Photo courtesy of http://www.popmatters.com
Not long ago, Gabrielle Reece, the world famous model, volleyball star and wife to pro surfer Laird Hamilton, sparked controversy with her new memoir “My Foot Is Too Big For The Glass Slipper”. In her memoir, she claims that ” to truly be feminine means being soft, receptive, and submissive.” It just so happens that around the same time, I was enjoying a day of watching old classic movies. One of my favorites is Gone with the Wind. When I heard about Gabrielle’s controversy, I immediately thought of the stark differences between Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes.
The question is, do men prefer a Scarlett or a Melanie? Let’s use the Scarlett and Melanie characters from the movie as a basis for a comparison/contrast to the modern woman.
Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most popular characters in cinema and classic fiction. Even if you have not seen the movie, most are familiar with the characteristic traits of Scarlett. Shrewd and vain, but extremely tone deaf, Scarlett inherits the strong will of her Irish father Gerald O’Hara but deeply desires to please her well-bred, gentle mother Ellen Robillard,who stems from an aristocratic Savannah, Georgia family. In the face of hardship, the spoiled Scarlett shoulders the troubles of her family and friends, but the near starvation and backbreaking work for survival obliterate her innocence. In the beginning, she was a daydreamer, madly in love with the wrong man and working hard to manipulate a future with him. It was the harsh realities of the war that changed her and made her cold, calculating and money hungry. She became fiercely independent, despite her many marriages. She was unusual among Southern women, where society preferred women to act as dainty creatures who sought protection from their men. Scarlett pretends to be of that nature, but deep down resents the “prerequisite” of it, unlike most of her Southern belle peers, i.e. Melanie Hamilton.
Rhett Butler, a wealthy older bachelor and a societal pariah, inadvertently is privy to a private conversation where Scarlett expresses her love to Ashley during a barbecue at Twelve Oaks, the Wilkes’ estate. Rhett is intrigued by Scarlett’s willfulness and her fearless departure from propriety. Her stunning beauty and conniving nature appeal to the inner rebel in him and he decides to pursue Scarlett despite her impetuousness, childish spite, and her fixation on Ashley. He even aides Scarlett in her defiance of proper Victorian mourning customs when her husband, Charles Hamilton dies and readily encourages her spirited behavior in front of all of Atlanta high society. In a way, he is responsible for liberating Scarlett.
But the very things that initially attracted Rhett to Scarlett, are eventually what drove them apart. While attracted to her strength, independence, and determination, Rhett was never able to break the determination Scarlett had towards Ashley. Rhett felt he could appeal to her materialistic senses and win her over by spoiling her and giving her all her heart’s desires. It is Scarlett’s struggle as a “Southern Lady” that attracts him but ultimately causes Rhett despair. Her heartless nature was appealing until she stole his heart and remained out of touch with her true feelings for him because of his indulgence in her selfish nature. Scarlett is forced to challenge the standards because of the dire conditions to survive, but does this equate to a desirable partner in a relationship?
In essence, Scarlett O’Hara is the epitome of today’s success driven female who is determined to make her own way through life with or without a man.
Melanie is the polar opposite of Scarlett. She is sweet, demure, indulgent and self sacrificing. She places her husband’s needs ahead of her own, and willingly succumbs to the standards of their society at that time. Melanie is so submissive to her husband, that she even participates in his self perpetuated illusion of a world that allows him to avoid facing reality due to his cowardice. Despite being drawn to Scarlett, Ashley knew her fearless nature would ultimately reject his lack of confidence and cowardly nature, whereas Melanie wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged him to be true to himself. Melanie is still a pillar of strength, similar to Scarlett, but she goes about it in a faithful, loyal and quiet manner. Her determination matches Scarlett, where it differs is Melanie’s determination is towards helping others whereas Scarlett’s determination is strictly for self gain.
Melanie exhibits quiet leadership. The Melanie’s of the world are the homemakers. They take great pride in their families. They allow their husbands to lead and they don’t mind being the background to their foreground. Women like Melanie choose to focus on the better aspects of other’s personalities and remain a staunch advocate for the underdogs of society. Women like her believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity despite their social status.
Ashley finds refuge in Melanie’s love. He can be vulnerable with her; something that Scarlett comes to despise him for later in the novel and would have never embraced. The men in the novel admire, respect and appreciate Melanie, including Rhett Butler. However, the novel depicts more men being drawn to Scarlett and even casting aside their betrothed to marry her. But do men truly desire a spirited woman like Scarlett, or do they prefer the calming, codependent nature of Melanie?
The question remains whether or not we have evolved past the Melanie’s in the world? Is this actually sustainable when our society demands two household incomes just to survive; forcing woman to constantly juggle careers, motherhood and being a wife?
Who would truly make a better wife, Scarlett or Melanie? Of course, the Scarlett in question would actually love her rightful husband and not be pining after someone else’s. For the sake of this blog post, let’s just ponder. Do men want a domineering woman, who knows what she wants and goes after it? Someone who would bring just as much to the table, if not more? Sadly, we have poor examples in our society of this dynamic in a relationship, so the odds ares stacked against these type of females in today’s ‘swipe left/right’ culture.
I believe there will always be a debate about whether or not a woman should be submissive to her man. Many women view submissiveness as a detriment to their independence and fear their submission will be abused by the wrong man. Yet, there is the other spectrum that believes wholeheartedly the man should be the head of the household and readily submit without question. In Gabrielle’s memoir, she credits the success of her marriage to submissiveness. I personally believe in balance. I believe that with the right man, a woman can submit while still maintaining her independence, strength and high achieving nature. Both of these characterizations in Gone with the Wind are examples of it simply being a matter of finding the right person that best suits your authentic self. In truth, no matter what type of woman you are, you will have to make a sacrifice as that is just part of life and being in a relationship.
But in this stark comparison of these female roles, I wonder if this is why so many women are choosing to remain single? Are the expectations of our men today unrealistic for how females have evolved in today’s society? I would love to hear what others think about this topic. Feel free to leave your comments to spark up a discussion on this topic and remember to keep it respectful!
~ Author Mara Prose