When it comes to delivering female-led content in the world of television, few are doing so with such freshness and strength as Netflix. In addition to female representation in their original programming, including a mostly female cast in Orange is the New Black and a solid female superhero in Marvel's Jessica Jones, they cover a range of female experience.
But despite the plethora of females for us ladies to attach ourselves to, there has thus far been a bit of a hole in Netflix's female coverage. A hole made even more obvious by the sudden fandom that arose around Stranger Things' side character, Barb, when the show aired in July. Despite there being a lead female teenager in the show, Nancy Wheeler, and a lead female pre-teen, Eleven, Barb was the lady that got us talking. She is an outlier, a good friend, and a female with solid principles. The message was clear, we want more Barbs!
Netflix seems to have heard this message. This week they announced they would be teaming with CBC on the already in development adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett had already been tagged to write for the series and Niki Caro (Whale Rider) will direct the first episode. A fantastic duo of women if ever there were one.
While it's hard for this 30-something lady to imagine, there is undoubtedly a world of young women out there not yet familiar with the fount of joy and mishap that is Anne Shirley. Written in 1908, Montgomery's book and its sequels follow the red-haired orphan taken in by two spinster siblings, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, looking for help on their farm. Anne's bubbly personality and tenacity makes her among the most memorable children's book characters ever written. But don't be fooled by the book's publishing date, Anne Shirley stands the test of time to continue being an inspirational and even feminist character. She's exactly the outlier Netflix needs to connect with today's female teens.
Walley-Beckett put it best when she told the CBC that:
"Anne's issues are contemporary issues: feminism, prejudice, bullying and a desire to belong. The stakes are high and her emotional journey is tumultuous. I'm thrilled to delve deeply into this resonant story, push the boundaries and give it new life."
While it's great Netflix is resurrecting teen-girl favorite Gilmore Girls for a four-part event, and we obviously dig the teen girls co-starring in other Netflix shows, a show driven by a solid teen female is exactly what Netflix needs in its programming and Anne Shirley is the perfect choice to fill that void.
A Realistic Feminist
The early 20th century publishing date of Anne of Green Gables features squarely within the first wave feminist movement but it is by no means any sort of focus of the book. Anne is a subdued and realistic feminist. She's a teenaged girl unabashedly struggling with the peer pressure of feminine ideals of beauty (she considers being born with red hair as her "life-long sorrow") and with no loftier goals than finding a "bosom friend" and performing well in school, but from the outset she is set up to be an example of feminism at work.
Initially Marilla and Matthew don't want to keep the orphaned Anne because she isn't the young boy they were expecting to help out around their farm. Anne's experiences until then have all been with foster mothers expecting her to pitch in with childcare. Marilla realizes Anne will be forced into a caregiving role if returned to the orphanage and decides she can't stomach the thought. Anne never believes that being born female should be a disadvantage, and the stern but fair Marilla gives her the chance to live a life based on that idea.
An Academic And A Romantic
Perhaps one of the ways Anne is most feminist is in her staunch belief that she is no less capable than any boy she meets. She rises to every challenge, including one that pits her against her academic rival, Gilbert Blythe, saying
"I'll win that scholarship if hard work can do it," she resolved … "Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them — that's the best of it."
Anne's scholarly pursuits do not make her a "career woman," though. Anyone who uses the sort of language she does can only logically be labeled a true romantic with a vivid imagination. She renames normal outdoor locations to things like "The White Way of Delight" and "The Lake of Shining Waters." She wishes she could get people to call her Cordelia and the idea of never getting to see her best friend again prompts her to describe herself as "in the depths of despair." Every feeling Anne has is felt hugely and passionately.
Anne Shirley made the phrases "bosom friend" and "kindred spirit" part of my early girlhood vernacular — no other words are worthy of the indescribable joy of having a girlfriend who truly understands you. Despite Gilbert Blythe's obvious affection for her — not to mention living in an in age where snagging a dude would be a worthwhile pursuit for most females — Anne spends almost no time concerned with romantic interludes. She is proof positive you can be an ambitious romantic without having to be a fool for love, to find love without losing yourself in the process.
She Embraces All Women As Equals
Today's teenage protagonist is usually obsessed with a boy. If not, she's in competition with females her age. Very rarely do you find a girl who not only doesn't obsess about boys, but doesn't obsess about other girls, either. It isn't just that Anne understands the power of female friendship; she faces meeting all women as a joy. She embraces other women for their uniqueness and talents, hardly focusing on comparing them to herself or finding reason to be jealous.
Of her soon-to-be best friend Diana, Anne says in the book:
"Oh, I'm so glad she's pretty. Next to being beautiful oneself — and that's impossible in my case — it would be best to have a beautiful bosom friend."
Endlessly Positive Without Being A Fool
In fact, Anne is full of positivity. In addition to embracing other women, Anne embraces herself and her own flaws, always willing to learn from her mistakes and look forward to more chances to better herself. As she tells Marilla,
"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
But Pollyanna she is not. What makes Anne so splendid, and so easily timeless, is that despite all her positivity and lovely fantasizing, she is feisty and angry and utterly human. She cracks a slate across a boy's head, she accepts ill-advised dares, she gives into her vanity and attempts to dye her own hair. She makes a lot of mistakes and gets into a lot of arguments. She speaks her mind unabashedly.
Thank you, Netflix. For Jessica Jones' strength and independence, for Kimmy Schmidt's resilience and cheerfulness, for Stella Gibson's sexual assertion, Claire Underwood's ruthless ambition, Nomi Mark's activism, Poussey Washington's sense of justice and fierce friendship, and of course Barb, the outlier and moral compass to Nancy Wheeler's standard teenage girl.
But it's time for an extraordinary teenage leader, so thank you for bringing Anne Shirley into your fold.
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