Don’t force your sons to see ‘Little Women’

Published 4:31 pm Friday, January 3, 2020

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By Christine Flowers

On Christmas day, Greta Gerwig’s updated version of the young adult classic “Little Women” opened in theaters to great acclaim, fantastic reviews and strong box office numbers.

And yet, some women found fault with the fact that not enough men were flocking to see it.

In a piece for the New York Times, writer Kristy Eldredge observed that the film hadn’t garnered a lot of award nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (zero) and the Golden Globes (two), and mentioned that the audiences seemed to be overwhelmingly filled with women. Film producer Amy Pascal agrees, arguing in Vanity Fair that many male awards-season voters are skipping Gerwig’s adaptation because they think it’s not for guys.

Eldredge seemed to blame men for not appreciating female-centric stories and framed it as some sort of character flaw that society needed to address: “If many men haven’t wanted to give it a chance because they don’t think it’s meant for them, we still have a way to go in considering all kinds of narratives about women to be deserving of thoughtful attention.”

It’s not surprising that a story about the relationship between four Civil War-era sisters written over 150 years ago and with absolutely no battlefield scenes is not a favorite with the Xbox set. While there has always been some cross-gender interest in young adult literature like “A Separate Peace” and “Catcher in the Rye” which have strong male characters, there is a universality of message in those books. In other words, Holden Caulfield’s existential angst and the rough contours of Gene and Phinny’s tragic friendship have resonance beyond their masculinity. You could imagine a female Holden, or an equally traumatic betrayal between two young women at an all-girls school.

But “Little Women” is really just a movie about females, and their dreams and aspirations and disappointments, and that’s perfectly OK. In fact, it’s sublime. The book and the movies adapted from it are some of the most touching examples of female bonding in literary and cinematic history. As a Bryn Mawr graduate — like Katharine Hepburn —- I am partial to the 1933 film, but Gerwig’s adaptation is exceptional and deserving of all the accolades it will earn, despite the naysayers.

But it is a bit ridiculous for women to be complaining that men are not interested in a book and movie called, for lord’s sake, Little WOMEN. This preoccupation with “gender parity” has become cult-like.

I know a bunch of boys around the age of 11 or 12 who love dinosaurs and Jedis. They also love Harry Potter, “The Lord of the Rings,” R.L. Stine, and any number of things that girls the same age might also enjoy. These are clearly things that bridge a gender divide because they are not specifically “male” or “female.”

But when I was growing up, there were toys you gave to boys and toys you gave to girls, and it was not considered a hate crime to insist that your daughter not be given a GI Joe doll or that your son put down the Barbie. It was okay to recognize that there were stereotypes for a reason, namely, that boys and girls had different interests.

I don’t share the angst over a presumed lack of interest on the part of men about the destinies of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth March.

Ironically, Louisa May Alcott herself wasn’t thrilled with the idea of writing what she called a “girls’ story.” She wrote in her diary: “I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.”

If even the writer of this wonderful girls’ story doesn’t expect boys to like it, why in the world should we?

CHRISTINE FLOWERS is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and can be reached at