I recently went to watch Little Women in theatres with a friend. I will preface this story by confessing that I did look at other movies that were playing at the same time before we settled on watching Little Women.
“I think 1917 is playing too, we could watch that,” I suggested just making sure we looked at all our options.
“Yes Mike, we could watch the one where a lot of people die, or, alternatively, we could watch the feminist one where not as many people do.”
“Yeah let’s watch Little Women, I will watch anything with Timothée Chalamet & Saoirse Ronan.”
That is an absolute truth. I will actually watch anything with those two in it. But it is embarrassing to admit that it took some convincing to get me to watch Little Women.
This has historically been the case for me and I think if they are honest about it, it may be the truth for many other men too. We do not think we relate to movies where women are the main characters. They just are not “for us.” And of course, we think, movies should be “for us.”
This is also a relative idea of why whinybabies get so worked up when Ghostbusters movies have women in it or when Doctor Who is, gasp, a woman, or when Captain Marvel is a woman, or when there's any mention that James Bond might be played by a Black woman. It is also of the same family who scream “oh but would she beat Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or …….?!” any time someone says Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time*.
Anyway, I went to Little Women, and, long story short, I loved it.
Short story long, I am so angry with me for all the years I have willingly let role models like Jo March slip past me because they were women. Or, maybe the more honest answer is because they weren’t men.
My goodness she left me full. I really identified with her anger and passion and isolation. There were so many scenes that I saw myself in in a way that I had never really felt with so many men characters in so many books and movies I have sat with over the first almost 41 years of my life. Now here was Jo crying about how she felt so lonely. Holy shit.
My own misogyny has prevented me from having these kinds of characters to look to throughout my life. This is done repeatedly, generation over generation.
Or, is it patriarchy that had robbed me of Jo and others like her? Ultimately, it is what leads to the misogyny that keeps boys and men from filling their bookshelves and minds with heroes that are not men. This is something that as parents to boys we need to be mindful of doing differently.
It cannot be enough that we leave it to chance that they stumble upon these characters at some point down the road. We need to be proactive in breaking down the crappy messaging that boys are for boys and that nobody else is for boys. Or that hardness is for boys and that only the characters who go out and save people are for boys. We teach boys that they are the main characters in every story, that they are the leading player and that any situation in which this is not the case is wrong and unworthy of their time.
We need to show boys character traits. We need to allow them to look for traits they love and see in themselves and we need to help them see the amazing people out there who model them well. Let boys identify these traits themselves. Let them find hope or love or softness or compassion or something they haven’t found in the heroes they see in the cartoons or books they have laid out in front of them so far. Let them watch every person in every situation and choose which one they feel represents them.
Essentially, we need to shift how we present role models to boys and doing so takes work on our part. Boys don’t have to be hard leaders. Boys shouldn’t always be hard leaders. Without making sure to vary the material we put in front of them, there is a good chance they may not see this, they may not see themselves reflected.
It is possible to do. It is actually really, really easy to do.
Some suggestions from me
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison
DC Super Heroes: My First Book of Girl Power, by Julie Merberg
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, by Kai Cheng Thom
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World, by Susan Hood
DC Superhero Girls