I’m Not a Carrie, I’m a Jo

 

Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, wearing a flower pin very similar to one I owned

 

“Omigod Alison, you’re SUCH a Carrie.”

It was 2000 and I stood in the circle of store manager friends at an Express district meeting, wearing the brand's black microfiber bootcut pants and matching longline blazer with a large pink fabric peony pinned to my lapel. I wore it because I liked how it looked and liked that it referenced Chanel, I didn’t know that a character on Sex and the City wore almost the exact same one. I couldn’t afford HBO and this was before social media was a thing.  As they all shared which character they thought they were, I just smiled and laughed but didn’t participate.

Years later, I had a house with a TV with cable attached to it, and I scored a few free months of HBO. I adjusted my schedule to be sure I was home for every episode of SATC. I sometimes gathered with friends to watch where the post-episode conversation would turn to fashion, or New York, and always back to which character was most relatable. And again, I just smiled and laughed but didn’t participate.

I wasn’t a Carrie. I wasn’t a Charlotte. I wasn’t a Samantha, and I wasn’t a Miranda.

I was a Jo.

Jo March to be specific.

two classic editions of the novel little women

I remember reading both of these copies of Little Women as a child

Growing up, I read Little Women at least three times and read it at least once more since high school. I’ve seen every film version of it. Even when I was in 5th grade reading it for the first time, I knew I was Jo. And knowing I was Jo made me decide I wanted to be a writer.

Jo had style. Jo had a way with words. Jo loved fiercely, summoned courage, had a sense of adventure. Jo wanted more, and knew there was always more.

jo march played by katharine hepburn, winona ryder, and saoirse ronan

While many actresses have played Jo March over the years, these are the three that impacted me the most: Katharine Hepburn, Winona Ryder, and now Saoirse Ronan

My mom also connected with Jo. My sister, with Amy. At a middle school sleepover, before I got the silly idea in my head that boys were cooler than books, my friends and I sat in a circle and shared which March sister we were. Another girl also said she was Jo and shared the characteristics she connected with, which were different ones from mine. It made me realize that two very different people can be inspired by the same thing for different reasons and both were good. When I got older, I realized the power of an author who could create such a character with just words.

I am an Ashpes Girl. My mom married my dad who had that last name and they produced me and my sister. We were always known as The Ashpes Girls, either me and my sister together (far easier than trying to remember who was whom which became difficult around the time we were both in high school) or with my mom. When I got married, I had my middle name legally changed to Ashpes so I would remain an Ashpes Girl. When my daughter came on the scene a decade ago, she didn’t need to have the name on her birth certificate, she was born an Ashpes Girl. Her first summer, she joined us on our annual Ashpes Girls trip to Rehoboth Beach. And once she was old enough to sit through an entire film, she joined us with our annual Ashpes Girls tradition of going to the movies on Christmas Day.

We’ve done well finding Christmas Day movies that both she and we would enjoy – Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, The Greatest Showman. But those movies were geared towards an audience of 5 to 95 and I was a bit hesitant in having her see Little Women. See, unlike the rest of us Ashpes Girls, my daughter isn’t a bookworm. She likes to read, she’s doing extremely well in school, but her desire to curl up with a book on a Sunday afternoon or find pockets of reading like I did on car rides and while waiting in line at the grocery store only comes in fits and starts. While I reread books until I have them memorized down to the location of favorite passages on pages, her room is littered with never-finished novels that didn’t grab her attention. I haven’t offered her Little Women because I know once she starts and doesn’t finish a book, she has no desire to return. And it would break my heart to find a book that defined so much of my childhood be discarded under her bed next to a Shopkin and an American Girl doll shoe.

the cast of little women 2019

Marmie, Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy in the 2019 remake of Little Women

But the three original Ashpes Girls, we wanted to see Little Women on Christmas Day. In fact, it was never discussed, just assumed. And when we saw it would be playing at the wonderful historic theater in our city’s center it made it even more perfect. If my daughter didn’t like it, that would be way easier to accept than her discarding the book. But I really really wanted her to like it.

I was so into the movie, I didn’t look at her often during it. For a time, she rested on my arm, for a time I put my arm around her, but I couldn’t tell if that was out of boredom or the wonderfulness of a young sentimental tween. I knew the story had her when she whispered to me, “Ma, does Beth die? Y or N?”

When the movie ended, we all clapped, not just because that’s what we do at this charming historic theater in our city center, but because the film was so good and did such a good job of being fresh and new yet so respectful of and consistent to the book. My sister shared as they got up from their chairs and gathered their coats that my daughter asked her, “Which sister are you?” When my daughter caught up with me in the aisle, she said, “I enjoyed my first dramatic film!” As we walked to the car, the four Ashpes Girls guessed which March sister another connected with and then shared why we connected with her. I didn’t want to tell my daughter which March sister I thought she was, I didn’t want her to question herself. And I didn’t want her to feel she had to pick one like I did when my friends discussed SATC. When she shared she felt she was a hybrid of two sisters, I saw both characteristics in her and got teary in thinking how much she has grown and developed into her own unique person.

“Ma, you remind me of Aunt March,” my daughter said as we got into the car. “You’re always yelling at me to READ!” We laughed, remembering that part in the movie when she yelled at Jo (which is soon after the clip I share above). It’s true, I want her to love reading the way I loved reading at her age, and how I love it now. But expecting her to act as I did at her age is like expecting me to be a Carrie simply because I can rock a giant silk flower on my lapel. She and I may have the same eyes, make the same silly facial expressions, may even have similar tastes and interests, but we like different things and are different people. And while I will continue to yell at her to read because it’s so valuable on so many levels, I need to understand that she is that hybrid of Jo and Beth, she is her own individual self. She can choose to read Little Women if and when she wants and I treasure that we enjoyed the film together.

29 Comments

  1. Jamie
    January 2, 2020 / 10:44 am

    I love Little Women and have read it many times; I love this post; and I can’t wait to see the new film!

  2. Allison
    December 30, 2019 / 10:13 am

    This post gives me ALL the feels. Once again, your sentiment and writing is spot on.

  3. dmc
    December 28, 2019 / 4:12 pm

    Lovely! Very much enjoyed reading this. I adored Little Women when I was your daughter’s age. Now you’ve made me eager to see the new movie. I agree with a previous post about March. Geraldine Brooks is an amazing writer and March was an all new perspective on the family and the time period.

  4. Lisa
    December 28, 2019 / 8:27 am

    Your Ashpes girls traditions sound wonderful! Cherish your time with them. I miss my mother so much and don’t spend enough time with my 2 sisters. I love Little Women, haven’t read it in a long time. I have watched all versions of the movie and plan to see the new one with my sisters this week. So glad to hear that it is good, was worried the new take on it would ruin it for me. My mother gave me a copy of the book along with her set of collector’s dolls. Think I need to get them out while I re-read the book!

  5. Tracie Bowman
    December 27, 2019 / 7:40 pm

    What a nice column! My daughters, their boyfriends, my husband and myself saw Little Women together today. We liked how Amy was a more decent person than other versions have shown and Meg got a little more character development too. We especially liked the part where the sisters were tussling. I think we all wanted to be Jo today.

    Interesting article in the NY Times regarding male reactions to the movie.

  6. Aleta
    December 27, 2019 / 4:22 pm

    I loved that they really developed Amy into a likeable character in this movie, which I felt the 90s version did a terrible job of. I am somewhere between Meg and Amy and really appreciated that Amy doesn’t come across as constantly selfish. She was a little girl when the story starts and as the youngest is a bit spoiled, but she cares for her family and understands that keeping her family afloat is her job. Yes she likes nice things, but she understands what she must do to have what she wants.

  7. hmbalison
    December 27, 2019 / 1:46 pm

    Alison, I, too, am a Jo. I have always loved to read and am a writer. Reading Little Women for the first time at 10, I immediately felt a kinship with Jo. I’m one of five sisters, so I also related to the complicated, loving relationships between the sisters. I loved hearing about you and your daughter at the movie. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this latest version. Years ago, my mom, sisters, and I went to see the Winona Ryder version on Christmas Day, and I remember the magic. I didn’t want to muddy the memory if this latest version wasn’t very good. Your experience has convinced me to go, so thank you!

    I wish you all the best in 2020. Thank you for all the fabulous content you created in 2019. Your honesty and insights make your blog a must-stop for me.

  8. Crishana
    December 27, 2019 / 12:57 pm

    I had a tradition that I would read Little Women during the summer break. I know its odd but summers were my time to read for hours and hours and hours in the cool air conditioned library (my childhood home didn’t have AC) and bask in my favorite place on the planet. I feel like I am a combination of the March sisters…I see a bit of myself in all of the characters, my fierce independence and loyalty in Jo, being pretty and having pretty things and a lusty appetite for food (Amy), a certain shyness and quiet empathy of Beth and the sensibility about money (and lack thereof) from Meg. I too have seen every version of the movie (my favorite remains the 1949 version with June Allyson as Jo). Looking forward to seeing this with my daughter!

  9. December 27, 2019 / 11:24 am

    The Louisa May Alcott book that I reread over and over as a child was “An Old Fashioned Girl”. I think it explores a lot of the same themes: being poor while your friends are rich, making your own way in the world and even rejecting a proposal from a rich suitor. Check it out if you are a Little Woman fan and haven’t read it yet.

  10. Emily
    December 27, 2019 / 11:21 am

    I really enjoyed this post. Your last paragraph reminded me of this passage from Kahlil Gibran:
    “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…”

    • Ann
      December 27, 2019 / 2:09 pm

      Perfect. Thank you.

    • Paula Spizziri
      December 28, 2019 / 12:09 pm

      Love the quote!

  11. Book Goddess
    December 27, 2019 / 11:03 am

    Here’s how much I love Little Women: when I was in elementary school, I persuaded my mother to let me stay home from school to watch the Katherine Hepburn version on television. (This was before DVR and other such innovations.). Somehow or other, she convinced the nuns at my Catholic school that this was a good idea. Certainly such an exception never happened on any other occasion. I am a Jo too, with a little bit of Amy.

    If you haven’t already read it, you might also like March by Geraldine Brooks. It’s the story of the same time period as Little Women told from the perspective of Mr. March, who is a chaplain in the Union Army. It’s a much darker book but well worth reading.

  12. December 27, 2019 / 10:55 am

    I love this! E’s approach to reading sounds very similar to R, who loves and returns to her graphic novels but will rarely finish a print book. I still read to her, though, and because she was interested in the Little Women movie as soon as she discovered that her beloved Emma Watson was in it, and well primed for the era from her love of the Little House books, we started on Little Women. (It’s free online because it’s out of copyright!) She’s totally into it and though we haven’t finished we went to the movie last night and she loved that too. And E might enjoy the graphic novel modernization, called “Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy,” that R gobbled up on Christmas morning.

    • December 27, 2019 / 11:55 am

      Thank you! I saw how you shared you’re reading Little Women with R to E last night, asking if she’d like to do the same. She said maybe some nights but not all nights so I decided nope, not going to do it. But I think I’ll get her the graphic novel, which is her favorite type of reading. Thank you!

    • Leu2500
      December 27, 2019 / 1:26 pm

      Omg! This reminds me of Illustrated Classics. I know that’s how I first read Jane Eyre. It’s probably the first way I read Little Women too.

      Do I feel old now!

  13. Marissa
    December 27, 2019 / 10:12 am

    I really enjoyed this post! I’ve never read “Little Women” but after reading this it definitely makes me want to pick it up or at least watch the movie! 🙂 The mother/daughter dynamic is such a special/interesting one, so thank you for sharing a glimpse into yours.

    • December 27, 2019 / 10:47 am

      I’m glad you liked it! And if you do read the book let me know what you thought of it!

  14. December 27, 2019 / 9:28 am

    As a constant reader I’m sad to say that I don’t think many young people will be “readers” the way we were. There are too many other ways kids can “escape the world” that are more interesting than a book. I was babysitting my gran-daughter and she was sitting next to to the floor heater looking at videos on youtube and I remembered doing the same thing when I was her age only I was reading a book when I did it.

    • December 27, 2019 / 10:46 am

      Exactly. We may have had video games, but they weren’t as… immersive. And TV was terrible. Books were the only form of escape that were portable. We live in a different time, but I’m still going to go all Aunt March on her and keep yelling at her to read! LOL

  15. Krista
    December 27, 2019 / 9:04 am

    At the risk of being excommunicated or something, I’ve a confession to make….I’ve never read “Little Women”. I was always into more contemporary fiction, or dark and twisty thrillers. Nonetheless, I am intrigued by this film version and maybe I’ll go get the actual book from the library (not digital) and immerse myself.

    • Marni
      December 27, 2019 / 10:06 am

      I just read the book for the first time this summer, when I turned 50. I was surprised at how much I loved it, and how much I’ve thought about it since. I’m not sure I would have loved it as much if I’d read it as a kid. Never too late! Go get it, you’ll be so glad.

      • December 27, 2019 / 10:45 am

        I do think it’s a book that when you’re older you see more of the nuances of each character and the challenges that the family faced.

    • December 27, 2019 / 10:44 am

      Oh heck no! Can you believe I’ve never read Harry Potter? Talk about being excommunicated! And like Marni says below, it’s never too late!

  16. Briana
    December 27, 2019 / 7:24 am

    I loved this post. It’s wonderful to hear about your family tradition and your evolution as a parent. Thanks for sharing something personal and different than what you normally write about. Like another poster, I feel like it’s time for me to re-read Little Women again. I grew up with sisters, but am in the process of raising an only boy. My older sister who I love seeing movies with lives across the country and we are sad that we can’t see the film together. But, inspired by your great experience, I think I’m going to propose a virtual movie date where we both see the film in our respective cities and then discuss via phone. Not the same as your fantastic experience, but your post inspires me to make sure this happens so I can connect with my sister. Thank you.

    • December 27, 2019 / 10:43 am

      I love the idea of a virtual movie date, it can become a new tradition!

    • Alison
      December 29, 2019 / 2:51 am

      That’s a great idea Briana, I might try that with my sisters and mom as we are up and down the West Coast and in South Carolina.

  17. karen
    December 27, 2019 / 6:40 am

    i love Little Women, was introduced to it by my mom, and read it often in middle and high school, but only once i think, since i became an adult. time to pull it out and read it again.
    and if i’m being honest, i don’t think i’ve ever figured out why anyone would want to be anyone but Jo, which is probably why i need to read it again.

    • December 27, 2019 / 10:42 am

      I think this film, more than previous ones, and more than the book, developed the other sisters and showed why they were so special and unique and admirable. I always felt the same, who wouldn’t want to be Jo? And then I met those who explained why they connected with Meg or Beth or Amy or even Marmie and I was like oh! Yes, because you’re not like me! LOL! So I can totally relate!

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