Evolving Gender Roles

*Posted on behalf of Mario Arellano.  Please direct your comments to him.*

Gone with the Wind (1939) highlights the evolution of gender roles.  First, gender roles began and remained traditional in that men displayed power and masculine characteristics whereas the women displayed sanctity and innocence.  Bruce Chadwick’sThe Real Civil War also speaks to the male gender issues not only during the Civil War but also during the many decades after.  Similarly, the women in the film maintained traditional gender roles whereas all sought the perfect man or someone to take care of them for the years to come.

During and after the war however, the women in the film realized their handicap and aimed to achieve more not out of pride but out of necessity. As time progressed, women in America aimed to achieve more by relying on the African American precedents, as well as their much earned right to establish themselves as citizens by taking on new roles and new challenges.  Moreover, female gender roles were evolving and continued to evolve following the American Civil War whereas opportunities to express one’s beliefs and opinions grew to the point that they would forever continue to evolve.   Indeed this was quite evident in the film.

From the beginning, the males in the film aimed to display an image of power and strength in arguing for the Confederacy going to war. They not only romanticized the idea, but they even went as far as to threaten Captain Butler when he made the comment about the North possessing more of the resources needed to fight a war.   In addition, Bruce Chadwick speaks to the issue of male gender roles claiming that Clark Gable’s character Captain Butler questioned the idea of crying on film because of the idea that it might tarnish his masculine image.*  This suggests that nearly sixty five years later, men still desired to display manly images of themselves similar to the men in film.

On the other hand, Scarlet’s attitude from the opening scene to the part where all the boys left for war tended to focus on the female desire to find love.  Her personal image is worth mentioning because she went above and beyond to acquire the attention of the boys at the picnic.  Hoping to win the heart of Ashley and secure her own future, Scarlet displayed a sense of innocence in order to win the attention of all the males at the party including Ashley.  Then later in the film after realizing she has nothing left to rely on because the war ruined her families land and Ashley was now married, Scarlet does something totally outside a females means in purchasing a lumber mill to provide herself and her family.  Prior to the war, the idea of a female performing predominantly male jobs remained unheard of.  However, as the times changed during and after the war, Scarlet was forced to take action in order to make amends.

Viewing the film from the gender perspective, it is quite apparent that the evolution of gender roles continued to change during and after the Civil War. Women accepted new roles out of necessity while men aimed to portray masculine characteristics to compensate the ongoing changes that women continued to take advantage of.

*Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 186.

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2 comments
  1. zfwerkowitch said:

    I found the evolution of Scarlet’s character interesting as well. What was equally interesting to me is how little other women in the movie changed. Melanie, for example, seemed almost as weak and dependent on Ashley in the end as she was in the beginning.

    • zfwerkowitch said:

      I clicked ‘post’ too soon. The other comment I had about your post is that Scarlet’s change and empowerment seemed similar to the experiences of women during and after other American wars, especially WWII, when women took work in factories to assist the war effort and were empowered afterward.

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