Being a woman has taught me that there is no one perfect way to be anything. No one perfect way to be a daughter, sister, friend, lover, feminist or woman. When it comes to teaching young girls how to be women, there are so many mixed messages it’s impossible to keep track. Be modest, but not prudish. Be friendly, but not flirty. Be sexually adventurous but not slutty. Be curvy, but not fat. Be tall, but not intimidatingly so. Be successful, but not more so than the man you’re seeing. We end up drowning in a sea of confusion.
Through all this, I have been fortunate to have one real heroine to look up to. She’s one of my greatest role models in the feminist world and she’s a brilliant work of fiction.
Anne of Green Gables came into my life at a time when I was battling normal tween-aged confusion. We were the same age and I immediately connected with her. Anne would say we were “kindred spirits” because in a world where being prim and tidy meant being morally good, Anne inspired me to be like her. I found those restrictive characters alienating, but Anne and I had something real. She taught me that women could be considered good without being faultless; there was no reason to pretend to be perfect. I grew up with a mother who insisted on projecting only her best into the world, and covering up any family scandal with a smile and some make up. I honestly to this day have no idea what my mother looked like without having a perfectly made up face and coiffed hair. In polar opposite to this and to me, Anne certainly wasn’t perfect and she knew it. She had a temper as wild as her red curly hair, she would never turn down a dare, she could hold grudges with the best of them – she held a grudge against poor Gilbert (clearly her one true love right from the start) for almost a decade! She was stubborn, flighty and nosy – essentially she was everything good little girls should NOT be. By modern tests of female characters she fails at every turn, she is praised for her most feminine qualities (she keeps a good bread box!) and in the later books based on her adult life, she sets aside her dreams of being a writer to be a mother and wife.
None of this makes her weak. Anne is everything I still aspire to be. She is a loyal and devoted friend, and intelligent and dedicated student, a thoughtful and engaging woman and a loving daughter to her adoptive parents – brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Seeing Anne so happy in a domestic sphere taught me early on there is nothing wrong with women choosing those roles, and that not everyone needs to have an ambitious career. Instead we should find something we truly love with all our hearts and pursue that instead. For Anne, that one thing was Gilbert and their children. So many young girls now are shamed by loud feminists into hiding their desire to be wives and mothers. Feminism shouldn’t be fighting to make every woman into a CEO. What you choose to do with your life isn’t the basis of feminism – it’s the ability to have that choice in the first place. If you want to be a stay at home parent and host Ladies’ Quilting sessions, then go nuts. The choice is your prerogative.
Anne is an incredible role model for girls and for young women. Yes the books are old fashioned, but remember they were written in the 1900’s. She’s smart, empathetic and non-judgmental. We should all be so lucky.
Those qualities don’t go out of style.