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Why Some Men Have Hesitations About Going To See 'Little Women'


Jo March and her sisters are back on the big screen.


SAOIRSE RONAN: (As Jo March) I'm working on a novel. It is a story of my life and my sisters.

TRACY LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) Make it short and spicy, and if the main character is a girl, make sure she's married by the end.

KELLY: The novel being discussed there is, of course, Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," and critics have been falling all over themselves to praise Greta Gerwig's movie adaptation of the lives of Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March.


RONAN: (As Jo March) And I'm so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for.

FLORENCE PUGH: (As Amy March) I want to be an artist in Rome and be the best painter in the world.

EMMA WATSON: (As Meg March) Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn't mean they're unimportant.

ELIZA SCANLEN: (As Beth March) Boys scare me.

KELLY: That is Beth March there, saying boys scare her. But here's our question. Are boys and men scared to see the movie version of "Little Women"? The Washington Post's Monica Hesse writes about gender and its impact on society, and she has been writing on this question. She joins me now. Hi there, Monica.

MONICA HESSE: Hey. How are you?

KELLY: I'm well.

HESSE: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Yeah. Glad to have you with us. So are men going to see this movie?

HESSE: I think that that's been the question as soon as the movie came out. Early reviews were saying, women will love it; men will refuse to see it. So what I thought was interesting was how many emails I've been getting from men who have said things like, it's not that I don't want to see it. I just don't want to go and be the only man in the theater. Will I go and be the only man in the theater, or can I go and enjoy this movie?

KELLY: And so they feel - what? - like they need to be asked to come along and go in packs, or what? What are you hearing?

HESSE: Some of them - like, they need a chaperone. Like, I want to go with my wife, or, I'm excited that I get to take my daughters. And some of it is out of a sense of deference. Like, this story and this book has been so important to women that I don't want to go if it's supposed to be a sacred space for women. Will it be OK if I go? And of course it will be OK, but I think that it's interesting to hear from men who are thinking about this for themselves and are sort of "Little Women" men who love this story and want to be a part of it.

KELLY: "Little Women" men - that's the term you're giving them, people who are would-be fans.

HESSE: Yes - the hardy, brave men of "Little Women."

KELLY: Are some of them, if they're being completely honest, fessing up to the fact that they're just maybe not that interested in the tale of four sisters in Civil War-era Massachusetts?

HESSE: I think that this is a problem and a discussion we've had for a while in society - that when we talk about coming-of-age novels about young men like "Lord Of The Flies" or "A Separate Peace" or "Catcher In The Rye" or Charles Dickens' works, we think, well, those are universal stories. They are about young men, but they're really universal. And then when we have coming-of-age stories about young women, we think that they're Civil War-era chick flicks. We think that it's just literature for women.

And so I think that there's a bit of reframing that still needs to happen and saying, this is a novel that happens to star four young women, but it's about figuring out who you are. It's about charting your own destiny. It's about weighing what your family expects of you versus what society expects of you versus what you expect of yourself. And these are really universal themes that aren't tied to gender at all.

KELLY: You're hitting on such an important point there because I can't think of a single woman who would feel like she needed permission or needed to be asked to go to see - I don't know - a Vin Diesel movie, that that would be some sacred male space. If you want to see it, you go see it. But it is this important question of, are women's stories somehow not seen as being as important or as universal as men's stories? And in 2020, why would that not be the case?

HESSE: Well - and I think there's also a matter - I mean, men have proven that they're interested in women's stories at the box office when those women are Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, when those women are headlining DC Comics or Marvel Comics movies. "Little Women" is a quiet movie because it's about relationships and it's about family and it's about more intimate experiences.


RONAN: (As Jo March) I get in a passion. I get so savage. I could hurt anyone, and I'd enjoy it.

LAURA DERN: (As Marmee March) You remind me of myself.

RONAN: (As Jo March) But you're never angry.

DERN: (As Marmee March) I'm angry nearly every day of my life.

RONAN: (As Jo March) You are?

DERN: (As Marmee March) I am not patient by nature, but with nearly 40 years of effort, I'm learning to not let it get the better of me.

RONAN: (As Jo March) I'll do the same, then.

DERN: (As Marmee March) I hope you'll do a great deal better than me. There are some natures too noble to curb and too lofty to bend.

HESSE: And I think that those are the types of stories that maybe men need to be encouraged that - if they're interested in those kinds of stories, that's wonderful. Of course you should have permission to go to the theater and cry and wonder if Jo ends up with Laurie or Professor Bhaer. Of course that's your story, too. That's America's story.

KELLY: I will note before we get the outraged mail coming in that you note in your writing about this that there are men going to see this. Barack Obama included it in his list of favorite movies for 2019, and Ryan Reynolds is tweeting happily about it.

HESSE: Yes, and I should say that since my column came out, I have received articles from men who were flabbergasted that any men would think this way. I heard - I had a lovely email from a man who had just gotten back from seeing it with his teenage son, and they both liked it. And he was surprised that they were the only men in the theater. He - it never even occurred to him that this would be an issue.

KELLY: OK, so for those who are still on the fence, who are not completely persuaded, give me your best pitch for why a man should go see a story about four young women, four little women.

HESSE: Because I don't think "Little Women" is a chick story. I think that it's an American story.


LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) Frankly, I don't see why she didn't marry the neighbor.

RONAN: (As Jo March) Well, because the neighbor marries her sister.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) Right, right, of course. So who does she marry?

RONAN: (As Jo March) No one. She doesn't marry either of them.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) No. No, no, no. That won't work at all.

RONAN: (As Jo March) Well, she says the whole book that she doesn't want to marry.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) Who cares? Girls want to see women married, not consistent.

RONAN: (As Jo March) No. It isn't the right ending.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) The right ending is the one that sells. Trust me. If you decide to end your delightful book with your heroine a spinster, no one will buy it. It won't be worth printing.

RONAN: (As Jo March) Well, I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition, even in fiction.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) It's romance.

RONAN: (As Jo March) It's mercenary.

LETTS: (As Mr. Dashwood) Just end it that way, will you?

HESSE: And I think that it is moving and heartfelt and funny, and I think that men deserve to feel all of those emotions, too.

KELLY: That's Monica Hesse, columnist for The Washington Post. Thank you so much.

HESSE: Thanks for having me.