility.

Of course we will do our best to give Emma a good life and equip her with the skills and resources she needs to rise above all of this, and of course the odds are she is going to be better than fine, but when I stop to think about it I can’t help wishing, a whole 150 years after Marmee March was raising her daughters, that we’d brought her into a more just world. But just like Marmee, not to put any pressure on a baby or anything, I can only assume that our girl will also make the world a better place.

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