When I was home last week I attended a children’s literature conference. One of the speakers asked the audience to close their eyes and picture their first experience with reading, or the first book that affected them. I closed my eyes and saw nothing, but it got me thinking, especially after I read Cornflower’s post on control, about how my reading choices as a child influenced the person I am today.
In the second grade, my friend Betsy and I were obsessed with Little Women. We played Little Women—she was Amy, I was Beth (choice of character here should tell you something)—and we brought our copies (the ugly Great Illustrated Classics versions) to the theater when the movie came out in 1994 (cue life long crush on Christian Bale).
Other books that I remember reading multiple times at that age are Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn. Later (5th/6th grade or so) I discovered Anne of Green Gables and Louisa May Alcott’s other children’s novels, Eight Cousins (followed by Rose in Bloom) and Old Fashioned Girl.
So what do these books have to do with me, and more importantly, what do they have to do with control? Well, I think I was socialized, through my reading choices (and a love for all things Disney), into outdated gender roles. It isn’t until now, living by myself, that I realize just how much I like being in control of the situation, whether it’s planning a Thanksgiving Day dinner or a date. The problem is that I often don’t take control, even though I want it. Need it.
Jo March, Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls are all kick-butt and wonderful role models in many ways, but their characters were written at a time when men were in control and women were obedient. Sure, Jo* and Anne could have managed successful and happy lives without marriage (it would have been awfully hard for Laura to farm by herself), but the books themselves spout the morals and ideals of their time, and those aphorisms wormed their way into my impressionable brain.
I’ve gotten better with non-romantic situations (planning parties etc.), but I still find myself floundering when it comes to men and dating. As you know, I am not a touchy-feely person. I have never once initiated a kiss or even hand holding. Although I have figured out if you hold eye contact long enough, with your best bedroom eyes, men sometimes get the message. Usually, I’m all about my personal bubble. That is, until I want him to break through that wall. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on what you are thinking at the time), men are not mind readers. So I should make the first move, if that is what I want, because most guys are dense and don’t always notice subtle things like sexy glances. But, there is a part of me, in the back of my generally forward thinking mind, saying, “but good girls don’t do that!”
So, people of Boston, if you see me awkwardly touching a man on the arm, cut me some slack. I’m trying, and I don’t have my Cornflower here to help me.
*Louisa May Alcott originally did not want Jo to marry, but was pressured by publishers.