Personal Agency and Women in Refrigerators

“But to malign writing for killing women when killing said women is a way of giving them the ultimate praise, of saying they’re the most important part of the life of a given character, hardly seems to be sexism to me. If anything, it is merely guilty of being an overdone plot device.” – Neal Bailey

Ok, so I’ve heard the argument that killing, raping, maiming, whatever a character as motivation for another character is actually a compliment to them because it shows how much they are loved before, but this goes a step beyond. The above quote is from a blog post. “Women in Refrigerators” is a phrase coined by Gail Simone and refers to the trend in comic books where female characters are killed or assaulted and seriously disabled somehow in order to provide a motivation for the male heroes in their lives.

I’m not going to argue that attacking the loved ones of a hero provides him or her a strong motivation, but I do have to wonder what villain in their right mind would possibly want to make a superhero that mad at them. I mean, seriously, do you really want a grieving husband or wife with superpowers coming after you? Really? That might deserve being thought through a little more before you actually attack his wife or her husband. But it’s motivation, and from the writer’s point of view, that’s the important point. I get that. And there can be times when it works. They may have had Joker shoot Barbara Gordon as incentive for Batman to hunt Joker, but she’s become a better character for it having happened. That event isn’t remembered as being about Batman, it’s remembered as being about Barbara.

And that’s the key point here. Women are people too and their motivations and hopes and dreams are their own. Yes, just as men are motivated by what happens to their wives, girlfriends and mothers, women are motivated by what happens to their husbands, boyfriends and fathers. Somehow, though, that doesn’t seem to matter. Female heroes rarely have family members stuck in refrigerators. And when the men do, it’s often forgotten after a few issues (Ralph Dibny may have morned his wife until he joined her in death, but more often it feels like the writers have forgotten the incident even happened a few issues later).

If a woman is her own person, even if she’s just a background character we never got to know, it can never be the “ultimate praise” for her to be killed to show that she’s the most important part of someone else’s life. Yes, it is possible for someone’s death to be the most meaningful thing that ever happened to them, but that involves them owning their death. It’s not that the person has to exactly choose to die, but they are personally ascribing meaning to their own deaths when they die (think of saints, dying for their beliefs with God’s name on their lips). These women aren’t given the chance to do that and have no ownership over their fates. They are victims, period.

Think about the way that sentence is phrased. How she feels about him is irrelevant. It allows for a woman to be killed for a man who adores her and considers her the most important part of her life, thus making her death the “ultimate praise”, when she doesn’t even like him or know who he is. Obviously, this isn’t the typical case. But the meaning of someone’s life, even a fictional character’s life, can’t be what they mean to someone else. What do they feel? What do they want? They must have dreams, ambitions, wants of their own. They are people and even the most minor of characters should be assumed to be the center of their own story.

Again, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be attacked or provide motivation, but it does mean that we can’t treat their deaths as existing only for the hero who is left behind. Every character has the potential to act, not just be acted upon, and suggesting that the best a woman can hope for is to be loved best by someone else takes all of that away from her. Even if we never see her own life, never see her act individually, it should be assumed that she can and does do so. She must have other people in her life, other things she does (a job, hobbies, etc.). To do otherwise is to draw a paper cut-out, not a character, and that is a disservice to our hero.

I would say that this attitude is pretty disturbing, and when only female characters are seen this way, it is indeed sexist. But it doesn’t have to be. This would be just as bad were it applied to male characters being killed to prove that they’re the center of someone else’s world, too. And if it were only applied to male characters (as it appears to be only applied to female characters here, although I don’t think the author means it that way), it would be sexism that way. But sexism isn’t the problem here, it’s lack of allowing for human agency and understanding that no one can exist solely to be part of, even the center of, someone else’s world and be considered a fulfilled human being. Being loved is important, but you need to be a person and have some kind of agency too. Otherwise you’re a doll.

New Paper Doll Outfit: Amy from Amy Unbounded

This is Carmella’s first new costume! It’s the outfit worn by Amy in the book Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman. I know that it’s really simple, but she’s a medieval peasant girl, so cut her some slack. Besides, it’s very well suited to running around and getting dirty and having adventures. Can you imagine a more elaborate dress surviving very well in a sheep pen? Me neither. Amy is a great character who lives in a world with wonderfully three-dimensional characters and an incredibly nuanced story. I was incredibly impressed with this story. The book is awesome, although not as easy to find as I’d like. My copy was a gift and I’m thrilled I got it, since it’s a fantastic story. I highly recommend it. There are apparently six issues of the comic that came before this book but have not been collected and I’d love to get them sometime, since this was so good.

You can find the Carmella paper doll and both of her outfits on her page. She, Alana and Serena will all have more outfits soon!

New Paper Doll – Serena

This is the last of my new paper dolls (although all three have lots of outfits, which I will be posting as well). This is Serena. She’s a teenager and was definitely the most difficult of the three to make. I’m still not entirely happy with her and think she’s a bit too skinny, but she kept coming out either too shapeless or too thin and eventually this was the best one, so I decided to stick with her. She may be the first paper doll I’ve ever made with curly hair (which is odd, since I love curly hair). Her outfit is Flora’s fairy costume from the television show Winx Club which I’ve been watching the end of recently, since we stopped having television before the show ended. Flora, whose powers are all plant based, was always my favorite of the girls in the show. Anyhow, same drill as before, you can either click on the image or here to go to the page where you can get the doll and outfit! I’ll be posting more outfits for Serena, Alana and Carmella in the near future. I might experiment with coloring some of the outfits in Paintshop Pro sometime and if that works out, I’ll post the colored versions as well. If anybody else feels like sending me colored versions I’ll post those too! I kind of like them just as line drawings, but they are fun to color as well! The point is, enjoy them!

New Paper Doll: Carmella

CarmellaFThis is the second of my new paper dolls. Her name is Carmella. This is my first child paper doll, so I’m having fun with her. She’s taking some getting used to, though, because the proportions are so different (I keep expecting her legs to be longer!). I enjoying drawing outfits for her, though, so she will continue to get new ones periodically just like Alana. Carmella is wearing Felicity Merriman’s birthday dress from the American Girl book Happy Birthday, Felicity! If you click on the image (or here) it will take you to the page where you can get both the doll and the outfit. The outfit does not have tabs, so you will have to add them yourself if you plan to cut it out and play with it.

Carmella is the second of three new paper dolls that I’ve got for the website (Alana was the first of this series). I will put the last new doll up next time! I hope you enjoy this series of dolls, since I’m having a great time making them and already have a bunch of outfits for each of them! I might experiment with coloring some of the outfits in Paintshop Pro sometime and if that works out, I’ll post the colored versions as well. If anybody else feels like sending me colored versions I’ll post those too! I kind of like them just as line drawings, but they are fun to color as well! Anyway, enjoy them!

Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week Meme

Headache1It’s just about the end of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week (September 14-20) and since I have one, I thought I should participate. I found this kind of interesting meme on a migraine site and it seemed an appropriate and kind of fun way of posting about my headache without getting all depressed about it (especially since this past week has been particularly hard in that respect).

1. My illness list includes but is not limited to: a headache that I can best describe as being sort of like a migraine but not quite that I’ve had every minute of every day for over ten years now (ten years and twenty-four days, actually).

2. I was diagnosed with: New Daily Persistent Headache

3. But I had symptoms since: It started pretty definitely on August 26, 1999, although now I think that I might have had auras as a kid and never had it diagnosed because I just thought everybody saw things like that.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: Learning to slow down and deal not being able to do everything I want to sometimes

5. Most people assume: “It’s just a headache.” I’ve come to hate the word “just” with a burning passion.

6. The hardest part about mornings are: Every morning there’s a moment when I first wake up when I realize that the pain is still there and even after ten years it’s still incredibly disappointing every time.

7. My favorite medical TV show is: I don’t really like medical TV shows. Not for any particular reason, I just tend to find them boring. The everyday workings of hospitals and the love lives of the people who work there just aren’t that interesting to me. I think there was a medical show with Dick Van Dyke at one point (Diagnosis Murder maybe?) that was a mystery show and I remember enjoying that, but it’s not on anymore as far as I know.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: I don’t know. I’m not actually big on gadgets. Maybe my computer, if that counts as a “gadget”?

9. The hardest part about nights are: Falling asleep in the first place. I’m terrible at that. I can lay awake thinking about things forever. I’m totally a night owl!

10. Each day I take: two medications at bedtime and sometimes extras if the pain is bad.

11. Regarding alternative treatments: I haven’t had a ton of luck with alternative treatments, but I have found things that help a little (and, like most headache sufferers, I’m willing to try most things). Yoga (structured around and to help the headache) can help a little, but only if it’s already pretty good, the smell of peppermint takes the edge off the pain when it’s really bad and often makes it bearable until the medicine can kick in, head massages can reduce the frequency of the bad spikes, but are expensive. Nothing else has made a big difference for me.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Well, I’d rather neither. That’s hard to say and I’m not sure I actually can choose here. I think they both suck equally for different reasons.

13. Regarding working and career: My headache has definitely changed how I went about following what I want for my career, but I’m still hoping to get there eventually. It also made working really, really challenging, both while being at work some days and in trying to justify sick days when I didn’t seem sick to the managers. And fainting in front of customers is generally a bad idea, but not something I could avoid at times. So it’s absolutely affected my work and jobs. It affected where and how I worked too, but that’s an even bigger mess.

14. People would be surprised to know: I can see some uses for some of the effects of my headache and I’m thinking about writing a story with that in mind.

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality is: having to realize that I have to slow down and pace myself all the time, that I have to think about everything – what I put on in the morning, what I choose to eat, where I sit in a room, etc. because it all affects what happens to my headache and the headache affects it.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: Work up to a leadership position in my previous job. Given how hard it was just to work full time and how much I frustrated the managers by having to go home “sick” with a headache sometimes (and being sick longer than anyone else when I did get a cold because my body is also always fighting off a headache), I never thought they’d trust me as a lead, but they did. And, even better, I was good at it.

17. The commercials about my illness: Technically, there aren’t any, but the commercials about headaches and migraine are dreadful and I hate them a lot. I’m sure some of them will be featured on An Ad a Day at some point.

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Crying without feeling bad the whole time that I was making my headache worse by crying (or by trying not to – it’s pretty much a lose-lose).

19. It was really hard to have to give up: Reading late into the night. I loved being able to do that. Loved, loved, loved it. Not that I wanted to do it every night, I’d outgrown the need to do that, but I loved that I could do it sometimes. It was a wonderful luxury that I’m not sure I ever really appreciated fully. Now I really can’t do that because if I do, I’m going to be in a ton of extra pain the next day that I didn’t need to be in, so I really don’t do it. I read a little late sometimes, but never like I used to.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: I’m not sure that I have a new hobby, just more nuanced relationships with old ones. I game in new and different ways than I used to. I’ve started drawing and sewing more seriously, but both were things I did before. I’m sure there must be one (it’s been ten years), I just don’t know of it in particular at this moment. Sorry.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: Throw a party (and probably spend the day second guessing it).

22. My illness has taught me: That I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was and that It’s important to slow down and pay attention to yourself. And that the world is full of weird smells.

23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is: “I couldn’t do that.” Yes, you could. When you don’t have a choice, you can do it. Trust me. And saying you couldn’t doesn’t make me feel better, it just makes me wish you thought more of yourself.

24. But I love it when people: manage to respond to my needs or help me without making me feel like an invalid or a freak or a china doll that will break as soon as you look at it.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: “Tomorrow is another day”

26. When someone is diagnosed I like to tell them: Remember that it’s not just in your head, and it’s going to be ok.

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: how much it affects not only every element of my life, but every element of my husband’s life as well.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: My husband brought home flowers for me one day when he knew I was hurting a lot. They were just grocery store flowers he’d grabbed when he was there getting other things, but they meant a lot and made me feel so loved and happy. They weren’t the most important thing or the thing that made the most impact on my life, but they were a simple thing and it’s those simple things that make getting through day-to-day bearable.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: Being invisible sucks. People think that just because they can’t see something it must not exist (with the exception of God, who for some reason gets to not have to follow this rule even in people who otherwise live by it). But you can’t always see things, even when they are real and so those of us who can “see” them should talk about them to give them more credibility. Headaches aren’t “in our heads” or minor or “a women’s problem” or anything else. An enormous percentage of the population suffers from them, so it’s incredibly stupid that they get so little respect and have so little research done on them. They matter and those of us who suffer from them, whether we talk about it or suffer in silence, matter too.

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: hopeful and happy. Thank you.

Katie Zenke, Headache Sufferer

Character Creators and Avatars

Blood Elf Character Creation This week over at the G.I.R.L. blog, Emily “Domino” Taylor (the brilliant woman behind a lot of the crafting in Everquest II) wrote a great piece about character creation. In conversations with Michael I’ve brought up a lot how important character creation and the appearance of avatars are to a lot of women, especially those just getting into gaming. We’ve had numerous discussions about the races in World of Warcraft and how the gender portrayals of the game bug me, which in many ways baffles him (and I understand that, it’s not obvious why it would be so irritating). We rarely even bring up games like Age of Conan, which I watched the intro to the character creator of and decided I would never play. Ever.

I believe that character creation is a fundamentally important part of any game (not just MMOs) where you have a unique avatar. I also believe that many games have very poor character creators and dreadful avatar options, but these things are important and should be treated as such. As Ms. Taylor points out:

“Humans are hardwired to draw instant and unconscious conclusions about other people based on their appearances, and if the only thing I have to represent me within a game is my character’s appearance, then I want to be absolutely sure that I’m comfortable with the way it represents me. If I am not given sufficient customization options to give me a choice that I’m comfortable with, then I’ll never really feel truly comfortable playing that game — or, as in the previous example, I won’t play it at all.”

She’s specifically talking about needing to be comfortable with the impression your avatar makes on other people, but it’s just as important that your avatar is something that you’re comfortable looking at for long periods of time. You’re playing her, if you aren’t happy with how she appears, it’s not likely that you’ll play for long. In a game where there are other people (like an MMO) it does influence how you are treated as well. I’d bet that the sexy elves and humans get harassed a lot more than the stocky dwarfs and orcs in World of Warcraft. But not everyone wants to play an orc just to escape harassment, and they shouldn’t have to.

It’s not just about having options, although having options helps. It can be ok if there’s only one body type in the game or if there’s only a couple of hair color choices. The problem is when the avatar you end up with, even when you make all the best choices you can for yourself, isn’t one your comfortable with. When it comes to videogames, the biggest issue here is often sexiness. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sex appeal, but it has limits. Women in videogames are, by and large, conventionally sexy and designed to appeal to heterosexual men. They are pretty much all pin-up worthy and often dressed like it. That can be fine, but it’s the overwhelming norm and when it’s the only option and someone isn’t comfortable presenting themselves as sexy (especially if it’s an MMO and other people will see this avatar), that becomes a real problem. In Domino’s words: “Of course, it’s good to have the option to look sexy … but to be forced to do so all the time against one’s will is an entirely different thing.”

There are a lot of different elements of an avatar, too. Yes, hair and faces are important pieces, but it doesn’t end there. Most have some kind of skin color choices (although this often presents a problem as well, since overwhelmingly the options are ten shades of Caucasian white and sometimes one or two darker skin tones). Some games have height sliders or body size sliders (which often amount to little more than “breast size” sliders). Others let you customize the outfit you wear. In all of these choices it’s important to consider the players. Yes, put in the option to make a sexy pin-up girl, but make the option to make a normal looking girl and an athletic tomboy kind of girl too. Posture is important. If I don’t want a sexy character, I’m probably going to be uncomfortable with the avatar who stands like the elf in the image above. After all, if she’s standing like that in the character creator, who knows what she’ll do once we get into the actual game?

Think about what elements get left out. It makes sense to put limits on the customization of characters. Too many body types or hair that’s too elaborate can easily become a problem when programing in armor and clothing into the game. But if you’re only going to have one body shape, consider what it will be. It’s easier for a player to sex up a small breasted avatar than to tone down one with bouncing beach balls strapped to her chest. Not all players are white and not all non-white people have the same skin tone. Not only does “black” come in a huge array of shades, but so does “Asian”, “Latino”, “Native American”, etc. So consider having more than simply ten shades of white and maybe even having some hair styles that aren’t seen on white people (or at least, not often and not without a lot of help).

“The fact remains however that the character creation options do still reflect the priorities and attitudes of the game team. At some point someone still decided, “THIS appearance option is the one we will do first, and THAT option is just not important enough that we can’t launch without it.” It may not have been maliciously intended, but it still represents what ultimate value judgments were made about what was seen as an essential feature and what wasn’t.”

If you decide to not include female avatars at all (and let’s be honest, there really aren’t many games at all – I can’t come up with any – where there are only female avatars, while games with only male avatars are pretty common), consider what that says. Not only will we notice if there aren’t any female NPCs or if they’re all stereotypes, but we’ll notice if we can’t play a girl. Fable II was hugely popular and had a huge female gamer fan base, but I have yet to meet a woman who played Fable. I’m absolutely certain they exist, but of all the many women I’ve met (me included) who played and loved Fable II, not one played or even intends to play Fable. A big reason I’ve heard given for that is that you can’t play a woman. I’m told it’s an amazing game and it was sold on the concept that you could be and do anything, but the women looking at it noticed that somehow “anything” didn’t include being female. Now, whether that was something that they just didn’t have time for or was an intentional decision I really don’t know. Fundamentally, though, it doesn’t matter. They decided that it wasn’t important enough to be necessary for the game and that tells me something about the game itself. Fable isn’t an isolated case, either (it’s just an easy example to pull out).

Character creation is hard, but avatars are so important! What the characters are going to look like is often one of the first things we are shown about a new game and how many awesome options you have for your character is frequently one of the most heavily touted benefits early on. That’s not accidental, people really care about that. It may seem like a part of the game that players will only see briefly, but what they make there is vital to their experience with the game. If I can’t make a character who feels like what I want her to, it materially damages my enjoyment of the game. I’m going to be looking at this character for a long time (assuming I stick with the game), so it needs to be something I like looking at. Remember, women aren’t heterosexual guys and thus it shouldn’t be expected that they’ll necessarily be happy with the same things. Personally, I want my characters to feel heroic in games where they are heroes, so it bothers me when they stand like teenage girls and don’t look like they have enough muscle in their arms to lift, much less swing, a sword. I’m not playing to be a sex kitten, I’m playing to be a hero and I have as much right to be a hero as the guys do. If I end up looking like a sex kitten while I’m trying to fight goblins, chances are I’m not going to play your game for very long.

New Paper Doll: Alana

Alana PGWell, I promised a new paper doll this week! I almost didn’t get her up in time (sorry about that). This is Alana (yay for random name generators!). Her first outfit is, obviously, Power Girl’s costume. This is specifically the version of Power Girl’s costume that is being featured in the new Power Girl comic book and I think it’s one of the best renditions of her classic look. If you click on the image (or here) it will take you to the page where you can get both the doll and the outfit. The outfit does not have tabs, so you will have to add them yourself if you plan to cut it out and play with it.

Alana is one of three new paper dolls that I’ve got for the website and I already have a pile of outfits for her (she has, by far, the most extensive wardrobe of the three so far). I will put one of the other dolls up next time! I hope you enjoy this series of dolls, since I’m having a great time making them! I might experiment with coloring some of the outfits in Paintshop Pro sometime and if that works out, I’ll post the colored versions as well. If anybody else feels like sending me colored versions I’ll post those too! I kind of like them just as line drawings, but they are fun to color as well! Anyway, enjoy them!

Paper Doll: Star Trek Classic (and News!)

April, the paper doll, and her other outfits can be found here. This is April’s very last outfit! I actually drew it about a year and a half ago, but we didn’t have a scanner at the time and then it got lost. Only the boots are new, since I decided it needed them after I found it and noticed I’d never drawn any. I think that it turned out well. It’s obviously based on the red uniforms worn by the women on the original Star Trek series, most notably Lieutenant Uhura. I actually liked the more tailored uniform worn by Nurse Chapel better, but I couldn’t find any really good reference images of it at the time, so I decided to go with the red uniform instead.

Star Trek Red

I’m going to start a new paper doll series on this blog next week. There will be three new dolls and outfits for them. These are a little different from Alice as they are currently simply black and white outline drawings and I have no plans right now to change that. I may experiment with coloring some of the outfits or even the dolls themselves in Printshop, but I haven’t decided yet. If I do, I’ll post any colored versions as well. If you want to color something from the series and send it to me, I will post your colored versions too. This is a new type of project for me, but I’m excited about and I’m hoping that it goes well! Look for the first doll and an outfit for her next week.

Little Women: Jo the Feminist Wife

Like most girls in America seem to do, I read Little Women when I was growing up. For whatever reason, it spoke to me just as it seems to speak to most women who read it (making it the enduring classic it has remained for nearly one hundred and fifty years), despite the fact that I didn’t think I liked it the first time I read it. It’s hard to say I didn’t like it when it stuck with me so fastly and I remember the characters so well and so fondly in ways that I remember few other fictional characters. And like most girls, it seems, Jo was my favorite (although this opinion is slightly less universal than the appeal of the book generally, since many women do find other characters more appealing). I started thinking about Jo March again recently because of the introduction written by Linda Medley that appears at the beginning of the book Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming.

Medley discusses Jo and her ultimate fate at the end of Little Women quite a bit in this introduction. She states that while Jo is set up as a feminist character, her marrying a “stodgy old dope” like Professor Bhaer is a particularly unfeminist thing to do. She even goes so far as to wonder if some of “modern feminist literature has sprouted from… deep-rooted adolescent disappointment in Jo’s fate”. She begins all this musing by quoting her mother as saying (in “a tone of bitter disgust”) “Jo should’ve married LAURIE. Not that – that OLD MAN!”, to which she replies “Right on.”

This got me thinking. Was marrying Professor Bhaer a particularly unfeminist thing for Jo to have done? Was it unfeminist at all? The more I thought about it, the less convinced I was. In fact, the statement “Jo should’ve married LAURIE” feels far more unfeminist to me. So I dug out my copy of Little Women (which is dated 1911, so I’m guessing it’s the later version that we’re still all reading today).

I really couldn’t find any evidence that Jo ever wanted to marry Laurie, nor is she upset at all when he marries someone else. So why is the opinion that she should have so common (because it really is)? Do we feel so strongly that she needs to be married to someone that we have to pick who we think is the most appropriate partner for her, even if she doesn’t agree? Jo and Laurie have a great friendship that stays strong right up through the end of the book. Laurie clearly fell for Jo, but Jo never expresses any romantic ideas or feelings about Laurie. She also states a couple of times that she doesn’t want to be or marry rich, which makes sense. She has ambitions of her own (she’s a feminist, remember?), and rich mens’ wives couldn’t really spend their times writing books and things when they should be maintaining a large household of servants and keeping up appearances.

Can you really see Jo in silk gowns with bustles every day attending balls and giving instructions to nannies? It doesn’t sound like her, but it’s what Laurie’s wife would do. Amy can paint as a rich man’s wife because painting can be excused as an “accomplishment” when necessary, but you can’t do that with writing. Not to mention the kinds of things Jo wrote (remember, her stories were full of scandal and melodrama)! So, in the absence of romantic love and faced with a lifestyle that doesn’t match what she wants for herself, there would be no sense in Jo’s marrying Laurie. I can only conclude that we, as modern readers, want her to do so because he is young and handsome and rich and those are the qualities we have deemed most desirable in a husband (particularly a fictional one).

Jo knows what she wants and needs much better than we do, though. She meets Professor Bhaer halfway through the second part of the book (which was originally published as a second, separate book). They don’t fall in love right away. They develop a friendship through sharing interests, having great conversations and just generally getting to know one another. This is clearly an adult friendship, whereas Laurie’s friendship with Jo is one of those “we’ve been friends since childhood” friendships. There’s a different quality to it. Friendships in adulthood usually grow because of common interests or activities, whereas childhood ones are often started because of proximity (you make friends with the kid next door even if you don’t really have much in common, because it’s convenient and you’re too young to travel to find someone who shares your interests). This doesn’t make one type better than the other, but it does make them different.

Not only do they develop an adult friendship, but Jo and Professor Bhaer both actually develop romantic attachments to each other. Jo pines for him when she is separated from him, even though she doesn’t believe (or even imagine) anything romantic will ever come of their relationship and clearly Professor Bhaer dreams of Jo. The professor’s proposal isn’t particularly romantic in a conventional sense, but the whole scene with them discovering that they love each other as they stand in the rain is marvelous. Clearly this is a happy match for both. Even better, it is a match that will make both happy – they understand each other and will be able to support each other in their dreams and their work. Not only will Jo be able to keep writing, but she will have a husband who understands, encourages and supports her along the way (a rare thing for the time period).

I think that in choosing to marry the man that she loves and who will understand and support her in her dreams, Jo is doing something very feminist. It is not unfeminist to get married, just to get married to someone for the sake of being married (because you’re supposed to be a wife). Jo makes her decision for all the right, feminist reasons and, in the end, everyone is happy. I think that the reaction women have today of being disappointed that Jo married the professor instead of Laurie has more to do with our romantic ideas about love and marriage than about feminism. We look at Jo and the choices we believe her to have had and our cultural teaching tells us that you choose the man who is young, handsome, rich and romantic, not the man who is older, maybe not so classically handsome and not rich at all. Ideas of who you are actually in love with or who might make you happy don’t really enter into it (it’s generally assumed you will fall in love with the former anyway). But they should, a feminist examination would say that you look at the person for who they are, not what they look like or how rich they are.

I honestly believe that Jo is a great feminist character and that choosing to marry Professor Bhaer is one of the most feminist decisions she makes in the whole book. Little Women is a realistic story. The characters are supposed to reflect life. I’m glad that one of the most important fictional icons for girls in this country since the mid-1800s has been one who made decisions based on what she wanted and needed and, in following her heart, managed to find love. She may not be perfect, but no one is in real life either, so perhaps her very imperfections are what make her such a great icon. And if you need more proof that she made the right choice of husband, Louisa May Alcott wrote two more awesome books about Jo and Professor Bhaer and their lives together: Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Both are well worth reading!

New Blog: An Ad a Day

I have a new blog! It’s called An Ad a Day and that’s what it does – it looks at one piece of marketing a day. Commercials, print ads, banner ads, anything that catches my attention for good or for ill. Check it out and feel free to comment on the ads and to send me any interesting ads you see as well (or places you think I should link to from there, since it’s blogroll is a little sad right now)!