Subvert gender stereotype in case of Gone With the Wind
Although the film Gone With the Wind is highly controversial with depiction of racial stereotypes, it is according to some critics more of “a study in gender roles, in what it means to be a man or a woman in the South” (Jones 105). The film sets on the Southern culture, a war’s losing side, during the Civil War. On the one hand, it is easy to think the film reinforces gender stereotypes by tightly prescribing gender roles to mask a patriarchy organized around the property, class, lineage and white supremacy. White women were put on pedestals; black women were sexually exploited to fulfill mother figures for their owner’s benefits. White men saw themselves as gallant rulers, and black men, as slaves, were treated contemptuously. On the other hand, such Southern culture and the powerful patriarchal elite both ended up in destruction while the main female character Scarlett O’Hara survived and flourished eventually. Hence, I believe that the movie Gone With The Wind subverts the gender stereotypy by describing the dissolution of the patriarchal society and the rise of the female character Scarlett, who railed against the socially constructed overemphasis on women’s appearance or manners and achieved independence with self-determination.
The film subverts the male-as-conquering-hero myth as it describes the dissolution of old culture where the gender roles were tightly prescribed to mask a patriarchy organized around the property, class, lineage and white supremacy. To a large extent, the preservation of such ideology depends on the tightly prescribed gender and racial roles. At the central position to the South culture is the “Southern belle”, who mold their body into a stiff and slim cone-shape with whalebones inserted in the lining of outer garments and also bounded against individuality by social taboos. Being the model of Southern womanhood, Scarlett's mother, Ellen, accepts all the stereotypical female responsibilities as a traditional mom, always with a bit of darning or needlework in her hands and often worked as a nurse caring for the family. However when the world changes, this fine lady is no longer to fulfill her traditional hostess role and lost her life purpose in the post-bellum America. After writing to request Scarlett coming back to the rescue for years, Ellen dies at a crucial moment: when the war's end and before Scarlett's return. Such timing can be interpreted as both emphasizing Ellen’s helplessness when she lost her past glory and conveying the message that the ideals symbolized by Ellen, including those feminine, have become anachronistic. Melanie, like Ellen, is also stereotypically feminine. Unlike Scarlett, Melanie welcomes domesticity; she risks her own life twice in order to have children of her own. Dying while pregnant eventually, Melanie represents the ultimate woman, while her death enforces the diminishing destiny of the submissive wife and the radical sisterhood.
Besides the Southern belle, Scarlett’s father is another extinct example as a stereotypical white male ruler, who used to be the owner of the plantation. Although being a member of powerful patriarchal elites, he cannot outlive the destruction and went crazy when the Union army called. As a close-up of saying, "I'll show you who the owner of Tara is", this insane man begins riding the horse but falls to his death. The film subverts the male-as-conquering-hero myth as it portraits Gerald as perhaps the least able to cope with the change caused by the Civil War. He is unable to accept his wife's death and the end of the Southern order of chivalry, retreats into his childhood and hands the management of plantation to her daughter, Scarlett. Moreover, Gerald is not only male who didn’t survived, neither is the “perfect gentleman” Ashley, who is Scarlett’s childhood fantasy. Both men find themselves powerless to change their absolutist beliefs and are destroyed by their inflexibility. At any rate both Gerald and Ashley, like Ellen and Melanie, must die, and each death serves importantly as part of the old gender-stereotypical culture’s destroy. Their tendency to indulge in the old culture where the gender roles were tightly prescribed and their lack of necessary strength to adapt in the reconstructed world subverts the concept of patriarchy and gender stereotype because such ideology symbolized by them is doomed to wither away.
Standing the opposite, the main character Scarlett O’Hara survived by subverting the gender stereotypes. To achieve fully self-expression, Scarlett rails against the socially constructed regulations on women such as overemphasis women’s appearance and manners. While other female “imprisoned” themselves in the whalebone linings, Scarlett is proud of her 17 inches waist. As saying to her mammy, “I’m tired of acting like I don't eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired”, Scarlett nevertheless audaciously expresses her own feelings. She eats and dances as much as she likes; she ignores the prescribed taboos on feminine manners and appearance. The movie rebels the gender-stereotypical overemphasizes on female physical appearance by choosing such untypical lady as the primary protagonist of the movie, not the “perfect” Melanie. Through her words, the movie speaks out loud what a women’s true feelings about the social regulations and encourage them to have healthy diet, dress comfortably and enjoy their own hobbies, modeled by Scarlett. Not only did the movie give female such encouragement, it also tells women that the ability to adapt is vital to survive in the changing world. In the movie, Scarlett’s carelessness of the appearance and manners gives her all the advantages and the victories, lets her triumph over difficult odds, even while society criticizes her in virtually every female role as a “bad” daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, and lover. For example, although her callused hands “don't belong to a lady”, mocked by her lover Rhett, she is able to feed the whole family by doing the work of two men in the field.
She lacks the instinctive gentleness and self-effacing qualities of the true Southern lady.
· She is all dressed up in red and shows up in public dancing party in mourning after her first husband dies shortly after joining the army. While in normal widowhood, Scarlett would refrain from laughter and pleasure, such as dancing.
· Quotation: “Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”
Furthermore, her disobedience is a reflection of her determination for independence. Rather than being a submissive wife, Scarlett accepts all responsibility for the whole family and finds purpose in life, determined to resurrect the plantation to its former glory. By subverting the traditional gender roles, Scarlett O’Hara overcame all odds to care for her family and herself.
· She delivers a baby during a Yankee siege, nursing dying soldiers, pick cotton, kills a soldier, runs a lumber mill. She shed the false femininity of the belle in order to reach her true feminine strength.
· This tension is manifest when messages of collective American values of career success, self-expression, and especially independence, opposed to domesticity, self-denial, dependence as expressed in idealized femininity.
· Quotation: “Burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them.” -Scarlett
The naysayer’s paragraph: One might argue that the classic pose in the poster of the film that Rhett holds Scarlett with her face upturned and upper body partly exposed sends a clear message that male dominance and female passivity, which reinforce the gender stereotype.
· However such image never complete in reality, and this is precisely the point: Scarlett and Rhett eventually devoiced because of her inability and unwillingness to do more than feign the role of submissive wife. Although caught in the powerful patriarchy, Scarlett exposes its fallacies and her determination to rail against it by violating it throughout at price of loneliness.
· If not for Rhett’ stereotypical view on her wife, they could have end up in happiness. Thus, to fight against gender stereotypes is in urgent need.