I know my memory is probably off and I’m sure I received books as a child at Christmas more than once but I can recall only one time. I was in fifth grade and my parents gave me a two volume hardback set. They had prettily illustrated dust jackets and when you took the jackets off, the author’s names were done in big, old English, fancy, gold lettering on the spines. One was a collection of novels by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. The other was Louisa May Alcott. It contained the novels Little Women, Good Wives, and Little Men.
I still have the books. They are laying on the table beside of me as I write this. They are faded and dusty and held together with spit and hope. When I first received them, they seemed the most special and magical things I had ever owned. Over the remainder of school vacation, I read both volumes. Twain went quickly because it did not interest me much and I skimmed quite a bit. Alcott, on the other hand, I read every word and I read for hours without moving from my bed or my chair. I read it the way a desert traveler drinks from an oasis, with vigor and enthusiasm, as if it were the last book I would ever read.
I could not get enough of the story, especially of Jo. Jo was a writer! She was bookish. She was adventurous. I wanted to be Jo. I started writing in a diary. Those novels were a very big deal for me.
I read aloud to my daughter just about every day of her life until she told me she no longer wanted to be tucked in at night. And still, we had read aloud time during summer breaks. One of the many novels I read to her was Little Women.
Jo was still my hero. Jo will always be my hero. But Beth? Beth is a problem. She is so damned noble and long-suffering, so niiiiiiice. I am never going to be that nice. I don’t want to be that nice. But I felt like a failure for much of my adulthood because I did not measure up to the Beth March ideal. I felt less than. Nobody is that perfect. They can’t be.
I am not Beth March. I get flak for not being more grateful for help which was not helpful. Because what I’m supposed to do is be a Beacon of Light and Hope, like Beth March, and make everyone else feel good about themselves because they bought a pink curling iron or put a bumper sticker on their car. I’m supposed to post inspirational quotes to Facebook with pictures of sunsets and ocean waves and angels. I’m supposed to be a blank canvas, an IMAX screen for others to project their own assumptions, their own fears, their own ideas, about death and dying and disease and femininity and the randomness of the universe. I’m supposed to do all of this, like Beth March, until I pass gracefully on to my Eternal Reward and then everyone can stand around the funeral home and remark on how brave and wonderful I was right up to the end and what a fine Christian example I set.
Fuck Beth March. I’m not going to sit by, smile sweetly, die pretty. I have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing my fiftieth birthday. That makes me mad. It ought to make you mad, too. It ought to piss you off, the way breast cancer rates are going through the roof. It ought to piss you off there is very little research being done on Stage IV disease because until we lick the problems of metastatic disease, there is no cure.
It ought to really, really, steam your shorts to see so many companies co-opting the good will and determination of others to fight breast cancer for their own means. And it ought to make you fucking outraged that companies who are making products that contain known cancer-causing materials are slapping pink ribbons on their products.
Pink washing is a thing. It is a marketing tool. It is not a force for good. It should piss you off. It should piss you off a lot. Businesses do it because they think you aren’t paying attention. Show them they are wrong.
Beth March may have been, may still be, the ideal of perfect womanhood to many. Beth March died. She died young. She died without much complaint. She died of something it took medicine decades to figure out. Don’t be Beth.
Visit The Breast Cancer Action site to learn more: