Sunday, June 08, 2008

Expanding the possibilities

I was very interested to read "Women Behaving Boldly", Sarah Liss's argument that Sex and the City's female archetypes might have as their origin those of Alcott's Little Women. I've not read Little Women for years and years, and I'm not sure that what I did read wasn't abridged anyway, nevertheless, I'll be (re?)reading the novel this summer. Liss writes, "Louisa May Alcott ’s proto-feminist tome has been a rite of passage for generations... [T]he March girls were complex and flawed, and they helped shape my understanding of the many facets of femininity." As I reread, I'll keep her ideas in mind.

A reader takes issue with Liss, however: "Have you actually read Little Women?" Claiming that Little Women didn't celebrate feminist ideals, but rather quashed them. That Jo March was never accepted for her independent spirit, and those around her tried to tame her. Which might be right, I don't remember now. But I suspect otherwise, for when I look back to impressions of Little Women, Jo's spirit is all that I really remember. All attempts towards taming aside, Jo is Little Women (except for my impressions where Beth stands out, but they are only because she died).

I'd always associated Little Women with another female archetype-dependent television show, however, which was The Facts of Life. When I was seven and watched too much television, I came across an ad for Little Women in the back of another novel, read its plot synopsis, and figured these two quartets featuring girls named Jo must be intrinsically linked. It was only this chance to discover further adventures of a girl called Jo, I think, that led me to Little Women in the first place.

They were indeed a bit interchangeable, these Jo's, except that one had sold her hair, and the other cultivated hers into an elaborate mullet. Both of them were everybody's favourites though, and I can't help but think I'm not the only one who found both of them integral to an understanding of self during these formative years. That there were alternatives to the kinds of girls we were supposed to be, expanding the possibilities to encompass most anything.