The Past Isn’t Now

Lately, I’ve been noticing how people on the internet have been “shaming” entertainment works that weren’t made recently and taking offense with things in those shows, songs, and movies. Now, normally I wouldn’t say anything about this thing because people are going to think what they think, but when one of my all-time favorite movies ever, Gone with the Wind, was criticized, I had to say something.

To begin, though, I need to say that I think of myself as a proud, strong woman. I delight in women’s right, and love seeing how women are finally punching back to things that have been wrong in the past. I’ve been a victim of men’s superiority and have been pushed around and not taken seriously for being a woman. I’ve been grabbed, squeezed, kissed when I didn’t want to be kissed and it’s not fun. But here’s the thing… you can’t change the past, you can only learn from it. And this is where I take a stand on history.

So, this thought process started when I was reading an article in the New York Times where it mentioned how movies in the past romanticized women being taken advantage of. No consent was given before the men in the movies simply grabbed them and kissed them. Some of the movies that were mentioned were Gone with the Wind, The Quiet Man, Blade Runner, and surprisingly, Baby Boom. I get it, I do – Rhett kisses Scarlett arrogantly, she struggles against him, but gives into the kiss after a moment, draping her arms around his neck and holding him tight. He was an ass… it was even mentioned it in the movie:

Scarlett: Kathleen, who’s that?
Kathleen: Who?
Scarlett: That man looking at us and smiling. That nasty dog.
Kathleen: Why, dear, that’s Rhett Butler. He’s from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation.
Scarlett: He looks like… like… he knows what I look like without my shimmy [clothing – a slip].
Kathleen: Scarlett, my dear, he isn’t received. He’s had to spend most of his time up north because his folks in Charleston won’t speak to him. He was expelled from West Point, and then there’s that business about that girl he wouldn’t marry.
Scarlett: Did he… (The girls whisper)
Kathleen: No, but she was ruined just the same.

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With that all, have we forgotten this movie was made in 1938-39? Not only that, it’s based in the 1860s. Yeah, it’s going to have forceful, superior, egotistical white men. It’s going to have slavery. It’s going to have men taking advantage of women. We were just as much property as slaves were and mistreated similarly. Slaves, of course, were treated worse. Gone with the Wind is a glimpse into the past. We have come a very long way since then. Even still, the women that worked on this movie, Vivien Leigh, Butterfly McQueen, Hattie McDaniels, all of these fantastic women were so strong and so beyond their years. Vivien – Scarlett O’Hara, hated kissing Clark Gable. She didn’t hang out with him in between takes, she refused to do many a scene because she plain and simple didn’t want to. Ms. Leigh had a huge voice on set. Butterfly and Hattie did too.

In a time, when civil rights were still in their infancy, both women, who played slaves, refused several scenes such as being hit, certain lines, and other demeaning things they would not do on principle alone. Hattie McDaniel went on to be the first African American person to win an Academy Award ever! She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress over fellow GWTW actress Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes).

Oscars / Academy Awards - 1939

Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress 1940

Back to my point, yeah there are some crappy ways women were portrayed on film, but that’s what happened back then. We can’t judge the movie and television on today’s standards. I also have read in some comments about shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and M*A*S*H, being racist, sexist, agist…etc so on and so forth. Good Lord, what would they say about Leave it to Beaver, Bewitched, All in the Family or Three’s Company? Back in the 60s through the 90s, entertainment was based on those things being funny. No one was sensitive to jokes in those decades, people just laughed. Yeah, they were crass, racist and definitely sexist, and today it wouldn’t be tolerated. But my point is still – you can’t change those shows now, so in that sense you can’t complain about them now either.

It’s the same with songs. Over Christmas this past year there was a lot of hubbub about the song Baby, It’s Cold Outside. People wanted it banned and have it taken off the radio because it romanticized rape culture. This is where I first started shaking my head about the comments I had heard in the public. People, the song was written in 1944! It’s a song about a couple being coy. The woman in the song wanted to stay but knew she would get in trouble with her parents or her public reputation would be ruined if a woman stayed out past curfew with her boyfriend. Listen to the words, she wanted to stay. The man was giving her reasons to stay. Society back then would’ve pegged her as an easy woman if she had stayed. She was not her own woman and yet she wanted to be independent and say, ‘hey yeah, I’ll stay with you’. This is picked up by the line, I ought to say no, no, no, siree, but at least I’m going to say that I tried. She was limited by her family, by her neighborhood, by society. If anything, be upset about that, not about the fact that the guy was giving her reasons to stay if she wanted to.

Oh and the line, “Uhh what’s in this drink?” She wasn’t getting roofied. The way Bette Midler sang this song in For the Boys, accurately depicts what that phrase meant back in the day… the guy had skimped on the alcohol and she wanted more. You can hear in the inflection in her voice that she was doubting there was much alcohol in the drink she’d just asked for. ┬áRemember, it had only been recently in 1944 that the Prohibition had been repealed. People wanted strength in their drink. It was sarcastic. Kind of like, ‘have some coffee with your milk’, to people who like really light coffee – it’s barely coffee. Take a listen:

And speaking of Prohibition, imagine what the old Victorians thought about the flappers in the 1920s?

 

They went from high collared, long skirted fashion to thigh high skirts, frayed up to the waist, and low cut, spaghetti-strapped dresses. Those flappers’ parents must’ve been outraged, but there was nothing they could do about it. Times had changed.

It’s the same way now, but in reverse. Instead of not being able to control the future, we can’t control the past. Please don’t take offense over things in the past that we can’t change. What you can do is learn from it. Take what people did wrong then and make it better from here on out. No more racist jokes, no more pushing women aside in the work place, no more grabbing and kissing us without permission. This is where we teach our children that stuff like this isn’t done anymore and we need to fix it.

 

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