on Jo March and Women’s Souls

There was something in Little Women that not only captivated me early on but reminded me of myself. I used to listen to an audio recording of the novel while I took baths as a young girl. Those hours spent soaking, until the water was lukewarm and my fingers pruned, were profoundly formative.

The world of the March sisters was enchanting to me as a child. The conservative and homeschooled world that surrounded my childhood valued the book’s 1860s model of  womanhood from the character’s sewing kits to hoop skirts. A casual reading of Little Women would find its way onto any homeschooled family’s shelf along with Anne of Green Gables and every Jane Austen romance. Yet I had no idea how Louisa May Alcott’s novel of “domestic joys and struggles,” as Jo puts it, would be even more important in 2019.

I was elated to hear the brilliant Greta Gerwig was re-doing Little Women, yet I had no idea how well Gerwig’s adaption would give Little Women the justice it deserves. Gerwig focuses on the pro-women aspects of the original texts and inserts Louisa May Alcott’s own voice into the text in a way that was eliminated from the original text. The 2019 adaptation is the one I will be proud to play for daughters one day.  Although Little Women might have received praise for its charm and morals in my childhood world, it receives my highest praise in my world today.

My childhood world was partially self-constructed due to my love for the classical and old fashioned. It was not until my teenage years I realized how harmful the conservative world could be and the irony of heroines like Jo March in said world. Without realizing it, I had bought into an ideology of old-fashioned womanhood that aligned with extreme conservative Christianity. This world, although admiring women like Jo for enjoying reading, was a marriage oriented world. Little Women ended with all three living March girls married and as mothers. Like the Jane Austen-eque storyline, women ended their storylines redeemed by marriage every single time (18th century women’s literature is more predictable than Hallmark movies).

Yet, Jo March is much more than a fairytale ending. “I intend to make my own way in the world,” Jo says in 2019 film, and she means it. Jo March is a heroine determined to make a way for herself. Jo gets a job as a tutor and writes anonymous scandalous stories for the newspaper to survive. She pays the bills for herself, and eventually her family. She makes a world for herself, despite the limitations of society.

One of the reasons I value the 2019 movie is the fact it shows Jo as a writer and lover of the written word so wellLittle Women is a story that values female education and literary based careers. Jo is respected by her family for her pursuit of the writing and literary world. She resents Laurie for being able to go to University, yet educates herself in every way she can. She grabs books off of Laurie’s shelf and sneaks to read Aunt March’s books when she is sleeping. Long before Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own, Jo March had an attic. The original book tells of Jo shutting “herself up in her room” where she would “fall into a vortex, as she expressed it.” The take follows Alcott’s own story more than any adaption or even the book itself. It is honoring to both Louisa May Alcott and the world she lived in.

Louisa May Alcott never wanted Jo to be married woman; Jo was meant to be a writer, as Louisa May Alcott herself was. “Jo should have remained a literary spinster,” Alcott wrote, “but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse.” The movie plays with concept in a clever fashion, suggesting Jo never married but showing the ending after her publisher demanded it. In the same way she sells stories anonymously for money, Jo knows she cannot be a successful writer as a woman unless she sells out a bit. Gerwig’s film gives us the ending the book was meant to have. For this reason, this adaption shines above the others as the one I would want to show my one day daughters. I would want them to know it is okay to live unmarried and okay to make difficult choices as women if they are the right ones.

~

Jo has come back to me in different moments throughout my life. She was my favorite as a kid who wanted to write stories. I thought of her infamous denial of Laurie when I had moments of failed romance or misunderstanding. I felt like Jo when I have been jealous of educational opportunities boys in my life have gotten (one of my favorite Jo quotes hails from the 1994 movie when she grumbles to Laurie, ‘I’d commit murder to go to college’). And now, Saoirse Ronan’s performance at Jo has just made me feel known.

The movie’s most powerful moment occurs when an emotional Jo tells her mother she might marry Laurie, after all. Her Mother quickly calls her out for not really loving him and reminding Jo of her identity. Jo does not want to get married, nor live a life under the social constraints of a wife. Despite this, she finds herself lonely and unseen.

Jo breaks it down simply: “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!”

In that moment, Jo March addresses what historically seems to be the bane of womanhood. People see woman as objects to be married off. Jo, on the contrary, wants to be seen for more than just her heart, her romance, and the status of being wife. Jo wants to be seen for being a soul.

Although 2019 is different than the 1860s, I have felt the same as Jo. As a Christian woman I have been so tired of women being taught their whole life to wait and prepare for marriage. I have wept feeling unworthy or feeling selfish for wanting an education past college over wanting to be married. As I mentioned, a lot of this ideology I bought into myself. While I have distanced myself from this mindset personally, I am still surprised at how much marriage still defines the theology given to many Christian women.

While giving Jo a proper storyline as a woman who choices a literary career over marriage, Gerwig’s adaptation shows marriage is a worthy calling as well. Meg, the eldest March daughter, chooses marriage despite Jo urging her to find dreams and chase them. Meg tells Jo her dream is to be a wife and mother: “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” The sisters can embrace and support each other in their respective dreams, both portrayed as important.

Amy, the March’s youngest sister, has her own stand out moment about the role of a married woman. In Paris, Laurie tries to convince Amy to pursue her dreams as an artist and marry for love. Amy, however, tells Laurie she has always planned on marrying for money. Her choice is not one she is ashamed of. While Laurie himself cannot understand her choices, Amy knows that her only chance for the opportunities in life she desires come from marriage. She cannot make money as a woman. If she did, it would automatically belong to her husband. But marriage is the path Amy has decided to take, to elevate her in society and help her family.

We can learn a lot from Amy, and all the women of the present and past who marry to give themselves a voice in this world. Although it certainly is not a woman’s first choice, it is a choice and one that is understandable and empowering. While the modern world seems quite different from 1860s, I still observe women in my own life desire marriage for opportunity. In the Christian world, marriage often means social belonging, ministry opportunity, and respect in certain circles. I wish it was not so, but Amy’s reality as a woman who makes choices above her own desires is one I have to admire. I think if we started to see woman as more than their hearts, and understand the complexities of their choices, it would be a good start.

Gerwig’s Little Women shows that women have minds, talents, ambitions, and souls as well as hearts. It is easy to weep alongside Jo: women are still overlooked as souls able to worship, learn, and make their own way in the world regardless of their marriage status. Married women need to be seen, unmarried women need to be seen. We need to see each other.

 

the well // an advent poem

what you never hear about Eden was the water,
the flowing streams that promised life yet Eve,
that first woman, was never thirsty, nor bleeding.

yet, among the water, grew a tree. one of many in
that garden but long before that thick-skinned fruit
was plucked from it, stolen from it, it grew among the rivers.

later she sat, fruit stained like blood on her fingers, told
to go out, to go east, from that place of water, abundance,
yet in her immigration, that garden was a promise.

there would be another garden, a well, a new
river, and that woman’s shame, then hidden, naked,
immoral, became another’s glory, long ago.

it came from the body of another woman, whose faith
outshone the world’s view of her as unfaithful to her
promised husband. a scandalous choice for holiness.

her bleeding and groaning met with the smell of hay,
cattle – that promised gift given to Eve that her body,
her womanhood, would reclaim purpose that the holy might be humbled.

for when that child was born, another tree was already
growing, not to sprout new fruit or forbidden knowledge to
poison him but to crucify him. a second bleeding, second birth.

from Eve’s wrecked womanhood, that bodied reclamation grew.
in his humble form, he did not ask for waterfalls, oceans,
instead he walked all the way to another city, to a well.

hands of a carpenter, he crossed seas in fishermen’s boats,
all the way to that city where she was by the well. their
conversation forbidden by race, hate, but he asked her for a drink.

back in the garden, his father couldn’t face one like her,
the woman who ate the fruit because she was unholy. now here
his son stood at the well, facing her, because he was holy.

and he was like her, the woman with five husbands, human.
but there was no rejection, no sending out, nor isolation.
only a promise. at the well, he told that woman, first, who he was.

he was going to die for her, the whole world was going to be
wrecked so she could know his father’s glory. never again
would there be a need for human, built wells. the garden was returning.

she ran from the well, asking, can this be him? he who he
was promised to be. promised to never leave her thirsty again.
he had drunk of the jug in her hand, she had it left it there, and ran.

what eve left in eden, returning.
light, out of darkness, redeemed.
back to the garden,
once again, never thirsty.
come and drink.

paris in july.

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“Oh, but Paris isn’t for changing planes, it’s … it’s for changing your outlook, for… for throwing open the windows and letting in… letting in la vie en rose,” Sabrina says in the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film when her love interest remarks he’s only been to Paris while changing planes. The quote stuck with me the first time I saw the movie, as a young teenager who dreamed of life with tons of perspective and little expectation. Paris wasn’t always the dream in and of itself; there were lots of places I imagined could change my outlook. But I did promise myself sometime, somewhere, I’d run off to Paris when I was young for a day or a week or however long it took to open the windows. This July, I fulfilled that promise.
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I arrived in Paris on July 15, thinking I would avoid the hassle of a crowded city on their independence day. When I got off my train, on foot and completely unsure of how to get around in a large city with no direction, I was surprised to find the city almost silent on a Sunday morning at six a.m. after a celebration. My first view right out of the train station was Notre Dame, and almost no one in sight. However, unpredictable, I happened to be in the city when France was competing (and won) in the final match of the World Cup. While my plans for the first day were completely thrown out the window due to a metro too crowded to walk in and blocked off roads, I ended up sight-seeing and watching the city explode in joy. I’ve never experienced anything as I walked from one cafe to the next, seeing people genuinely so excited by every move of the match. Afterwards, there were so many flags and many loud renditions of the national anthem. Although my body was exhausted, I kept walking around and taking it in.
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My second day in France took more structure, although most of my day was spent walking. I walked to the Louvre, although I didn’t attempt to make my way inside due to the crowds, and inside of the Musee l’orangerie. I ate bread, fruit and cheese for most of my meals in parks and by the Seine. I took the city by my own directions written the morning before leaving, and got lost almost every time. But I never felt quite so satisfied with my ability to see so much of a city in such a short amount of time. 0A2A53480A2A54380A2A5457
People told me not to over romanticize Paris and I did not, however the city fooled me. It is a city of endless exploration and is exceedingly lovely. I could not have possibly over romanticized it even if I tried. It is just that wonderful. As I walked by the Seine, and as the city turned gold, the water becomes a vibrant mirror. The hassle of an everyday city becomes a fairytale. I finally found a place to sit and watch the water fold over itself, and people picnic, relax, and converse by its side. I randomly ended up talking to a few tourists who asked me to take their picture. “Has Paris always been your dream?” one of them asked me. It had not been, nor had I dreamed of Paris in particular but I had dreamed of that moment even if I hadn’t realized it. I had longed to be young in a city coated in gold where everything seemed to be bursting with the very core of what it means to be living. No answers were found to big questions, or bucket list items crossed off. But I felt satisfied, simply by the fact I will probably always be searching for answers in a city like Paris.
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I highly recommend a good Paris trip for every young woman, not just for changing planes. Don’t go for a big spectacle, just for a few days. Just go and write and feel twenty. You need a Sabrina moment to let the windows in, and just live. You can’t over romanticize it if you try.
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The women’s movement + the gospel.

Alternatively titled: a fallen world meets redemptive grace. 

It was in a hotel room in Pittsburg during my 16th year where it all came crashing down in my head; I felt completely hopeless with the words leaving my mouth. It was the beginning of my journey of finding the balance of feminism and biblical teaching on gender, which was seemingly unredeemable.

The six months before that defeating moment had been some of the most confusing of my life, thus far. I had sat on my floor and read feminist literature, and thoughts multiplied. I had always associated the feminist agenda as anti-Church, but in the feminist texts I read, I saw redemption from oppression. Wasn’t that God’s will? Why did the ideas contradict? These thoughts were brewed in isolation, and curious thoughts became angry ones.

Those thoughts were manifest when I thought about the arch I wanted my life to follow. Since I was old enough to read, I knew I wanted to write. In High School, when I told people I was pursuing a career in English, I was often reassured that, as a woman, my career choice didn’t really matter, after all. People I barely knew often made comments, such as “It’s good you’re majoring in something fun, because you’re a girl so you’re going to be a mother in the end” or “Are you pursuing teaching so you can homeschool your children?” When all along, I wanted to learn to be a writer and a teacher, and ultimately  I wanted to work hard and my dreams weren’t ones I followed for “fun.”

For ever since I was saved at the age of thirteen, God immediately opened my heart to the idea of going out in the world, in whatever way he would call, and education has and will always be a way I personally have felt – if it is the Lord’s will – I would be equipped to go somewhere to love on students well, and to obey Christ’s call.

It seemed that many people’s assumptions were that I would either marry young and be a wife or be a single woman waiting for marriage, using my “fun” college degree to pass the “waiting” season. I watched women around me, and saw this to be often true – I felt devastated. Women were being taught marriage refined a Godly woman, yet single women waited and waited until they began to doubt, left broken with a cruel idea of grace.

I, likewise, saw Christian women continuing to submit to men in abusive relationships, where a man was using his gender as power and not for the sake of the gospel. My heart broke more and more, desiring the freedom I found in feminist readings to align with Christianity, somehow.

My peace didn’t come in the year I was sixteen. Yet God did not leave me to my anger.

It all came together the summer I turned 18.

One summer morning, I read Genesis 2 and a physically felt a burden physically being taken from me. I can’t explain it in full, except the Lord just opened my eyes to the reality of His story for women.

The sixth day: an almost-perfect creation. A created world, filled with life bursting forth. The green lands and lush ocean told of the God, reigning in the skies. Animals walked and swam, and from the dust man was created. Yet it was not yet complete. Adam named every animal, and not one was found to be a fit companion. God felt Adam’s isolation. As the trinity, He knows that a creation in his image was not meant to be alone. The Lord let Adam sleep, in order that He could bring him a woman. Adam rejoiced to see the woman, who he named Eve (mother of all creation) and when he saw her, he proclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” A great work was finished, for creation was complete.

This unity would last a moment. A darkness was coming. After the fall of man, a separation would begin: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (Genesis 4). God’s perfect creation was ruptured in a way that men and women would not enjoy their differences but use them unfairly: men would rule over women, look down upon them.

The story wasn’t finished. In the garden, the gospel was promised. Eve would bear a child, and begin the family heritage that would, in thousands of years, lead to another woman who would find God’s chosen favor: Mary, the mother of Christ. Though the world fell prey to darkness, God’s gospel would still advance and he still clothed both Adam and Eve, not in their handmade clothes of leaves, but in animal skin. The first blood was shed, and the coming of Christ foretold. One day, Christ and His bride would be united, and the great longing for that day began, for things to be made right.

Since that day, I have understood God’s purpose for us. He made women with the same loving hands that made men. He loves them both, and the gospel is for both. Through women, God would bring Christ into this world, and the redemption through Christ was for all.

Yet, since the fall, men’s eyes would be blind to perfectly knowing how indeed women are a perfect creation, and are a perfect and equal companion. There would be much evil brought from men who mistreated God’s plan for his children, and the roles he desired they carry out.

Thankfully, as well, I’ve realized a lot I used to struggle with was rooted and defined by own sin and I regret starting up arguments on the topic where I had no grace. I realize my family and I have always agreed on the heart of Biblical issues, but I would often word them wrongly. I thank God for clarity and certainty in what I believe. Now, while I have personally found peace, it is my desire for more women to know that they are not alone. Christian women are not to keep silent about the issues in society we face in regards to oppression from men believing they are superior.

2017 has been a tremendous year for women, one I dare to say will be one of the most important in history up with women gaining voting rights in the 1920’s and the 1960’s women’s movements. After Trump was elected president, women revolted for their rights and for an end to sexism, especially in our government. This year, the #metoo campaign spread like wildfire, as women found the voices to stand up for themselves after being sexually abused by men.

I have wrongly thought often that Christian women perhaps don’t belong in this movement, and I have been wrong to think so.

Feminism is the idea that women are equal, and the fight that men no longer should oppress and abuse women. This core idea does not promote an idea against God, but simply cries for redemption that his perfect creation be right once more.

Therefore, the women’s movement is not contrary to the gospel, but instead is complementary.

– 

The Church needs the movement. It needs bold women to speak out. Because, so often, women are subject to ideas that are not God’s ideas, but the world’s ideas that have been disguised as God’s. There is still a need for women to be recognized as equals in the context of the Church.

I’ve observed two major issues pertaining to this. The first is women submitting to men before God.

How often I see women throwing away their lives for men, throwing away going into the world with the gospel for a relationship.

I should clarify: God is faithful to provide spouses. I eagerly anticipate the day he might provide a husband as a companion fit for me. But I cannot put my hope in that. If I did have a husband, still my hope is called elsewhere. Another human, in theory or in my life, will never define who I am in Christ. If the Lord chooses to call me into a life of singleness, I will still be a wholly a woman and a Christian. If the Lord calls me to marriage, I will blessed with a wonderful gift but still be just as whole as the hour I first knew Christ.

Yet, I have witnessed women often prize the idea of a marriage over God’s will for their lives. They seek love where it is not yet the Lord’s, leading to much brokenness. They idolize relationships, that are good things from the Lord, and put security in those above God. They feel unloved by God when earthly love is not given.

Yet the Lord never sees unmarried as those stuck in a season of waiting. As Paul wrote, “It is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corn. 7). So why do we often reduce an unmarried women serving the Lord to “using her singleness well”? As Christians, let’s honor each other and realize that Paul’s words ring true for women: a single woman simply can serve better. The kingdom advances through single missionaries and single local Church members. These people are not in a season of waiting. They are complete in the Lord, and capable of His work.

Later on, Paul writes “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corn. 7). Single or unmarried, the call is the same: live for the kingdom first. Instead Christians often find identity in their marriage state and it breaks my heart. God has called each of us to a purpose, and let’s find joy in that. Let’s train men and women to be equipped to go out in the world, first and foremost, before we teach them to be good husbands and wives, for that core is the very thing they will carry into eternity.

The second core issue I’ve noticed is the false identity in the authority of men above God’s authority has led to a misunderstand of God’s plan for women and led to abuse, which should not be tolerated in Churches.

Many Christian women remain silent because they are told to always obey men. Men have used their place as a father or husband to emotionally abuse women, and these women remain silent and continue to be “obedient” because they are falsely taught a theology where women are to be kept quiet, and submit to men before God.

Often people use 1 Timothy to contradict the idea of bold Christian women: “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Personally, I cannot see this passage asking women to be conservative, I can only see a gospel message shining through these verses: women are not to adorn themselves, their hope being in appearance or beauty or the affections of a man. Godly women are not to find their hope in constant shopping, or whatever else hope can be found in. Instead, women are to adorn themselves with good works: serving Christ, sharing the gospel, going forth. A woman is to do this quietly – humble, obedient, not for the sake of the world but only Christ. A woman to quietly submit to the Lord’s will, and the Lord often calls us to be bold and not tolerate the injustice of sin.

Being bold is not at all contrary to the gospel, it is merely proclaiming it. As disciples, we are commanded to not be silent. We go and we proclaim, perhaps quietly yet never in silence.

God is not afraid to use women to further his kingdom the same as men; his redeemed children are equally equipped to write the story of humanity with beautiful gender roles working together to provide the unity of Eden.

Often, the women God has used in his kingdom have been women wrongly outcast or in the hands of the darkness of evil men. He comforted Leah when she was not preferred by her husband. He heard Hannah in silence cries for mercy. He met Hagar in the wilderness: “So [Hagar] called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

God used Ruth, a widow, in all her grief, and gave her boldness to go where women couldn’t go to the threshing floor that she might be redeemed: “May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel” (Ruth 4: 11).

God used Esther, he commanded her to not keep silent, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

God used Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet, soaking up his words while Martha was “distracted” with serving her home. Often a home, marriage, and things of this world turn our perspective away from being on our knees, listening to God, and to submitting to this world and what is required to be “good wife or mother” in the eyes of the world. Jesus shakes his head at Martha, and pleads to her: “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10).

God used the “sinful” woman who broke societal rules, and washed Jesus’s feet with her hair. She wept, and Pharisees judged. But Christ saw only redemptive love defining this woman: “Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair’ (Luke 7). This woman is judged wrongly, but Jesus looked into her eyes and told her she is forgiven. As he did many women: the woman at the well and the adulterous woman for examples.

God used these women torn down by men or the world’s view of how they should behave or where they should go to share the story of his gospel; these women who did not stay silent.

When women stand up, claiming “no more,” or when we fight for compassion for those who are voiceless, it is a picture of redemption; of created creatures no longer being subject to the darkness of the fall.

Ultimately, all things will come to completion at the day of Christ. He who started a good work in Christ Jesus is making all things new: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corn. 13:12). He has finished the great work, he knows us completely and will continue to be our faithful guide and counsel. One day, we will see full and no longer as cracks of light in the darkness. The promise of heaven is equally promised for women, and for men, and we will both be raised in Christ in the very same way, we will both see full.

Christians, let’s eagerly wait for the completion of the work of Christ by evangelism, the pursuit of holiness, and going to the nations together. Let’s fight for the oppression of women to be no more that the gospel may be proclaimed in this world.

For when we see his face, at long last the oppression of gender that begun when Eve’s lips tasted the fruit will be gone and His glory will be all that is left.

Because His promises are true: I am a Christian, and a feminist. A concept that doesn’t contradict itself, but complements.