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bechdel taser: staying in and not getting angry

I was going to see The Dictator. Anyone who asked what my next column would be about in the past fortnight will have heard “The Dictator”, with more than vague trepidation in my voice. Most tried to warn me away, but sometimes there’s satisfaction in barrelled-fish shooting. There’s no fear you won’t get anything – you know there will be no empty-handed return to your hovel-slash-word document.

And then I kept putting it off and putting it off. Instead of getting angry at some fiction, I lived in my world where everyone is intelligent and no one is derided without very due cause. Where amusing women talk about many things, sometimes including males, sometimes not. I propose you do the same. Don’t see The Dictator, as I didn’t. Spend the $15 on some spanakopita and cake mixes, or support someone’s Pozible campaign. Stay in, make some tea, and tend to your health as you watch Little Women. It’s more seasonal than Brussels sprouts.

My choice of Little Women is the 1994 Gillian Armstrong version. I’ve never read the book. I tried when I was 7, and it was the first time I failed in my literary efforts. That has stung my subconscious too sharply to have me pick it up again. I figured I’d wiki ahead, to avoid saying anything that directly contradicted Alcott. I learned she had some idea about democratic domesticity, and Meg not achieving it because she never formed herself as an individual I DON’T KNOW. THERE’S A REASON I DID ONE WEEK OF LITERARY STUDIES BEFORE SHIFTING FOCUS TO CINEMA AND POP CULTURE.

Alcott didn’t love the story. It was a money spinner. And literary critics have bemoaned its role in the downfall of more psychologically complex women’s writing of the period… But funnelled through Armstrong’s directorship, and seen this side of the millennium, Little Women is obligatory viewing for… goddamnit, everyone. But especially young folk.
Little Women passes the Bechdel test in its first scene. It receives honours in Bechdel. Some of the characters fixate on men, or appearance, but some don’t. They all have actual personalities. It’s characters who don’t dig on gender equality who seem ridiculous and silly. Look at this interaction between Marmee and Mr Brooks

“Your young ladies are unusually active, Mrs March, if I may say”
“You may indeed. It is my belief feminine weakness and fainting spells are the direct result of confining women to the house bent over their knitting work and constricting corsets.”

Although the Marches have lost their money, their mother never suggests marrying well as a sensible move. The girls, especially Jo, manage to have an actual friendship with an actual boy, Laurie. And I’m sorry, but nowadays, all I hear when Christian Bale shows up in anything, no matter my history with the project, is “BATMAAAAN”. He does have a rather gross moment tearing Meg away from a flirtatious group of suitors. And then he gets some weirdo facial hair to signify he’s grown-up. GOOD THING THE LITTLE WOMEN ARE SO SWELL. While they all end up married or dead, you don’t meet Jo’s suitor until over half way through the film. After she’s given the chance by a supportive family to go to New York and pursue her writing.

When I was young, I missed the human rights nuance in the film. They don’t wear silk because the factories are filled with either slaves or child labour, they argue for women to have the vote, support families more poverty-stricken than themselves… et cetera, et cetera. But their personalities are so vibrant, especially in Jo’s voice, that this never seems didactic.

… I think I need to write Gillian Armstrong a thank you letter in the shape of a love heart, with sun shine balls spiking all over the place. Just as soon as I stop sobbing.

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