A ‘gritty’ Little Women reboot is a terrible idea—but not for the reason you think

The Internet’s rage du jour is the CW‘s attempt to massacre our collective childhoods by developing a “hyper-stylized, gritty” dystopic version of Little Women.

Yes, that Little Women, 19th-century classic of Young Adult literature. The writer of this a dark conspiracy story told on the streets of Philadelphia is a “rising star,” i.e. a dude with no proven commercial experience, named Alexis Jolly. The producer is, wait for it, Michael Weatherlythe guy who plays Tony on NCIS

We have so many questions, but only one of them is worth caring about. Let’s see if you can guess which it is:

  • What does a hyper-stylized, gritty dystopia set in futuristic Philadelphia involving an epic conspiracy have to do with Little Women, a story that was originally about four sisters growing up on their own and battling economic hardship with their mother while their father is away fighting the Civil War?
  • Why couldn’t the show just be about kickass sisters? Why drag Louisa May Alcott into this?
  • Is this all Sleepy Hollow‘s fault?
  • Seriously, Michael Weatherly came up with this?

Twitter has been eviscerating the concept of a “dystopic” Little Women ever since the news broke, but there have also been plenty of people quick to point out that as heartwarming stories go, Little Women is actually downright infuriating. 

Seriously. Why waste your rage on a dystopic Little Women when you could apply it to much more pertinent eternal ragebait, like the fact that a character actually knits herself to death, or that three different sisters all fall in love with the same boy, or the moment Amy burns Jo’s book manuscript, or the way every other character besides Jo is actually terrible?

Tumblr

Why do we even like this book? Even Louisa May Alcott hated it. She hated kids, hated writing it, and hated the fact that 19th-century girls were begging her to have Jo marry Laurie instead of being a kickass feminist. So, because her publishers were forcing her to marry off her main character, and because she found Jo/Laurie a horrifying prospect, she “made a funny match for her” instead—a poor German immigrant professor who gets annoyed because her writing isn’t moral enough. Thanks, Louisa. Thanks.

OK, fine. We like this book because it was one of the first American novels to introspectively examine the interior lives of women while sending a female character, Jo, on a hero’s journey. As far as literary heroines go, Jo March is one of the greatest—even if she does only write for money, and did almost let her sister drown that one time. Hey, Amy burned her novel. Totally justified.

So now for the real question: Why isn’t a woman writing this show?

Little Women is a novel about a woman trying to make it as a professional writer in a world where men are constantly dictating what she should write about and what her values as a writer should be. These are values she mostly ingests—and they’re also values Louisa May Alcott had to submit to as she was writing the book. 

Look, we’re sure Alexis Jolly’s a great writer. He might even be totally invested in preserving the narrative of Jo and Amy’s struggles to become creators, their conflicts with each other over art, and the challenges they face in the process of finding who they are as artists.

But Little Women was revolutionary precisely because a woman was writing it about women’s internal lives. The removal of women from the creative team tells a less authentic story. The book has been adapted as a film at least six times, and while only one of those films featured a woman in the directors’ chair, women wrote or cowrote the screenplays for every single adaptation. For a reboot purporting to take the story in a whole new direction, it’s even more important to make sure that the concerns of the original narrative aren’t erased, and that women aren’t erased from the screenwriting team.

Jo March deserves nothing less—nor do the countless female readers who’ve made Little Women the classic that it is today.

Photo via littlewomen/Wikia

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.