Oct 8, 2015

A Thought About Scarlett O'Hara

In the recent days I finally finished reading "Gone With The Wind", by Margaret Mitchell. This was the first book I actually paid for on my Kindle. I bought it while I was in Budapest. back in 2012. Then I started reading it and left it when I had read about 20% of it. Taking on this book was part of a decision I made after I completed my 2015 Goodreads Challenge for the first time and rather early. I've never before read 24 books within a year, so as I finished my 24 books by August and then read some more, I decided thatI had the time to take on three books I've left half read for quite a while. Gone With The Wind was the first of them.

I assume everybody knows about Gone With The Wind, at least from the movies, but in case you've lived under a rock, or too submerged in reality TV, action movies, modern chick flicks and teenie movies made out of best seller books written in the trend of a very, very lean plot and 0% brain activity, let me summarize it quckly for you. Gone With The Wind is a novel that plays out in Georgia, between Atlanta and a place named Tara, somewhere around Jonesboro in the time of the Civil War (you know, Confederates with grey uniforms and Union soldiers with blue uniforms, North vs South in a war that's known for takingon the abolition of slavery in America), and extends a little past it. The novel goes around Scarlett O'Hara, a beautiful, selfish and stubborn girl who has many pretenders, but is in love with Ashley Wilkes. She marries three men she doesn't love and suffers because Ashley maries Melanie Hamilton, a humble, simple girl that loves Scarlett more than anyone else. Then, there's Rhett Butler, a man who sees through Scarlett, knows her secrets and loves to taunt her constantly. He doesn't seem to fall in love with her, but flirts in his mean and denigrating way, always seeking to make her loose her temper. He's also wealthy and known for the shady businesses he's always involved in.

Scarlett and Ashley. Taken from Google.
Through the novel Scarlett looses everything and must fight to keep herself and her family from starvation and eviction. She doesn't shy away from anything, even resourcing to Rhett for help, or tricking and manipulating people to get what she wants. From the many suitors she has in the begining, her "romantic" life ends up reduced to her love for Ashley, who doesn't seem to correspond her feelings, and Rhett, to whom she's attracted, buut who never misses a chance to hurt her and humiliate her.

In the movie Rhett is less of an abusive bastard and Ashley is more clear about not corresponding her feelings, but in the book Ashley clearly leads her on and Rhett openly mistreats her, threatening her often with physical violence, being physically violent, abusing her verbally, sexually and even using her, destroying her reputation by leading her to bad company, forcing her to keep bad company and not shying away from spreading lies about her in order to improve his own reputation before society. This all made in such a way where he threatens Scarlett with violence if she dares to "undo his work" or "call on his lies".

Scarlett and Rhett. Taken from Google.
As I read the book it got me thinking about how awful Scarlett's situation is, how trapped she is, and how the narrative forces her to see her love life necessarily as a choice between Ashley and Rhett, for being alone of with someone else is not an option. By the end of the novel Scalett is told that Rhett loves her, though he doesn't really ever shows so, and only says so once when drunk, but the rest of the time vehemently denies loving her. Scarlett actually considers herself stupid for not realizing this sooner. And this is where I made a stop and thought of how this Ashley-Rhett thing is still imposed on us by society.

In today's society, as modern as it is, and as much as the role of women in it has changed, girls are still brought up with the idea that they should grow up and be pretty, get married and have children. Success in the case of women is often still measured in the "quality" of the husband they can procure for themselves, and failure in not getting any husband. And husbands are a thing to catch. Tons of books aimed for women have the heroine getting the guy. In the case of romance novels, well, it's all about her getting her "happily ever after", and the idea is also hammered in that a woman must fight to keep the love of her man. Subtly, we are also taught that the love of men must be read between lines, guessed from nearly imagined gestures, and their aggressions taken as unmistakable signs of love.

In both of Scarlet's love interests we find two of the lies we are told. Ashley represents the idea sold to us - and also to men - that love can be conquered if you just fight for it and keep pressing the matter regardless of the clear rejection of the other party. Ashley, actually bound by chivalry doesn't find the way to pull Scarlett away from himself. But then, in the book, his character seems to split between that of a man clearly subjected to harrassment, who's desire to be left alone and his wish not to be disturbed with the matter anymore deserves no respect from Scarlett, to that of a man, who then chooses to allow some of her advances, much to his own displeasure, and thus leading her on into thinking she has made progress in her coquest. I'll gender-switch the situation for you to see it more clearly. Imagine a girl - Ashley - who has this guy friend - Scar - whom she loves very much as a friend, and whom she admires by the way he so fearlessly takes on life. Scar is infatuated with Ashley and decides to start courting her. Ashley isn't interested in Scar but doesn't want to lose his friendship, so she tries to dissuade him. Scar won't give in and keeps pressing and pressing until Ashley, starts giving in a little, though each time she gives in she feels bad. Ashley is happily married to the man she loves, Mel, but Scar doesn't seem to care about that.

You see the situation here?

In the second case - which sadly is tried to be sold to us as Scarlett's true love - our heroine is faced with a man who dedicates every minute he has with her to insult her. He starts by telling her she's not a lady, and then, as he makes sure to be very polite and gallant to other women, often in front of Scarlett, he always makes sure to insult her and compare her to other women, making her feel less. Even when he starts with an apparent flattery, he quickly turns his words until they become hurtful. This goes on to the point where whenever he says something nice to her Scarlett braces for the nasty part, an if it doesn't come she becomes antsy waiting for the blow to happen. Though Scarlett is actively portrayed as a bully, and not once in the book she appears to be happy, in the end she becomes addicted to Rhett's treatment and craves it. She goes to the point where, when finally being abandoned by Rhett, she decides to plot to get him back.

As women, we have been told so many times that we need to have a partner in our lives, that our existence isn't complete unless we have someone at our side, that often we come to regard to the person who pays attention to us as our one and only ticket for salvation. Be it that we hold a torch for an Ashley in our lives who has absolutely no interest in us but can't or won't find the way to plainly let us know, either because our Ashley doesn't wish to hurt us or because he enjoys our attention to some extent; or the Rhett in our lives, the guy that likes to keep us around as his personal amusement, and makes anything to provoke anger, sadness or hurt in us. The Rhett can also be that guy (or girl) who often or even constantly minimizes us. Our issues aren't important and we are either selfish or stupid for thinking so. Our opinion is stupid or baseless, our programs or agenda are secondary to anything else. This Rhett can also be the person that tends to compare us with other, usually in a light that makes us look like we are less, even when said in a way that appears to be positive. For instance, the love interest who remarks how someone you may not like has been loosing weight while you might have been gaining some pounds.

The Rhett is also that girl or guy who never notices your successes and if he or she does, the tone in which they do makes it sound like it's not so important. "Yes honey, you finally got our  PhD in Quantum Physics, congratulations. And did you see how lovely is Anna's new baby? She must be really proud. Her and her husband. Have you thought about what should we give her? It's an important moment in her life, you know?". See what I mean?

How many times to we feel guilty for feeling bad? How many times do we feel judged, like we must fight to make a relationship work even when clearly it can't because the other part isn't interested in it? How many times do we ignore clear signs of mistreatment and abuse because we actually think we can make things better, and maybe even that the abuse is a natural, deserved response to something we did?

It's time to realize that time isn't escaping from us, that being single isn't a crime nor a sign of failure. You are a failure only if you  think you are, not because others say so, or because you've failed to marry and bring children to this planet. Regardless of our tempers, be it Scarletts or Melanies, we are a Scarlett, each of us, and we must learn that we don't need to chase any Ashley, because we are valuable even if he doesn't love us, as long as we do. And as we love ourselves, we must give ourselves, not the permission, but the RIGHT to tell to the Rhetts of our life to grab all their insults and aggressions, roll them up and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. No need to a "I prefer to be alone and poor than with you" speech, all we need is to say "I don't need your crap". We don't need anyone's admiration or respect or love to live and be happy. We need our own love, our own respect and that will take us forward. Even if in the road we fall, even if we end up chasing an Ashley or being subjected to a Rhett, our love and our self respect will pull us out as long as we don't lose it.

If there's anything worth fighting for is yourself, because you are your own Tara, your own strenght, your own root, your own source for everything you'll ever need.

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