Scarlett O'Hara: She-Devil Or Feminist Icon?

Scarlett O'Hara: She-Devil Or Feminist Icon?

A feminist commentary on one of American literature's most complex ladies.

Disclaimer: Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone WithThe Wind is about the Civil War and Reconstruction. It has periodically found it's way onto banned books lists at libraries throughout the United States because the n-word abounds and it portrays slavery perhaps too optimistically. Therefore, analyses of the novel often include discussions of slavery. The author recognizes this is an important issue related to the book, but has decided such discussions are beyond the scope of this particular article. Perhaps another time.

Gone With The Wind has often been hailed as one of the "great American novels" for women. Yet the heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, is also often characterized as a not-so-nice word that rhymes with witch. Some readers say she's bossy and unfeminine. Indeed, some of her own peers in the novel think so. Yet others, like Melanie in the novel, and my mother in real life, look up to her. So what's the truth? Is she a feminist icon or a she-devil?

The answer: Feminist icon. At least for the most part. Scarlett is a complex character, perhaps the most complex woman in American literature. There's no denying she makes some mistakes, but the inescapable truth is that Scarlett O'Hara is a successful woman. What's more, she is successful by herself, without the help of a man. So yeah, people are going to dislike her for that.

Scarlett owns her own business and for a good portion of the novel, she successfully ran a large piece of property, Tara, her family's plantation. Neither of these win her many friends in her own social circle. At the time the novel is set, the era of reconstruction after the Civil War, it was still extremely frowned upon for women to deal in business or property, so she was often treated as a pariah. And now, over 100 years later, readers are still more than willing to side with her critics rather than give Scarlett the benefit of the doubt.

Scarlett is a woman who does what she has to do without worrying about what other people will think. That's an admirable quality in anyone, but especially in a woman, who are so often told to do exactly the opposite, even if it keeps them vulnerable, and small. Especially if it keeps them vulnerable and small.

But not Scarlett. When Atlanta was under siege, she fled home to Tara with her friends, including Melanie, who was in the middle of a life-threatening pregnancy. Again and again on the journey she put Melanie's, a woman she did not even particularly like at the time, safety above her own. And when they arrived at Tara and found the plantation in ruins, she taught herself how to run the farm well enough to produce and sell enough cotton to feed her family for a year, all while dealing with the death of both her parents. At one point she was the only thing standing in the way of the starvation of ten other people, most of whom were not even family, but slaves turned servants, friends, and guests. That's right, through this whole ordeal Scarlett upheld Southern hospitality, and did not turn people away who came to her door looking for food or shelter.

Scarlett cared about money in a way that is unattractive. But her first goal in starting her business was to insure that her family never had to face starvation again. And considering that poverty had nearly killed her, and had killed many people she loved, her obsession becomes a little more understandable. Scarlett may have started out as a spoiled little rich girl, but she does not remain a spoiled little rich girl.

However, after she marries Rhett Butler, she does let finally having money again go to her head. She flaunts her riches and allows them to alienate her friends. This is a mistake; there's nothing else to call it. And it is a mistake she eventually realizes she has made, but it is not a mistake she is ever redeemed from.

That's another thing that makes Scarlett O'Hara a hard character for many to like. Margaret Mitchell writes her without a redemption arc. So often in novels the protagonist makes mistakes that are only bad enough to keep them relatable to readers. If they do make a grave error (aka the kind of mistake we all make at some point in our real lives) there is always a redemption arc. But guess what? In real life we don't always get redemption arcs. Margaret Mitchell writes Scarlett O'Hara as though she could be a real person. Yet the characterization that makes Jay Gatsby one of the most beloved male protagonists, makes Scarlett one of the most questioned female ones.

If I knew Scarlett in real life, would I like her? Probably not at first. She's judgmental, materialistic, and has a rude streak. But she's also loyal, savvy, and does the right thing, even when she doesn't want to or it would be easier not to.

Scarlett is a strong woman. As a woman who comes from a line of women who will drive their children slowly through the night without their headlights on to flee a polio outbreak, who will go from housewife to working single mom the same year their husband dies, who will go back to college not once, but twice to insure their own success and the success of their family, I definitely recognized a lot of myself and my heritage in Scarlett O'Hara.

If Scarlett is a bitch, she is one for the same reason too many women are today: she doesn't fit into the "woman box." She cares about others, but not at the expense of her own well being. She will make the tough call and lose popularity for it if her actions will help the most people in the end. Most importantly, if there is a man around, but he is not competent enough to do the job that needs to be done, she doesn't hesitate to take on the role.

Scarlett isn't a bitch. She is a real woman who exists outside of men. It may put some people off, but she defines herself, and that's what makes her a feminist icon and a worthy role model.

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17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.

We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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You Can Dislike 'Captain Marvel' And Still Be A Feminist

It's good to watch Captain Marvel. But we don't have to love her.


When "Wonder Woman" came out in 2017, I got a lot of flak from male friends when they gushed over Gal Gadot (supposedly as her superhero character?) and I didn't overwhelmingly ooze the same sentiments. "You're such a bad feminist!", I was told, for merely thinking the movie was enjoyable and a decently positive step forward rather than a life-changing poster-child feminist movie. There were things I enjoyed, and things I thought the movie could do better—but because I didn't unconditionally love "Wonder Woman," I wasn't really a feminist

Seeing "Captain Marvel" after hearing it lauded for months as a ground-breaking feminist movie, I found myself disappointed again.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie. (Every observation here is based on the film alone; I've never read the comics.) The CGI was great, the plot incorporated fun references to the MCU universe that will amuse fans, it had no more plotholes than any average superhero movie, and I did love that the main character was a woman (and a strong supporting character is an African American woman, which is wonderful: let's certainly celebrate the intersectionalism of "Captain Marvel.")

Yes, a MCU superhero who's a woman is ground-breaking—that's great. But it's okay to not unconditionally adore "Captain Marvel." We can have reservations about the movie—or even not like it—and still be a feminist.

In her article "Diamonds in the Rough," Janine Macbeth writes: "Way back in the day when the pickings were slimmer than slim, maybe, just maybe, enjoying a book like "The Five Chinese Brothers" (first published in 1938) was alright. But today […], any book that opens, "Once upon a time there were five Chinese brothers and they all looked exactly alike" is completely unacceptable."

Similarly to feminism in movies: back in the day, when "pickings were slim," it behooved feminists to support any remotely positive female representation in any film. But—even though there's still a discrepancy today—we no longer need to unquestioningly and indiscriminately accept every aspect of a women's representation.

I would posit that it's actually anti-feminist to love everything about a character simply because she's a woman, or everything about a story because it features a female lead. Should we go see the movie to support it? Sure, that's great. Should we be happy we're taking strides forward in female representation? Hell yeah.

But do we need to be happy that half a loaf is better than none? Absolutely not. We can still expect, demand, and yearn for a full loaf. We can support the movie financially as half a loaf if we choose while also acknowledging there are aspects of the film that were lacking and we wish they will be present in the next movie: insisting on, someday, a full loaf.

We don't have to lower our liking-something standards merely because the film highlights women. We don't have to happily embrace every plot-hole and trait we'd ordinarily dislike just because of that.

Case in point, I would love to see more women in political office and I'm thrilled with the current diverse representation in Congress. I love when I get to vote for a woman! But if I ran for office and someone voted for me just because I was a woman, I would be offended. Vote for me for my ideals, my principles, and my policies—be happy that I'm a woman, but don't vote for me just because I'm a woman. That's almost as offensive as not voting for me just because I'm a woman.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter why I didn't fall in love with "Captain Marvel"**. I genuinely do feel "Captain Marvel" let me down as a feminist idol. The point's not whether or not she's an amazing poster-child or a flawed one or even a bad one. The point is that feminists (or, decent humans) shouldn't feel obligated to walk on tiptoes around any valid criticisms merely because she's a woman.

Feminine representation is no longer so fragile that having reservations about a specific film will cause the whole house of cards to come tumbling down and shove women out of films forever. It's not a matter of being a "diamond in the rough": if someone loves "Captain Marvel," they should love her! And if someone doesn't, that's okay too. Feminism is broad and strong enough to encompass both perspectives.

Studios don't necessarily care about all of these nuances, they largely care about money. So sure, if you feel so drawn, go buy a ticket to show that people will watch a movie about a female superhero. However, it's worth noting that no one feels the need to support every male superhero movie out of fear that if we don't support it, studios will stop making male superhero movies. There are enough men represented in superhero movies that there can be crappy movies and amazing movies and people can dislike a particular movie without being accused of being a manhater. No, they don't hate men, they just didn't care for that particular film.

I went to see "Captain Marvel," and I'd see it again (even knowing that I felt a bit disappointed) to support the representation of women in films in general; but I'm disappointed because I expected better: I expect, someday, my full loaf. Maybe next year there will be a female superhero movie that I absolutely love; maybe someday, we won't feel we have to go see a superhero movie just because it features a woman. We can go see it just because it's awesome.

There's a great argument to support movies like "Captain Marvel." But women in movies are not diamonds in the rough anymore. We no longer have to uncritically love all film characters just because they're women. Some people may love her representation, and that's great. And some will not. (A quick Google search shows my disappointment is not unique.) The pickings aren't excessive, but neither are they non-existent. We can appraise Captain Marvel on her merit, not merely unquestioningly accept her just because she is a woman.

**Regarding the reasons: my next article is on what "Captain Marvel" got right…and where it missed the mark.

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