Feminism and will, as seen in The Brady Bunch and Gone with the Wind

Scott C. writes:

Everything you need to know about feminism can be found in one episode of the 1970s situation comedy, “The Brady Bunch.”

Notice that it’s not called the Brady Family or simply the Bradys. The reason is that it’s about a single father, with three sons, and a single mother, with three daughters, who fall in love and get married. Or, actually, they decide to move in with each other so they can split the rent and have sex while they raise their unrelated children. They do not conceive a child together and thus never form a true union.

It’s the new family! The new husband, the new wife, the man, the new woman, the new son, the new daughter, the new boy, the new girl. They’re not bound by the outdated modes of tradition. They’re hip, modern, and oh so liberal.

There was one episode in Marsha, the oldest daughter, wakes up one day and decides she wants to be a Boy Scout. She goes down to the troop, and the leader asks her, “Why do you want to be a Boy Scout? Why don’t you want to be a Girl Scout?”

Marsha immediately becomes horribly offended. “This is discrimination!” And she goes on a tear. She organizes marches in the streets, with signs, placards, billboards, and bullhorns. Television cameras. She brings the entire town to its knees. Julian of Norwich had nothing on this girl.

Finally, the parents—the supposed adults—relent. They just throw their hands up and surrender. “It’s okay, Marsha. Calm down. You can be a Boy Scout.”

And Marsha flips her hair and says, ” Well, I don’t really want to be a Boy Scout. I just wanted to prove that I could.”

Now, think about how incredibly stupid this is. This girl, Marsha, becomes horribly offended for no reason. In fact, she goes out and deliberately looks for something, anything, to be offended by, so that she can throw a fit. And she throws a royal fit. She becomes totally motivated, psychologically determined, physically committed to proving … that she can do what she does not want to do.

Think about it, seriously. It’s the essence of feminism, and of liberalism.

- end of initial entry -

LA to Scott C.:

Thanks for this. Excellent points.

Was this set off by what I said yesterday to Kathlene M. about what women want, that they don’t want respect, they just want to have their own way?

Scott C. replies:

Yes. I’ve thought this for decades. I watched the original show and thought, “That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen.” But for some strange reason, unfathomable to minds of men, every girl in America found this show empowering.

It was a real and total attitude shift. Most of them became undate-able.

I ought to send you my thoughts on Gone With the Wind, which is the best romance ever written. But it would take an essay. In short, almost every romance novel follows a formula—girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy back.

This book has a plot—girl meets man, girl refuses to grow up, man leaves.

Margaret Mitchell understood romance. It’s an informing strategy through which we make sense of the world.

Unfortunately, these days most women get their world view from a situation comedy that wasn’t very funny to begin with.

LA replies:

Re Gone with the Wind, absolutely. Scarlett has that insane willfulness, and it ruins everything; that’s what the story is all about. The author, instead of celebrating her heroine’s willfulness, sees it as a terrible flaw. That’s what gives the story its moral and emotional power.

Scott C. writes:

Correct. But it goes much deeper than that.

Scarlett loves Ashley, but he won’t have anything to do with her. Why? Because he knows her. He knows she will never be anything other than a stupid, spoiled, conceited little girl. Ashley marries a woman, Melanie.

Rhett loves Scarlett, but she ignores him. Why? Because he isn’t a scion, a son of privilege. He is beneath her.

It’s this sense of entitlement and pretense to superiority that drives the novel. Scarlett eventually marries Rhett. Why? Because she needs his money, why else?

Then Melanie dies prematurely, leaving Ashley all alone. This is Scarlett’s big chance—girl wins boy back! Not in this book. Ashley doesn’t love her. Scarlett’s husband, Rhett Butler, did love her, but now he’s leaving.

And Scarlett, upon suddenly realizing how incredibly stupid she’s been, desperately tries to salvage their doomed relationship. This is her last chance—girl wins boy back!

“Rhett! Rhett, don’t go, don’t go! Where will I go? What will I do?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The thing is that when Rhett ultimately realizes what Scarlett is all about, that is when he finally comes to know her, and leaves, the only thing he has left—for all of his millions—is the clothes he’s wearing when he walks out the door. Scarlett has ruined every man she has come in contact with.

By contrast, when Melanie dies, Ashley is still wealthy. Theirs was a true love.

It’s a fascinating novel really, rich in symbolism and extraordinarily complex. Against the backdrop of the Civil War, race relations, Southern gentry, the growing feminist movement (at the time Mitchell was writing the book), the author concentrates on the romance.

Rhett had this idiotic idea, typical in medieval romances, that all he had to do was go on a perilous and testing quest to prove himself and win the love of a princess. So he does—he goes to war and saves her estate to gain her affection. And Scarlett betrays, abandons and bankrupts him.

There is so much in this novel that goes to the heart of modern relationships. Margaret Mitchell was a seer.

LA replies:

Thank you again for these illuminating thoughts. While I think the movie deserves its reputation as the best movie ever made, I’ve never read the novel, which I always had the impression was a girls’/women’s novel, but now I want to read it.

B. writes:

I believe that this is part of the essence of liberalism: the belief that it is a open-ended universe. It is … exhilarating, all the freedom it entails. You just can’t have enough of it. Problem is, it isn’t true. Or, at least, it might not be.

Mrs. K. writes:

Re the elder Brady, Scott C. says, “actually, they decide to move in with each other so they can split the rent and have sex while they raise their unrelated children.”

Interesting. I always assumed they were married; maybe that was just a kid’s assumption. Maybe the show mentioned a wedding. I don’t remember ever seeing one. Scott sounds pretty definite about this. Googling, I so far don’t see anything about either a (possibly off camera) wedding, or, living together. Maybe the issue never came up. [LA replies: I never watched the show, I would glance at it and it had no appeal to me at all. I would be shocked if they were living together without marriage. No TV station would allow that, certainly not back then.]

Just so you know, I’m not defending the show, and I never liked it. I found it stupid, nearly as stupid as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby Doo.

Also, some thoughts on Gone with the Wind, which I’ve read every couple of years for over 30 years:

Ashley does not love Scarlett, but I would not concede that he won’t have anything to do with her. He desires her sexually, but instead of keeping this hidden, he embraces and kisses her passionately, and makes inappropriate comments on her physical relationship with Rhett Butler. (“When I think of him touching you, I—”) Scarlett perceives his sexual interest and, understandably, lacking the ability to think analytically, decides he loves her. She doesn’t just reach this assumption unprovoked. Whatever the reasons for Ashley’s behavior, and there are probably several—Mitchell is that good of an author—I consider him a bit of a tease.

Why does Scarlett ignore Rhett? “Because he isn’t a scion, a son of privilege”? Perhaps. Neither was Scarlett’s beloved father. I always thought she ignored Rhett’s love because Rhett wasn’t Ashley.

Scott C.’s observation that Scarlett has bankrupted Rhett is interesting. I plan to re read the book next year and shall certainly pay close attention to the parts dealing with their finances and expenditures. Certainly Scarlett brought about the death of her second husband. She is not blameless.

Thanks for the site and for all you do.

Maria P. writes:

I am sorry to tell you this, but your commenter Scott C. has most likely never read Gone With the Wind. He makes numerous factual errors in relating the plot, e.g., that Rhett is not a “son of privilege.” Rhett is the black sheep of a very prominent Charleston planter family; his pedigree is far more impressive than Scarlett’s. (Her father is an Irish immigrant of peasant stock.) Scarlett does not consider Rhett “too low” for her; he’s an unsuitable prospect because he’s a pariah in their social circle.

Rhett does not fight in the war to win Scarlett’s love; both he and Scarlett think that the war is foolish and unwinnable. When we first meet Rhett, it’s just before the firing on Fort Sumter, and he’s alienating and insulting the hot-headed Southerners who are eager to fight by pointing out that the South does not have the manpower or the industrial base to win the war. He joins the Confederate army at the last possible minute only as Sherman’s troops are laying waste to Georgia, because he’s disgusted by the destruction they are causing. Scarlett is enraged by this act, not impressed by it, because he leaves her to make her own way through the dangerous Georgia countryside from burning Atlanta back to Tara.

Scarlett does not “bankrupt” or “abandon” Rhett; he remains a wealthy man at the end of the book. He promises to continue paying Scarlett’s bills when he leaves her. Also, Ashley does not “remain a wealthy man” as Melanie dies. He loses all his wealth when his plantation is burned by Sherman’s troops, and he only survives after the war because Scarlett offers him a job managing one of her lumber mills (and he’s incompetent at it, too.) On her deathbed, Melanie extracts a promise from Scarlett that she will look after Ashley and make sure he never starves, and to pay for Melanie’s son Beau’s Harvard education (because she knows that Ashley will never make enough money to afford it).

Rhett does not fall out of love with Scarlett and leave her because “he finally realizes what she’s all about.” He falls out of love with her after their daughter dies in a horseback riding accident—an accident caused by Rhett’s carelessness as he allowed his daughter to jump her pony over a fence that’s too high for it. Scarlett blames him cruelly for the accident and that kills their marriage. Rhett has a severe emotional breakdown after his daughter’s death and is never the same person afterwards.

I suspect that Scott C. read about the plot as relayed second-hand on a “Men’s Rights” website, or else he couldn’t have gotten so many things wrong.

Scott C. writes:

I admit that I have not read the book in several years. But I have seen the movie over 100 times.

Also, I did not write an explication, but an interpretation. And no, I did not get my interpretation second hand from some Men’s Rights website.

In order to understand Gone With the Wind, you must first understand romance. Most of our ideas of romance derive from the Middle Ages, the Age of Chivalry and the Cult of Mary. This is what motivates Rhett—the gallant knight, going on a perilous and testing quest to win the love of a beautiful princess.

Unfortunately for him, Scarlett wasn’t much of a princess; she certainly wasn’t virginal. No, she was just a stupid, spoiled, conceited little girl. Ashley knew that.

Why women hold her up as a symbol is a mystery to me.

Rhett does does not fall out of love with Scarlett. She falls out of love with him, as if she ever had any love for him in the first place.

Granted, it was after the death of their daughter. But if you watch the movie, Rhett always dresses in greys and blues. Ashley dresses in browns. The only time Rhett dresses in brown is when Scarlett tells him their marriage is over.

This is not to say that Ashley is a loser. He married a WOMAN, Melanie. And on her death bed she tells Scarlett, “Be kind to your husband. He loves you so.”

And Scarlett replies, “Rhett?”

This is what I’m talking about. It’s this sense of entitlement and pretense to superiority that drives the novel and the movie.

Why women continue to hold up Scarlett as a female role model is astounding. All she ever did was ruin every man she came in contact with.

Name one man in the book or the movie that had a relationship with Scarlett and wasn’t ruined.

Name one.

LA replies:

I did not know that women today treat Scarlett as a role model. If true, I am utterly astounded. The entire point of the story (at least in the movie, I haven’t read the book) is that Scarlett is an insanely perverse and ego-centric woman who destroys her marriage and drives away the man who loves her—the only man who was right for her.

Gintas writes:

Gone With The Wind is worth a read, it’s not a chick novel. I’m sure the Gamers could make hay with Rhett Butler as the classic bad boy alpha. Scarlett is not a traditional Southern belle, but more a materialistic go-getter, willing to hang out with the likes of Butler. Neither Scarlett nor Butler are sympathetic characters, they seem to deserve each other; I think that Scarlett loves Rhett is to be considered a defect in her. Scarlett is to traditional Southern women as Atlanta is to the South, and there’s a short history of Atlanta in the novel to make it clear that it’s always been just a place for making money, and that’s why the Yankees took to it so easily. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I learned in my time in Atlanta that Atlanta really is that way: it has a Southern veneer over a Yankee money-lovin’ heart. While Andrew Young was mayor (before my time) the city’s motto was, “The city too busy to hate.”

Too busy making money, that is.

Mrs. K. writes:

Scott C writes: “Name one man in the book or the movie that had a relationship with Scarlett and wasn’t ruined. Name one.”

Certainly. I’ll name three.

Charles Hamilton. Archie, her driver. The Tarleton twins (they are so similar in the novel that I count them as one).

You don’t specify what kind of relationship you mean. Romantic? Charles was Scarlett’s first husband. Before you cry, “Yes, but he died,” stop and remember. Scarlett had nothing to do with his death. They were married a few days, he went off to war, and he died of measles in camp, which I heard was fairly common. He probably wouldn’t have lasted long if he’d come back safely to Scarlett, but I’m sure you’ll agree that’s speculation.

Do you mean a professional relationship? Archie worked for Scarlett and had contact with her every day. He may not have known her well, as his hatred for women and his position kept them from conversing much. But he refused to be intimidated by her or show respect he did not feel. He did his work as a driver/bodyguard competently. He even insulted her occasionally. He was immune to her attractions, not that she tried them on him.

Do you mean a relationship that falls into the “neither of the above” category. The Tarletons were Scarlett’s friends from childhood. They both professed love for her on occasion, but they were callow and hot headed and it was hard to tell if they really knew what they wanted. Certainly the three of them are still friends at the start of the novel. Both of them died later in the war. One of them, I forget which, even became the sweetheart (sort of) of Scarlett’s younger sister.

It seems to me, Scott, that you’re reaching, stretching, for reasons to dislike Scarlett. Plenty of them are already there for the taking, without your having to try so hard. The man who was hurt most by Scarlett, Rhett Butler, knew exactly what she was, knew her better than anyone else in the story did, and wanted to marry her anyway. Women like her couldn’t do the harm they do without men who pursue them. I like Rhett and admire his smarts (in the novel, he has all the good lines) but when it comes to Scarlett he’s a fool. When he proposes to her, she tells him honestly she doesn’t love him. If she does in fact destroy him financially (I don’t remember this but give you the benefit of the doubt), it’s because he enabled her to do so.

I don’t see Scarlett as a hero or an example to be followed. But I wanted to defend her from charges I feel are misplaced.

November 22

Scott C. replies:

Her driver? The Tarlenton Twins? Are you kidding?

Did any of them marry her, make sacrifices for her? Were any of them there to help her manage Tara after Rhett walks out? No.

Granted, her first husband, Charles, dies. That does not mean he wouldn’t have gone broke after Scarlett was done with him.

The novel is several hundred pages long and contains many characters. I’m sure there are many men who were acquainted with Scarlett, perhaps even desired her, Ashley among them. I’m sure she was an attractive woman. (Or at least Vivian Leigh certainly was.)

However, on the first page, Margaret Mitchell describes her as “not beautiful.” And she should know. I mean, she wrote the book and created the character.

The relevant line comes at the end of the second paragraph—“her eyes were her own.” Scarlett O’Hara has her eyes on Ashley Wilkes. This is clear from the very beginning. It also presages why, at the end, when Melanie is dying and advices her to “be kind your husband,” Scarlett is confused as to who she is referring to.

That is what I’m talking about. Scarlett is married and does not know, or even care, who her husband is.

Yes, Rhett probably knew what he was getting into when he proposed to Scarlett, that she carried a torch for Ashley. But he mistakenly believed that if he became an officer, made millions (gunrunning and bootlegging), went to war for the Confederacy, saved her plantation, that she would forget Ashley and fall in love with him. So he did, and she didn’t. Her eyes were her own.

It’s not until Rhett finally realizes that all the sacrifices he’s made and all the millions he’s squandered and all the heroism he’s performed were for naught, does he decide to leave for good.

Where are all the gallant men desperately desiring Scarlett then? Nowhere to be found. Why? Because they don’t want to be ruined as well.

I think the reason modern women feel so impassioned about defending Scarlett is because they perceive her and want to protect their image of her as a strong woman. She is not. Melanie is the strong woman. Scarlett is a user.

Rhett found that out the hard way. Ashley knew it from the beginning. That’s why he wouldn’t marry her or come to her rescue.

November 23

LA to Scott C.:

Most Interesting.

Scott C. replies:

Yes, well, it is a fascinating novel, and definitely worth a read.

But just as interesting is the biography of Margaret Mitchell. She was the daughter of a prominent Atlanta lawyer, and her family had lived through the Civil War and survived Reconstruction. So she grew up hearing stories of heroism and despotism.

She became the first female reporter for the Atlanta newspaper, wrote a weekly societal column under the pseudonym “Peggy Mitchell.” And she was a Suffragette.

It is important to distinguish between the Suffragette movement and Feminism. The former is based on equality; the latter on superiority. Here we see the distinction made in the novel between Melanie and Scarlett.

Margaret’s first marriage was to a football player and bootlegger. That only lasted four months. Her second marriage was to an editor at the newspaper where she worked. Several critics argue that these two men formed the basis for her characterizations of Rhett and Ashley. Perhaps, but one could just as easily argue that she herself formed the basis for her characterizations of Scarlett and Melanie, and the distinction between a bad marriage and a good one.

At the age of 26, she fell, broke her ankle and was confined to bed. Dutifully, her loving husband would stop by the library on his way home from work and check out books for her to read—histories, biographies, novels. Soon she had read every book in the library, so he gave her a stack of paper and a pen. “Write a book.”

She worked on it for ten years, but was embarrassed to admit it. She would hide the manuscript when her friends came to visit, because she didn’t want them to know that she was writing a novel, as she feared they would ridicule her.

One day a publisher came to town, searching for female Southern writers. Somebody recommended Mitchell, and one of her friends said, “Peggy? She’s not serious enough.”

This incensed Margaret, and she went home, retrieved her manuscript, which at the time only she and her husband had read, and gave it to the publisher. But when she got home, she became nervous, because she thought it wasn’t good enough. So she ran back to the publisher and asked for the manuscript.

However, he had already read it and knew what he had found. He made some recommendations, a few slight modifications. She rewrote the first chapter, and thus the novel was born.

Published in 1936, it sold out its first printing in three weeks. This in the middle of the Great Depression, mind you. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and by the time the movie was produced in 1939, it had been translated into sixteen foreign languages and was selling millions of copies all over the world. There really never has been a phenomenon quite like Gone With the Wind. To this day it remains the best selling romance novel in history.

People wonder why Mitchell never wrote a sequel. The reason is that she spent the next ten years defending her copyright. One night, as she and her husband were leaving the theater, a horse-drawn carriage ran out of control and killed her.

Margaret Mitchell wrote only one book, but it happens to be among the best. Strange how that works out, isn’t it? A 26 year old girl, confined to bed with a broken ankle, who had never written a book before and didn’t really aspire to be a novelist, and she writes the greatest romance ever.

Mrs. K. writes:

Scott, what about how Scarlett treats her children? The scenes in which she verbally harangues her young son are painful to read. My sympathies lie more with her kids than with two grown men who know her well and yet seem bent on playing with fire.

I stand by my mention of Charles, Archie, and the Tarletons. They had relationships with her. I’m not trying to be cute or quibble over word meanings. People exist who make good friends but bad co-workers, good co-workers but bad sweethearts … whatever. I think Scarlett was one of these. Probably, knowing her in a limited capacity was safest, especially if the person knowing her was male. Melanie, a strong woman who was unhurt by Scarlett’s game playing, liked her, and had been through a lot with her.

You say “Granted, her first husband, Charles, dies. That does not mean he wouldn’t have gone broke after Scarlett was done with him.” I did make that point, worded slightly differently, in the fourth paragraph of my previous post, in case you missed it.

I’ll say it again, I don’t defend Scarlett because she’s my hero or role model, even though I confess to being a modern woman. (For whom does she serve as a role model?) I just thought some of your interpretations … stretched.

posted November 26

Scott C. writes:

Mrs. K, I understand. I spoke with my mother about this topic. She’s 71, and the first movie she ever saw as a young girl was Gone With the Wind. She’s read the novel several times; I’ve only read it once.

Growing up, as a family we watched the movie every time it came on TV. And my mother would tell us children what kind of impression it had on her. This is what first motivated me to read the book years ago.

As I said, I’m not writing an explication. That would require rereading the novel, rewatching the movie, and several weeks of work. I’m simply offering an interpretation.

My focus is on the romance, because that’s what Mitchell concentrates on. The entire novel is about Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley, his marriage to Melanie, and Rhett’s obsession with Scarlett.

Ever read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? It’s a meta-romance, which is to say a romance about romance. In the third fitt, the Lady of the Castle tries to seduce Gawain, using Nominalist rhetorical strategies to trick Gawain into having an affair with her. But Gawain is a good Realist and does not succomb to her. He will not betray the Lord of the Castle, or compromise the integrity of the Lady.

It’s the same with Gone With the Wind, which is a romance about romance. Rhett has this crazy medieval idea that all he has to do is go on this perilous and testing quest to win the love of a princess, a Southern belle. But Scarlett had her eyes on a scion, a son of privilege. Ashley married a woman, Melanie. Then Scarlett finally marries, and consequently bankrupts, Rhett.

It is this contrast between the marriages that drives the novel, as well as Scarlett’s sense of entitlement and pretense to superiority.

I actually printed this thread and gave it to my mother. Her exact words in response were, “Why would any woman defend Scarlett? She’s a prostitute. She needed money, and she used men to get it.” Exactly.

Melanie honors her husband. Scarlett does not honor any of hers. She just used them. That’s the point.

November 30

Robert B. writes:

Late, I know. But apparently I am the only one of your readers who actually read the book. Some salient points.

1) One reader had it right, in the book, she is not beautiful, she is average but highly vivacious, intelligent, witty and charming—born with a knack for wrapping men around her finger.

2) She acts immature because she is immature—she is only fourteen years old when the book starts. Roughly twenty-four when it ends.

3) Ashley marries Melanie because Melanie is a Hamilton and Hamiltons marry Hamiltons. This is stated clearly in the book and the movie—it is Scarlett’s father who tells her so.

4) Scarlett wants Ashley because he is the one man she cannot have—we all want most that which we cannot have.

5) Scarlett has a recurring dream in the book that is only hinted at the end of the movie—to understand it you must have read the book. In the book, Scarlett is chasing the man of her dreams, he is in a fog and she cannot make him out—this you see at the end of the movie when Rhett leaves for good—she realizes as he disappears into the fog that he is the man of her dreams.

6) Scarlett is hardly the weak one in the book or the movie—it is everyone but Rhett who depends upon her. She holds them all together in the aftermath of the war but she saves Melanie’s life when she gives birth to her only child—which Scarlett delivers. She also kills the Yankee “bummer” or carpetbagger who attempts to rape her and steal what they have left. She works her fingers to the bone—planting cotton in the hopes of bringing in a bumper crop and saving the plantation—Tara. She must bludgeon the others into helping her plant it—even though their lives depend upon its success as well.

7) Scarlett is not to be blamed for her singlemindedness concerning Tara, the plantation. It is her father who has taught her that land is everything and that Tara must be preserved if they are to have anything. Scarlett only marries the men she marries so she can save Tara since no one else, especially Ashley, is capable of helping her.

8) Blaming Scarlett for the death of one of her husbands is silly—one died from measles, the other was a member of the KKK—that is why they rode out to take care of “the problem.” it’s Rhett who saved the rest of them that night.

9) Rhett is a gun runner not for Scarlett’s sake whatsoever, but purely because he wants to make money from the war so as to insulate himself from what he knows is coming when The South loses, pure and simple. He joins the army at the end of the war out of disgust for himself and his haughty views of those “arrogant” southerners (so stated at the party) because they had, indeed, fought with their hearts and not their arrogance.

10) Lastly, unless any of your readers looking down on her have lived her life, they know not of which they speak. To be born into money and then lose it is possibly one of the worst things that can befall a family. The only thing worse is the death of a family member at a young age. Having money and then losing it is far worse then to be born poor or middling in the first place—you know the difference. Wanting the money and the power back becomes the prime motivation for life in such an individual who has not been broken by the loss in the first place. I know.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 17, 2010 09:20 AM | Send

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