(when a story gets too emotional and personal..)
The opening scene is a reminder that our societies have not changed much. Toxic masculinity at its worst. And, of course, even today, we are expected to be nice. Not our advice to us all. We prefer screaming out and being direct. (I have always wanted to throw a punch, well placed in the faces of several of my male contemporaries, young or old. It hasn’t come to that yet.) The character in question represents many men, who, even when they are honestly nice, can render us breathless in a suffocating way. (I know a few of those.)
In the face of this toxic masculinity, we as women, have endured too much. The choice between independence and violence sounds simple. In reality, to this day, a struggle. And that is one issue, to a degree, Greta Gerwig addresses in Little Women (2019). Almost as if a 19th century children’s book by a white woman simply serves as a foundation.
We cannot afford to be colorblind with regards to how women’s rights is intertwined with racism (both the fight against and the complex itself). Whereas it is a small central theme in the film, the social and character elements are universal and inter-generational: artist, musician, writer, housekeeper, creative license, worker, independence, money, budgeting, honesty, marriage or relationships, originality, selfishness, selflessness, and poverty. The “conscience” of our situations and our societies is also central.
That question alone follows our own experiences through the lens of the book in the backdrop. After all, we are still here. There’s the scene with Union army men, the two women handing out supplies while discussing the state of the country. The sentiment of anger towards the government is also anger against the system. A scene, which we do not find in the 1994 film, which discusses important themes but sticks very much close to the book. The sentiment is still very much the same. The anger is still around, as is the fatigue with the stubbornness of the system, who refuses even today to change. (A prime current example is the conservative society in Georgia pushing for voters’ discrimination because it refuses to understand there’s much more to the state than their narcissism, racist profiling, and their closed up mentalities.) We are affronted with problems, some of us deem as new, but in reality are older than we realize, certainly older than the mid-to-late 1800s. So yes, personalities, dreams, our struggles are still here. As much as each community of women has its history and grassroots/ground work, these are what unite them all, despite differences and perceptions, which put tensions on the necessary cross dialogue across lines. What we call the sisterhood is to amplify our voices to make them stronger. Through the lens, it is impossible to skim over a few details Gerwig wants to make clear. I have my own story of reactions with this.
Before watching this version, I had been a long time admirer of the 1994 version. I have always been an emotionally sensitive person. I’m an observer, a writer, a self-proclaimed expert wallflower (term coined by yours truly), more socially awkward than rooted, a true wanderer. Gerwig and Ronan show a Jo, who crashed all my film-watching experiences and personal experiences together. I crumbled to my tearful emotions. It’s not often it happens. The one other time it did was when watching The Promise (2016) but that is another story altogether. The truth is, concerning this, that a woman knows her own mind. Jo’s rant on love and loneliness is exactly my story, word for word. We spent our lives wandering, loving what surrounds us and the people who share the road traveled by us. We spend our lives making our own decisions, many times succeeding, just as many times failing, and sometimes barely scraping by. We spend our lives wanting to do something with our hands and our brains. Yet, when it comes to knowing who we want to be with more than anything, we are met again and again with this wall of rejection or of fear from the person in front of us or even of hunger not satisfied enough to keep us in trust. That, no doubt, also concerns respect. The disappointment is enormous. Can we afford to refuse those we’re not sure of? Yes. Can we afford to be refused by those, whom we thought we could hold on to as equals face to face, side by side? Harder to say. When it becomes repetition sans fin, we ask ourselves whether there’s something wrong. Especially, when we are the ones making the idiotic mistakes.
Which brings us back to the toxic masculinity. In this instance, he doesn’t like his wife. No interest whatsoever, so obsessed with the very idea of money, and completely chauvinistic to the core “… and if it’s a girl, she has to be married or dead by the end….” is the most infamous insult from this character. What exactly does Gerwig want us to see? Our very own environment, that which we are fighting from every angle, different, united, complex, but horribly still a reality today. Man does not know best. History taught us all that over the millennia. He never sees what’s in front of him, the raw, the brutal, the honest truth. Yet, he keeps thinking that the chase is only for him.
It is not.
A woman needs chase too. Every woman, sensual or less sensual, fluid body movements or not. Just like we search for drive, we also search for a chase. The way we fight for causes close to us and our communities is also the way we want to live our personal and our love lives. If we are told that we are no good, that we are too much, or simply that we are darlings but nothing else follows, who are we supposed to be? A failed job search with no explanations given as to why has mental repercussions like no one can imagine. An empty love life (or sex life while we’re at it), even when we are extremely independent and self sufficient weighs down like a ton of bricks thrown overboard in the ocean at some point. The comment “what a cutie” is no compliment for 20-something year old women.
Please take my word for it. My indifference does not mean I don’t care. My kind words and constant loud brain don’t mean I seek attention. My honesty or transparency is exactly that. Generosity is taken for granted sometimes and real love feels like an illusion never to be found. Jo feels these and countless young women (and women in general) like us feel the same.
Yes, this year, I’ve spent too much time alone and away from others that I’m sick of my own solitude, normally my favorite companion. I also realize I am living in my head, stuck there without a window or a door in sight. They exist yet it’s impossible to know where or when.
Gerwig gives us a mirror image of ourselves in every spectrum with her rendering of Little Women, in addition to the social and emotional issues we still have to endure and fight for as women.