My film studies class just got done watching Gone With the Wind. I always follow the viewing with a discussion about Scarlet. I try to ask a variety of thought-provoking questions.
“If Scarlet was a real person, would you want to be friends with her? Raise your hand if the answer is yes.”
No hands went up.
“Why not?” I asked them.
Many answers were murmured at once, but this is what I got: she’s a liar, a cheat, she steals other girls’ boyfriends, and as one boy said under his breath, “she’s a slut.”
I’ve taught this course for many years, and it happens every time; somebody calls Scarlet either a “slut,” a “ho,” or something even worse that I’ll refrain here from writing down.
So then I ask them, “What about Rhett? He was with more women than Scarlet was with men.”
They tell me that it’s different. Rhett wasn’t using these women for their money, he wasn’t lying to them, and he wasn’t mean to them.
The fact that Rhett conceivably raped Scarlet (based on your interpretation of events) doesn’t really seem to bother them at all.
It didn’t bother me when I was sixteen either. In fact, I probably would have said similar things had I been asked those questions when I was in high school.
But now I point out that Scarlet had very few options. She had a family to feed and a home to preserve, and her job options were nonexistent. Her only means of survival was to find a rich man to marry. To do that, she had be attractive, tantalizing, and yes, manipulative. She needed to embody every negative female stereotype that helped coin such phrases as slut and ho.
Of course, Scarlet is a fictional character. However, the reality for women still doesn’t present an even playing field. An article from the New York Times out yesterday mentions how job recovery for women is lagging behind job recovery for men. It also suggests that professionals from jobs which are dominated by women, namely teaching, are more likely to be under fire for being whiny when it comes to things like negotiating rights and pay increases. Firefighters don't often get criticized the way teachers do.
How do we fix gender inequality? How do we move past dangerous stereotypes and double standards? Nobody I know has an answer, and like Scarlet, we all just want to think about it tomorrow.