Girl, Objectified: Anne of Green Gables

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There is a book, sometimes more than one—but even then, there is usually one that is higher than the others, one among the many—for every little reading girl.  A book that resonates like a silver bell within.  A book that says, Yes!  This is why I’m here!  A book that makes you fall in love with reading, with life, with yourself.  A book that means you will never be the same, because now you will grow into womanhood as the person who read this book.

Within this book, there is a character.  A girl who, on the fragile verge of fictional womanhood, embodies all that you hope your real womanhood can encompass.  She isn’t perfect—far from it!—because you could never be.  No, she isn’t perfect, but she is whole.  She exists on the pages of that book like you would like to exist in your life—fierce, free, capable, accepting of the world and herself, willing to deal with flaws but also able to rise above.  Strong—oh, this girl is strong.  This. Girl.  Is.  She’s the IT girl, you know?  Way before the It Girl got co-opted by the media.  Before Coca-Cola, before Marilyn and Britney, before movies.  This is the girl’s girl, after your own heart, because she will ensure that it is brave and true.

For me, that book is Little Women, and the girl is Jo March.  For many little girls, that book was Anne of Green Gables.  I must confess that I never read Anne of Green Gables, and I don’t even know why.  (I must read it, and soon—the girl in me insists!)  So when I saw that Anne has gotten a makeover, I passed right on by it—the picture was just one more item in a long newsfeed I get on a daily basis, a passing representation of objectified girlhood that has become so common it is practically the stale punchline in an old, unfunny joke.  This is the danger that lurks in immersing yourself in feminist discourse—after a while, that which should be an outrage is business as usual.

Fortunately for me, I have a friend who was outraged enough to ask what I thought about Anne posing as if she’s on the cover of Objects R Us.  At first, I said, “Meh, I wasn’t surprised.”  And then I thought:  What if this was Jo March?  And all my girl turned mama indignation just bubbled up.  Don’t be messin with Jo March.  Just.  Don’t.   Even.

OK then.  Don’t be messin with Anne either.  Step off, and step off now.

Because do you know what you are telling our little girls, oh sexist artist of the updated classics?

You are telling them to ring their bells for you, not for themselves.  And they hear that enough.  They hear it so much, in fact, that it’s a wonder they can still hear the ringing of the bells at all.

The reason the fictional girl on the verge of fictional womanhood resonates for us all is because she exists in the time before, as we cannot.  She exists before we really understood what sex or gender are, and how they can free you and limit you at once.  She exists in a time when anything is—really and truly—possible, because your imagination is your only limit, and your body has not yet been measured and tested.  She exists when you belong, fully and only, to yourself.

No grown woman knows what that feels like, because we all measure our steps in a culture that claims us, bit by bit.  A very few lucky little girls know it, because what should be gifted to every girl at birth has, through fortune, been gifted to them.

Objectification aims to take that away.

I—and other feminists—aim to expand it, so that what has been gifted to a very few may be freely enjoyed by all, simply by being.  It is called self esteem—the kind that is so strong it leads to self-actualization.  And it is our birthright.

So don’t be wrapping it up in a pose, and putting our girl heroines in the spotlight.  Leave them be, so that they may wander the meadows and ride horses, write hilarious plays and paint realistic pictures.  Leave them be to kiss boys in uncertainty and then ponder what they have done in solitude, growing inwardly from the experience.

Leave them be, so that they may become the women of our dreams.

8 thoughts on “Girl, Objectified: Anne of Green Gables

  1. Catherine says:

    Great post! For those legions of us who loved / love Anne, it is particularly horrifying to see this cover because Anne’s red pigtails are so essential to the story and to who she is. She hates them, of course, and that amazing scene in which she breaks her slate over Gilbert’s head comes about because he makes fun of her hair, calling her “carrots” – but making her over as a comely blond is as ridiculous and offensive as turning Pippi Longstocking into a Shirley Temple lookalike. It’s like spelling Anne’s name without the “e”, an unpardonable offense. It’s Anne-with-an-e and she has red hair! You can’t mess with those things!

  2. Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown) says:

    Anne of Green Gables is public domain, so anyone can slap a suggestive cover on the text, and sell it via CreateSpace via Amazon, which is what happened here. This is the work of some sleazy individual, not a publishing company. It’s still reprehensible, of course.

    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      You make a good point, Harold–it is good to know that this doesn’t come from a publishing company! Although it is a statement in itself that someone decided to take what culture is doing in the now and apply it retroactively to a classic.

  3. gaya says:

    thank god my mama aged 84 would not be seeing this cover… great post… let em be and speaking for my daughter she s gonna have her own Anne-girl redhead troubles and successes.

  4. Lisa Asanuma says:

    Well, for me that character was BOTH Anne Shirley AND Jo March. They actually have very similar twists in theirs stories in some parts, and are both strong in similar ways. I honestly think this was a dumb mistake made by someone who hadn’t ever read the books, and, as you said, wanted to make them more objective. (Which has its own set of problems – I understand that it’s public domain and anyone can publish it, but try reading it first, yes?) It’s unfortunate, and it gets my ire up, too. Thanks for the great response.

  5. Astra says:

    We here in Canada are particularly incensed by this depiction of our beloved Anne. I’ll have to dig out my vintage copy and pass it on to my daughter because even if the publisher isn’t responsible, the book industry is not getting a cent of mine for this release!!

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