I don’t remember who gave me my first Anne of Green Gables book, but I do know my life changed significantly after I read about the unpredictable redhead with a penchant for puffed sleeves.
That’s why when news broke this week that CBC was creating a new version of the L.M. Montgomery classic called Anne, I was overjoyed.
I, like many other women, grew up on the original 1985 mini-series, starring Megan Follows. Over the years I’ve re-watched it several times, not only for nostalgia’s sake (although I will admit to partly re-watching it because I’m still in love with Jonathan Crombie’s Gilbert Blythe), but because I found contemporary literary heroines lacking.
Characters such as Twilight’s Bella Swan and Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anastasia Steele, respectively, were being heralded as modern-day feminists to young women. Meanwhile, the books sold millions of copies and were turned into blockbuster films.
And, while it’s great that young girls are reading books with a female protagonist, many of these characters are in fact damaging to women and scarily un-feminist.
Bella Swan, for instance, is a character whose sole purpose is to be with her love interest, the vampire Edward Cullen. She wants to be with him so badly that she gives up being human and turns into a vampire so she can be with him for eternity. Ladies, this is not romantic; this is obsession taken to frightening levels.
Like Bella, Fifty Shades’ Anastasia Steele is also obsessed with a man—emotionally unavailable magnate Christian Grey. Ana spends her time submitting to – and being molded by – Christian’s desires (inside and outside the bedroom), all while pining for a more “traditional” romance. This is not sweet; this is regression.
And while their defenders would argue that Bella and Anastasia are strong women who are just suckers for love, they are written as one-dimensional characters who are silly, who want to be saved by men and who only care about what men think of them. Let’s face it: they definitely don’t pass the Bechdel Test.
Sure, there are other modern, three-dimensional female literary role models out there—Katniss Everdeen comes to mind—but for every Katniss there’s a Bella, and judging by the amount of books sold, that’s one too many.
And so we come back to Anne with an E, a character who’s needed now more than ever and who still has many poignant feminist lessons to offer, even though Lucy Maud penned her back before Canadian women had the right to vote.
Anne taught us to value our female friendships. To me, the main love story wasn’t Anne and Gil, it was Anne and her bosom bestie, Diana. Through thick and thin, the BFFs always had each other’s backs, even when they may have disagreed with one another or were in trouble. That’s the sign of a true kindred spirit.
Anne taught us to accept ourselves just as we are. Although there were definitely times Anne tried to fit in—puffed sleeves, small nose and raven hair included—she always embraced her uniqueness with her grandiose way of speaking, her vivid imagination and her penchant for coming up with wild games. And even though she was called “odd,” she steadfastly refused to change who she was—a much-needed reminder that it’s OK to be different.
Anne taught us to demand respect. Anne had to fight hard to be respected, whether it was about the spelling of her name, her writing pursuits, her abilities as a teacher or her capableness as an intelligent, compassionate woman. She wasn’t meek about her qualities and championed her smarts, eventually winning over the town of Avonlea.
Anne taught us to not take shit from men. Remember when Gilbert called Anne “Carrots” and pulled on her braids? And remember when Anne was all, “Nah, son” and brought down a slate on his head? Well, he had it coming and although I don’t condone violence, Anne taught us that it’s not ok for a man to touch us without permission. So, you see? Anne was all over the topic of consent way before campus rape, Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi became the conversations du jour.
Anne taught us to have opinions and share them.
She also wasn’t shy about airing her own beliefs, whether religious, intellectual or common sense. Lucy Maud’s heroine basically had no fucks to give about people who insulted her. For better or worse, she said what was on her mind and wasn’t ashamed in doing so. Anne was never afraid to stand up to people and institutions, and her bravery is something we can all learn from.
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