You men tell us we are angels, and say we can make you what we will; but the instant we honestly try to do you good, you laugh at us, and won’t listen, which proves how much your flattery is worth.

Amy calls out Laurie’s fickle respect of herself and all the March women when he prods her to say what she really thinks of him after romping around Europe. He tells Marmee, Jo, and Amy at different points that he intends to be good and make them proud, but instead he acts lazy, restless, and selfish. As soon as Amy begins to chastise him, Laurie pleads he is sorry without hearing or internalizing the things Amy tells him. She points out the double standard she has experienced when men want to put women on pedestals as perfect examples of good people, but they will not take those same women seriously if they try to inspire better behavior in men. This double standard helps no one, as women are not perfect but they are capable of giving sound advice, just as men are.

I’ve got the key to my [castle in the air] but I’m not allowed to try it. Hang college!

Laurie’s earliest and longest lasting dream is to be a musician, but his grandfather sees music as a more feminine pursuit. He wants Laurie to follow a traditionally masculine path of going to college and becoming a businessman instead. In following his grandfather’s wishes, Laurie becomes restless and dissatisfied. While he does learn to work hard and think about how his actions affect others, he never finds a way to apply himself well to academics or business on this path. Laurie is at his best when he emulates the March family, and it is Amy’s encouragement that helps him find purpose and direction in writing music. He grows as a person only when he invests in the things he is passionate about rather than in his society’s expectation of gender.

Don’t try and make me grow up before my time, Meg; it’s hard enough to have you change all of a sudden; let me be a little girl as long as I can.

Most of the ways the characters in Little Women are expected to conform to gender conventions are about being men and women rather than boys and girls. Although Mr. March calls the girls his “little women” from the first chapter, clearly they are children in the process of learning children’s lessons. When Mr. Brooke begins to express interest in Meg, Jo witnesses the jarring transition from childhood into womanhood and is reluctant to give up her freedom. Growing up naturally requires Laurie as well as the girls to shoulder more responsibilities and hold themselves to higher expectations. However, as Laurie grows up, he receives more power of choice and independence, whereas Meg’s transition into adulthood leads her immediately into homebound duties as a wife.

If she had not got the new idea into her head, she would have seen nothing unusual in the fact, that Beth was very quiet, and Laurie very kind to her.

Although Jo scoffs at the indications of love young women display in stories, she immediately assumes Beth is in love when Beth acts distressed around Laurie. Jo and the rest of the family desperately want to believe Beth is recovered from her childhood illness, so Jo looks for other plausible explanations for Beth’s decline in temperament. Jo also wants to deflect the possibility that Laurie is in love with her, so it is convenient for Jo to think Laurie is falling in love with Beth. Jo’s main evidence for this theory on either side is that Beth is a woman who is kind to Laurie and he is a man and kind to Beth. She pairs the two together because it is a convenient explanation for two uncomfortable realities in her life, and because it easily fits her community’s expectations of men and women. Without this fantasy, Jo could have saved herself, Beth, and Laurie the delay of knowing where they all stand.