by Rev Roberta Topham, Minister at Christchurch URC and Methodist Partnership Church

AT the cinema last week I viewed a U rated film that is so radical a large section of the population aren’t able to contemplate watching it! The subversive film is Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version of Little Women (based on Louisa M Alcott’s 1868 book). At the showing I attended there were only two men present in an otherwise packed room. Early reviews of the film noted that men seemed to be avoiding it. What a shame, as the film has much to delight everyone and offers insights into all kinds of relationships. Yes, the central characters are all young women but they relate to a wide variety of men and people of all ages (although there isn’t any reflection on multi-culturalism despite Alcott being involved in the anti-slavery movement). The film is radical in that the March family at the centre of the story break beyond the traditional female roles of mother, daughter and lover. Jo March in particular develops a career in writing and (without spoiling the story for anyone who doesn’t know it), she is also something of an entrepreneur. While the film has a strong romantic element it also includes platonic friendships and inter-generational relationships. Sibling rivalry, grumpy aunts and the way our view of ourselves and others can change over time are all in the film. What it is to be male and female is presented in a much more nuanced, interesting and real way than in many a modern rom-com – despite all the long dresses and bows!

It might seem strange that a representative of Christianity should write in this way as the Church has often lagged behind in matters of gender equality. I believe that the basis for a greater empowerment of women (and consequently of men) is right there in the Gospel stories about Jesus. Recently, the Methodist Church, in which I am a minister, has been reflecting on relationships, gender and sexuality. In its recent report God in Love Unites Us it charts the possibility of looking at all relationships in terms of their purposes, one of which is to promote greater care for God’s world, our beleaguered planet. The report looks to encourage and support a wide range of relationships that work towards this and other vital purposes. I wonder if this Valentine’s day might be a great opportunity to celebrate friendship and a variety of relationships, and not just be an expensive splash of romance for those who will enjoy that. Perhaps a date to see the film Little Women might be just the thing?