This week on Feminist Flashback Friday, we bring you the baddest babe in the Old South, the one and only Scarlett O’Hara from Victor Fleming’s 1939 epic, Gone with the Wind.
Who is she?
Southern belle extraordinaire, Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is content in her status as carefree white Southerner. Calling the picturesque plantation of Tara home, Scarlett’s life consists of romancing the local boys and holding a torch for one, Ashley Wilkes. It’s the sort of happy, simple lifestyle only allowed to the rich whites of the antebellum South.
When word rings out about the start of the Civil War, the South is happy to defend their tradition, but Scarlett won’t have any of it. She loathes the war and all talk of it, not because she’s a pacifist (it’s almost unheard of at that time), but because it’ll disrupt her own lifestyle and take away her beloved Ashley, who is suddenly engaged to marry his saintly cousin, Melanie. In revenge, Scarlett agrees to marry a random young gun who proposes marriage.
What makes her a badass?
While she starts out as a childish brat, Scarlett actually matures into one of the most badass women in cinematic history. Most see her as a conniving, adulterous, judgmental bitch, but I’ve always seen Scarlett as one of the earlier, roughest feminists around. If you think about it, Scarlett dared to put herself first in a time when women were expected to put themselves last. Twice widowed by men she married more for convenience than anything else, Scarlett hates the ideas of succumbing to societal traditions that aim to protect women. But Scarlett isn’t like other women and has never needed the protection of a man. She prefers it for the ease, but in the end she is more than capable.
Throughout the film, she goes from a prissy Southern belle to a respected business owner, running her second husband’s business to make a profit rather than giving credit to every hapless victim of the war like she’s expected to. She doesn’t give a goddamn what people say about her or think of her intentions; she only has one goal in mind and that is to survive. And she refuses to wait on others to help her survive and instead works hard to ensure her own future herself. When push comes to shove, Scarlett isn’t afraid to take the reins and be the boss even if it means having people dislike her or talk negatively behind her back. “Fiddle Dee Dee!” she says, and it’s with that attitude that she works tirelessly to attempt to restore Tara to its former glory.
In the movie, it’s made to seem that Scarlett does everything to attract the attention of Ashley Wilkes, but in the novel, though Ashley is always in her mind, it’s her own well-being that always comes first. This is also true to an extent in the movie and there’s clear cases when Scarlett shows herself to be braver than her peers. When she’s a volunteer nurse at an Atlanta hospice, she flat out refuses to see any more blood and death and runs out mid-shift. Some would call that cowardice, but I always saw that as a form of utmost bravery. She is always making sure that she herself is okay before she can lend a hand to anyone else. Scarlett’s first and foremost thought is to keep herself alive and well, which is really just human nature that society used to try to talk women out of.
Gone with the Wind is full of great feminist characters, but the reason I chose Scarlett is because she is a woman who dares to be the sort of woman she wants to be rather than she is expected to be. In this day and age, it’s much easier to accept a woman who puts her career, well-being and survival before any desires of marriage or maternity, but in Scarlett’s time that was unheard of. In Scarlett’s time, women were literally just baby machines and were supposed to let the men take care of them. And if the men couldn’t take care of them, then they were supposed to make do.
Scarlett said fuck that and insisted on not just scraping by, but living comfortably. She does eventually manage that, but the world sees Scarlett’s greatest tragedy being that Rhett Butler finally had enough of her and refused to put up with her shit. I see Scarlett’s greatest tragedy as being the fact that she lived in a time when she had to choose between survival and love. I look at my life today, where I can work and romance as much as I want whenever I want, and I feel I owe a thanks to Scarlett for showing me that there are worse things in the world than having work and a date on the same night.