Anne of Green Gables is a feminist novel to the extent that it is Anne Shirey’s Bildingsroman as as a feminist. To call her a “feminist” in the strict sense of the word is a bit reductionist unless it can be demonstrated in what manner, to what extent, and specifically by what definition she is a feminist. Feminism is a movement that aims to achieve equality for women in social, economic, and political spheres. Anne is unremittingly assertive and personally endearing, but whether she is a feminist is a question that many might hesitate to answer with conviction as they call to mind Lucy Maud Montgomery’s charming and loquacious protagonist. This paper will argue from textual examples that she is a feminist, whose character best embodies the nature, context, and goals of third-wave feminism, with elements of the more modern so-called “intersectional feminism.” Before making such a specific claim, however, a definition of terms is necessary.
Martha Rampton of Pacifica’s University’s identifies four waves of feminism. The first she locates squarely in the context of the late nineteenth century, and she identifies its primary goal as achieving the right to vote. The second wave of the 1960s and 1970s took interest in reproductive rights and more extensive legal provisions for women, as outlined by the nascent Equal Rights Amendment. The third wave is distinguished by its attention to oppression of women for reasons other than gender, including class and racial inequality. Third wave feminism, too, is distinguished especially from the second-wave for its “readoption by very young feminists of the very lipstick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low-cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression” (Rampton 2015). The fourth wave, also dubbed “intersectionality,” is a feminism that calls its advocates to attend to differences between and inequality among races, ethnicities, classes, religions, and sexualities. It acknowledges that “claims made in the name of women as a class can function to silence or marginalize some women by universalizing the claims of relatively privileged women” (Dastagir USA Today).
Of these issues, Anne Shirey is especially interested in social and economic equality. She seeks to distinguish herself by attending Queen’s Academy and subsequently at Redmond University. She gains an economic advantage afforded by the Avery scholarship, for which she and her longtime rival (the male) Gilbert Blythe compete. Furthermore, Miss Stacey routinely tells her pupils to support each other, and at one point, Anne explains that “Miss Stacy took all us girls who are in our teens down to the brook last Wednesday…and told us we couldn’t be too careful what habits we formed and what ideals we acquired in our teens” (Montgomery 302). Later, after Anne’s tenure at Avonlea, Miss Stacy clearly still wields influence over Anne (“Anne intended taking up the Second Year, being advised to do so by Miss Stacy,” 350). This more than fleeting influence that Miss Stacy has on young women especially is a hallmark of feminism.
That which distinguishes Anne from orthodox early feminists (whose chronology the novel, published in 1908, would of course more closely match), and what aligns her with the feminists of the late-twentieth century is her eventual collegiality with women across classes. The novel acknowledges and addresses class struggles through the unnamed “lady in the pink silk” who appears briefly during the scene of Anne’s recitation. This “wife of an American millionaire first appears to scrutinize Anne, but then later affirms her “splendid” recitation and “took her under her wing” (343). Equally noteworthy is Anne’s equal obeisance to middle and upper-class women. Her resolve to care for Marilla at the end of the novel is evidence of this allegiance to women whatever the cost, and not for reasons of material gain for oneself. Here specifically (viz. the inattention to class) is where the novel falls short of the so-called “fourth wave” feminism, which seeks to acknowledge open and rectify these differences.
Modern feminists, too, would surely critique Anne’s self-deprecations, and even perhaps her most squarely third-wave feminist behavior: her attention to her outward appearance. In one of the novel’s earliest scenes, she laments to Matthew, “I’m so homely nobody will ever want to marry me” (19). As Anne develops as a character and—more to the point—as a woman, she demonstrates assertiveness with respect to her appearance. She insists of “garland[ing] her hat with a heavy wreath of wind-stirred buttercups and wild roses,” (101) and delights in the gift of a fine and comparatively ostentatious dress with famously “puffed sleeves” which Matthew takes pains to procure for her, and also the “slippers with beaded toes and satin bows and glistening buckles,” from Aunt Josephine (255). The collective contribution to Anne’s wardrobe and Anne’s own attention to it is a sign of her confidence and self-assuredness as a woman.
To be sure, Anne is an ideological feminist; however, the claim that Anne of Green Gables represents feminist literature merits a review and clarification of terms. Such a discussion has justified such a designation and, in turn, has elicited some deeper meanings from the text itself.
Dastagir, Alia, “What is intersectional feminism? A look at the term you may be hearing a lot,” USA Today, 19 Jan 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/19/feminism-intersectionality-racism-sexism-class/96633750/. Accessed 28 May 2016.
Rampton, Martha, “Four Waves of Feminism.” Pacifica University Center for Gender Studies, 25 October 2015, https://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism. Accessed 27 May 2017.
Montgomery, L. M., Anne of Green Gables. Planet EBook.com, 1908.
https://www.planetebook.com/ebooks/Anne-of-Green-Gables.pdf. Accessed 26 May 2017.
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