Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, but she also penned a large number of short stories and poems. Hundreds of these pieces are now available for everyone to read through an amazing digital archive known as KindredSpaces.
One of the available stories is The Punishment of the Twins, published in Blue Book Magazine in 1909. In this charming tale, we meet Billy and Priscilla Carr, a set of mischievous twins who rebel from their Great-Aunt Jane’s stern authority. The mastermind of the pair is Priscilla, whose independent spirit challenges the gender norms of her time. She prefers to wear pants, explaining to a set of awestruck boys with whom she plans to go fishing, “You boys don’t know how well off you are, never having to fuss with skirt and frills.”
As one of the boys recognizes, Priscilla is “no ordinary girl” — at least for the turn of the last century. In Priscilla’s world, no one questions the idea that “sex has its limitations.” Thus, as Montgomery writes, “Priscilla could wear masculine garments undauntedly [while] her feminine soul recoiled from worms.”
My 21st Century daughters balk at the concept of “masculine garments” and “feminine souls.” My girls don’t mind worms, and most of the women in their lives wear pants more often than skirts or dresses.
What is “ordinary” for a girl to do today is quite different from what gender norms allowed women to do in Montgomery’s time. We’ve come a long way in a hundred years, as women have inched toward equality with men in Montgomery’s country (Canada) and also in mine (the United States).
On November 8th, we learned that we haven’t come as far as many of us had hoped. In the United States, a highly qualified candidate who happens to be female lost the presidential election to a man with no qualifications who boasts about grabbing women by the genitals.
Sadly, Hillary’s loss to Trump shows us that little girls who dream of becoming President remain “extraordinary.” It would be astonishing for one of them to succeed in a country that still believes women just aren’t qualified for the job.