So many “strong female protagonists” are written, created, and adapted by men. While of course it is possible and certainly fantastic for men to work towards writing a strong female lead, the female leads written by and about women are truly special. Sometimes it just takes a woman to write a woman’s story. Hermione Granger is a good example of a heroine who has so many, if not all the faculties of a clever, strong female lead. Created by JK Rowling, we have someone who is lauded and celebrated for her intelligence and as the story of Harry Potter progresses, Hermione develops and hones skills of strength, deception, and fist-wielding of her male peers.
Anne of Green Gables was originally published in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery. While I don’t know much about Montgomery, I know her upbringing was lonely and she relied on her imagination during times of solitude; I know that she was attractive and had many suitors in the Cavendish area and led a very romantic life, much like the beautiful and clever female characters in her books; I know that she suffered through bouts of depression which, like many people who live with depression, used her imagination and gift to make millions of people happy and wistful, and write about colourful, happy-go-lucky images, places, and people. What I don’t know about Lucy was what she believed to be important about women’s agency, whether she believed in women’s suffrage, whether she cared (or believed) her version of Anne was a “strong female lead.”
CBC has re-adapted Anne of Green Gables, entitled “Anne” in Canada and “Anne with an E” on American Netflix. The series is wonderful. Amybeth McNulty is a wonderful actress who brings agency, depth, pathos and vibrancy to an already classic and well-drawn character. The stories are adapted from the novel but bring a certain modern edge to the character; we get a glimpse of how/why she relies so fervently on her imagination and we get a glimpse of where she obtained her strong mindedness, temper and maturity.
What is very noticeable about the show though is how amazing it is at representing strong females.
There is a scene in Anne when the girls at the school are privately discussing their ‘womanly flowering time’ and Diana tells Anne that women should never talk about it because it’s a “shameful thing”. Anne, who was not brought up in so-called ‘propiety’ doesn’t understand why this is an issue.
Furthermore, there is a scene where Marilla insists the male hired hand, Jerry, accompany her on a journey into town and Anne insists going alone because she believes it to be a “heroic journey” that she must complete by herself. We the viewers know that Anne can, and will, accomplish this journey on her own; however, it is society that disallows this. Later, it is Jerry that becomes the ‘victim’ in the town adventure. And Anne must be the ‘rescuer’ of sorts.
In one episode, Anne refers to Diana’s spinster aunt as someone she looks up to; an idol or hero of sorts. While she debates leaving school due to bullying and her own personal troubles, she realizes after speaking with a priest that she wants to follow her own path; and sees herself in the future as so much more than someone who will be a wife and a homemaker.
In this new version of the story, Anne feels like the modern heroine and the rest of Avonlea society comes across as the ones who are backwards, hold onto old ideas, and place women in boxes. It is them who must adapt to Anne.
In addition to the beautiful and heroic qualities Anne possesses as a character, the show does a beautiful job at representing all women of all sizes and ages, each one with an important role to play in a society within the school and the community, which makes the fictional 1890s Avonlea very real and believable.
When one reads the credits, you will see mostly women’s names – everyone from the directors, to producers, to the writer/creator Moira Walley-Beckett, has contributed to creating a female-centric story not just about the friendships, struggles, yearnings and world of women, but for women as well. This is no surprise. A show like this is something of a treasure for progressive women. It is a show that adults and young women can watch and feel inspired to embrace female strength as they may have before they were aware of the ways society crushes such spirit in young women.
Does Anne have romance and romantic wishes in her life? Is she vain? Yes, she is. Much like the Anne from the original novel. However, these are qualities that well-rounded women are entitled to have as well. There is a myth that strong female leads cannot have romance. To me, the difference is that strong female leads want but don’t need romance to look or feel whole and complete; but, weak traditional female leads solely exist for the purpose of male desire.
This a fantastic series. And all young women should watch it.