Little Women: The Idealization of Masculinity

Niina Pekantytär
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In one of her journal markings, Louisa has written ”I am a hero worshiper by nature”. If I quote one of my blog readers ”Jo was drowning in internalized misogyny”. Jo puts Laurie on a pedestal because Laurie is a boy. Laurie does the same to Jo because she is the first person, who pays any attention to him. When Laurie is catfishing Meg, Jo doesn´t see any problems in his behaviour, and it´s actually Laurie who Jo feels bad for, and this has made many modern readers, female readers especially, quite upset.

What we know about Louisa is that she always preferred the male company rather than the women. Friedrich is idealized for completely different reasons than Laurie. He is idealized because Jo is in love with him. When we get into the courting and the umbrella chapter, the roles are reversed between Jo and Friedrich and it is now Friedrich who openly admires Jo. Friedrich´s model of masculinity is different. He respects her boundaries and does not over-step them, and only makes his moves on Jo when he has Jo´s full consent. When Friedrich proposes to Jo he gives her the German title ”Professorin”, which does not mean ”professors little wife” like it was translated into my older Finnish version of Little Women, it is German and means ”female professor” and by doing that Friedrich acknowledges Jo´s thirst for knowledge and considers her as his intellectual equal.

In both the 1994 film and 2019 film Jo and Friedrich part on bad terms, but in the book, they part as friends both wondering if it could lead to something more in the future. ”Early as it was he was at the station next morning to see Jo off and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company and bets of all the happy thought ”well, the winter is gone and I´ve written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I´ll try to keep him all my life”. Jo and Fritz spent the next two years writing letters to each other. Taking care of Beth forces Jo to re-evaluate her life. After Beth´s passing, she goes through a period of depression, grief and loneliness. In the book right after Beth´s death, Laurie sends Jo a letter from Europe and proposes to her again. This happens the moment when Laurie has realized he has feelings for Amy. Jo sends him a polite answer and refuses again. Laurie´s second proposal has never been adapted.

In the book shared looks continue when Friedrich comes courting. ”Though a very social man, I think Mr Bhaer would have gone decorously away and come again another day. How could he when Jo shut the door behind him and bereft him of his hat. Perhaps her face had something to do with it for she forgot to hide her joy at seeing him and showed it with a frankness that proved irresistible to the solitary man whose welcome far exceeded his boldest hopes. Stealthy glance now and then refreshed her like sips of fresh water after a dusty walk. For the side-long peeps showed her propitious omens. Mr Bhaer´s face had lost the absent-minded expression and looked all life with interest in the present moment, actually young and handsome, she thought”.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN

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