Does Jo Live Life #LikeAGirl?

     Being a girl in the twenty first century can mean a plethora of different things.  Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women follows the lives of the March sisters, specifically Jo March, who doesn’t identify as the lady-like figures her sister’s are and aspire to be. Jo is a stereotypical tomboy, who fills in as the father-like character in her family and provides readers with a unique protagonist. Little Women is a perfect representation of what girlhood was like during the Civil War era; full of high standards and nit-picky expectations. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh conveys that the term girlhood can have multiple cultural meanings and can change depending on personal opinion. Little Women centers on the conflicts that young women face throughout their lives, many of those conflicts having to do with gender and gender roles. Jo’s need to steer away from the actions and lifestyle of a conventional female show that girlhood does not mean the same thing to everyone and that being a girl does not imply that one has to be “girly”. Ideas about girlhood are also represented through the phrase “like a girl” which is the inspiration behind Always’ most recent ad campaign, #LikeAGirl.

The campaign features a series of video representations of girls in today’s society, breaking down gender stereotypes and growing stronger together. The videos portray girls doing things like running, swimming, and playing various other sports. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage confidence in young girls so they never feel inferior.

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     What it is truly like to be a girl has drastically changed throughout time, as has the way we define the term “girlhood”. Girlhood is now more equitable with society’s idea of boyhood. In Little Women, Jo aspired to live like a boy but was ridiculed by her sisters, however, gender norms have become more fluid and today Jo’s refusal to embody gender stereotypes would not be scorned. The phrase “like a girl” should cease to exist. Actions should never be attached to a certain gender. The Always campaign is proving to be effective, but it is discomforting to think that people aren’t inspired until they see things like advertisements endorsing equality. 

7 thoughts on “Does Jo Live Life #LikeAGirl?”

  1. You bring up a great point in that Jo was perhaps trying to live less like the conventional woman and be more self sufficient and dependent upon herself. I think if women today tried to go back and fill the March sister’s shoes we all would have a terrible time keeping up with the rules, chores, and etiquette. Therefore I think Joe was simply trying to act exactly like women try to act today. Back then we might have called it ‘tomboyish’ or ‘unladylike’ (like Jo) but now it has simply shifted to being independent, educated, and our authentic selves.

  2. I remember seeing a commercial for this campaign during the 2015 Super Bowl and thinking how awesome it was. In that particular commercial, there was a little girl in a pink dress at the end of the commercial and they asked her “what does it mean to run like a girl?” and at the tender age of 4 or 5 she said “to run as fast as you can.” I almost got choked up hearing that. It is so heartbreaking that girls have this incredible motivation that they can do anything when they are little, and then somewhere along the way when we grow up, we tell ourselves that we can’t. It is so sad to me that one day we, as girls, lost the idea that we could do anything. As if we were too innocent and naïve to know better. It’s heartbreaking.

  3. Hi Katelyn,

    I think it’s great that you point out the shift in the cultural view of girlhood from the 19th century to today. Surely, the definition of girlhood(s) has expanded to include some definitions previously ascribed only to boyhood(s) like physical activity and sports. I think the Always campaign is trying to point out that during puberty, our view of certain kinds of girlhood (like girls in sports) changes to one of weakness and “less-than”. I find this interesting because in Abate’s keyword essay on Tomboy, she points out how “tomboy taming” became popular in literature in the 19th century, most famously with Jo’s character. I think we can see this cultural narrative still at play today when the messages we send to girls who do ‘masculine’ activities is that they are not as good or as serious. The implication from those messages is then that they should not try to excel at certain masculine activities and stick with ‘girly’ pursuits. It’s encouraging though to see a major PR campaign from Always trying to challenge those narratives.

  4. I think this is a great analysis of the Always campaign! I definitely agree that things like the phrases “like a girl” should disappear from . Actions, and the manner in which one does them, should not be gendered. When society realizes this, and I believe it will soon, campaigns like this will become irrelevant, but it is heartening to see companies actively working to break down these past ways of thinking.

  5. This all reminds me a lot of the video titled “Potty-Mouth Princesses”. I thought about posting a link to this video but the potty mouth language is probably not a great thing to post on here. This video discusses feminism and how the unfair treatment is worse to hear than little girls cursing. Being a “girl” is such an individualized concept and it is so so important that people are trying to bring these concepts into societies spotlight.

  6. I find it interesting that you believe Jo’s refusal to embody gender stereotypes would not be scorned in today’s society. Although times are changing and “tom-boys” are accepted more in our youth’s society, there is still judgement upon those that choose to not live a hetero-normative lifestyle. There is definitely a shift in the majority of the population but girls and boys are still teased for being different. It is still frowned upon in our society to not get married or be married by a certain age, women are expected to aspire to marriage, even in today’s culture.

  7. Even today, it still feels as though girls have to meet the “feminine requirement” of what a girl is supposed to be. But sometimes because it feels like society still expects that, people forget to appreciate how far we have actually come. Back in the time of Little Women, it was unheard of for a girl to be a tomboy through her adulthood. In the present day, if a women is not extremely feminine, that is accepted in society. Hopefully in the future this trend will continue like you have mentioned. It is important for women everywhere that no matter what mannerisms they take on, they are accepted in society.

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