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Being a Jo March in a Jane Bennett World

Alternative Title: Being an Elizabeth Bennett in a Meg March World

Author’s note: Yeah, I know this one isn’t about Haiti but I’ve been muling it over for some weeks now and needed to get it out. Don’t worry, dear reader, I’ll get back to the cultural experiences and cute pictures soon!!

When I was little, I read obsessively. More than anything, I loved having a book in my hands and losing myself in faraway places and times. I loved living a different life with different adventures- even if it was only for a few hours. I found myself constantly turning to the same books over and over again because I just simply adored their tales. For example….

I loved Hermione Granger for being the most brilliant witch of her class. I loved Scout Finch for stepping on everyone’s toes with her innocent curiosity. I loved Susan Perival for being cool and collected. I loved Anne Shirley for being the most ridiculously imaginative drama queen. I loved Jane Eyre for going her own way in life. I admired bravery, confidence, and intelligence. And these traits only materialized in one kind of character.

The heroine.

These ladies were the ones who dreamed for bigger and better things, but more than that, they turned around and worked their tails off achieving them. They faced adversity with class (well, more likely, sass). Honestly they were simply the most interesting ones with the most adventures, travels, and embarrassing moments. They were real.

In every story though, there always seemed to be their seemingly drab but socially accepted counterparts. For every bright and witty Lizzie Bennett, you got an amiable Jane. Lizzie, who doesn’t fit societal expectations, because *gasp* she’s not in want of a husband, and then Jane, eagerly searching for her best possible match. For every ambitious and feisty Jo March, you get a Meg, who gets married and has babies and that’s about it. At least, for me, the choice was simple. I loved the spicy flavor, not the vanilla sweet.

Could you imagine going through an entire story about Jane Bennett trying to woo Bingley? “Dear diary, I think I was too agreeable and pretty today. What can I do to make him like me more?” “Dear diary, he ran off to London. Better pine for him forever.” “Dear diary, he’s back. Totally forgave him because he gave me a ring.” I’m sorry, but I just wouldn’t read that book.

Or dear Meg. Yes, Meg was honest, amiable, and sweet. But she never tried for more. I always saw Meg as wasted potential.

The argument is this: some women were made to be Megs and others Jos. You get your Lizzies and your Janes.

If you are a Jane/ Meg, I’m convinced that you can be a heroine too because after all, mothers and wives are total superheros. It might sound like I’m bashing women who choose the trajectory of a housewife but that’s not the case at all! They do so, so much! Meg raised great children after the amazing example that Marmie gave and Jane proved society wrong that a lower-class woman can fit into higher society.

If anything, I am wagging a disappointed finger at women who give up on their dreams just to secure a husband. Who never do anything more. Who never say that they had children and personal fulfillment. Who work hard for a degree but never use it. Because they fed into the notion of limited potential for women.I respect mothers and wives who do both because I’ve been blessedly surrounded by them for my entire life from my family to friends. I just don’t understand the women who took the passenger’s seat to their own lives.

But for us heroines, it’s a different tale.

Even though our gender roles and women’s rights have changed significantly since Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, it doesn’t mean that ambitious working women are fully accepted. Just look at the Japanese stateswoman who was told to “go ahead and get married”. Especially at Christian colleges, the societal expectation is closer to Jane than it is Elizabeth. Us modern heroines are a fearsome thing to behold. Sometimes the world doesn’t know what to do with us.

If I am a Lizzie, you can betcha bottom dollar that I will never feel ashamed about it. Even when my friends ask why I didn’t go ahead and date the guy who was there, just because he was there. Or gone to the easier college. Or stayed stateside. Or gotten engaged instead of taking that job. Every heroine faces adversity. They just don’t fit into society, so they go out and make their own.

You might be off getting married, but I’ll be teaching in Indonesia. You can make your suburbia home, but I’ll be writing my book in my Brooklyn apartment. You can write your mommy blog but I’ll be running a girls’ school in Belarus. And on top of this, raising a family too if I so choose. I can go on and on, really.

If you’re a Jane, I respect your choices, but please, don’t judge me for making my own.

Because if it’s a matter of priorities, I will always choose my dreams hands-down. Blame the books I read as a child.

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