Bringing women back from the pit of living death

I’m reading Gone With The Wind again, for the first time in about 30 years. I didn’t mean to, but I found a lovely, perfectly clean copy at Goodwill for $1.49 and couldn’t resist buying it (such a bargain). And then, of course, once it was in the house, I kind of opened it to the first page: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charms as the Tarleton twins were.” I was hooked all over again.

There is no doubt that the book is a very painful reminder of the racism about blacks that filled the American mind, not just during the Civil War, but in the 30s when the book was written and became one of the greatest bestsellers of all time, as well as in the many decades after. Mitchell’s writing about blacks and slavery makes one writhe just reading it.

But if you scooch by those offending passages and focus on the rest of the book, it is truly a masterpiece. It’s a phenomenal evocation of a lost era, one that willingly hurled itself onto the funeral pyre of an unwinnable war. It’s a fantastic character study of a young women who is so shallow and self-centered one ought to hate her, but who is also so honest, fearless and determined that she becomes a mesmerizing figure who has fascinated generations of readers. One of the things that makes Scarlett such a great character is the way in which, with Rhett Butler’s help, she breaks the chains that bound women in the South who, for all that they were ostensibly “cherished,” were also deeply imprisoned by the conventions of the time. Indeed, one of the book’s most memorable moments includes precisely such a moment of liberation.

Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you all remember the charity ball Scarlett attends, swathed in the widows’ weeds she was condemned to wear for years after her husband’s death. That same convention demanded that widows remove themselves entirely from social interaction, withdrawing to the home to mourn endlessly. Scarlett’s appearance at the ball, hidden in a corner booth, was due solely to the exigencies of the war. You also recall that, in the auction to lead off the first dance, Rhett bid $150 dollars in gold for Scarlett’s hand, and Scarlett scandalized the assembly by taking him up on the offer. What you probably don’t remember is the conversation Scarlett and Rhett had before he made that bid:

“I have always thought,” he said reflectively, “that the system of mourning, of immuring women in crepe for the rest of their lives and forbidding them normal enjoyment is just as barbarous as the Hindu suttee.”

“Settee?”

He laughed and she blushed for her ignorance. She hated people who used words unknown to her.

“In India, when a man dies he is burned, instead of buried, and his wife always climbs on the funeral pyre and is burned with him.”

“How dreadful! Why do they do it? Don’t the police do anything about it?”

“Of course not. A wife who didn’t burn herself would be a social outcast. All the worthy Hindu matrons would talk about her for not behaving as a well-bred lady should — precisely as those worthy matrons in the corner would talk about you, should you appear tonight in a red dress and lead a reel. Personally, I think suttee much more merciful than our charming Southern custom of burying widows alive.”

“How dare you say I’m buried alive!”

“How closely women clutch the very chains that bind them! You think the Hindu custom barbarous — but would you have had the courage to appear here tonight of the Confederacy hadn’t needed you?”

Arguments of this character were always confusing to Scarlett. His were doubly confusing because she had a vague idea there was truth in them.

What Rhett knew, the leader of American Reform Jewry apparently has not yet figured out. According to Dennis Prager, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in a speech to American Muslims at a meeting of the Islamic Society of North America, asked “Why should anyone criticize the voluntary act of a woman who chooses to wear a headscarf or a veil? Surely the choice these women make deserves our respect, not to mention the full protection of the law.” Prager, echoing Rhett’s words about societal strictures that render women invisible, answered:

In the long history of women’s inequality, it is difficult to name almost anything more anti-woman, dehumanizing and degrading than the veil. We know people by their face. Without seeing a person’s face, we feel that we do not know the person. When we read about someone in the news, whether known for good or ill, we immediately study the person’s face. One can have one’s entire body covered, and it means nothing in terms of whether we feel we know the person. But cover a person’s face, and the person might as well be invisible.

Indeed, the veiled woman is intended to be invisible. That is precisely the goal of the veil.

In light of the veil’s dehumanization of women, how could anyone, especially a rabbi on the left, say he respects a woman choosing to wear a veil?

It is not new for cultures to try to hide their women for one reason or another. It is always a dehumanizing thing that leaves the women, as Rhett said, “buried alive.” That the reform rabbi would be unable to grasp this, something that has been recognized in the West since at least 1936, when GWTW was published, is both sad and shocking.

16 Responses

  1. I enjoyed your comments on the book. It has been many years since I read it as well and now I see I need to read it again. However, I wish you would not have skipped the parts about slavery and the treatment of black people, abhorrent as it is. We need to remember that sad chapter in our history. Sorry if I sound preachy. I really enjoy your website.

  2. I guess that one of the shockingly sad personal discoveries that I have had to confront in growing older is just how many people, men and women, are willing to voluntarily submit to slavery and degradation – perhaps because they think that it will remove or simplify the mental burdens and responsibilities of daily living, somehow. I don’t know because I just don’t get it.

    Just look at how much of the West (in Eurabia and America) is willing to embrace Dhimmitude. Frankly, there are a lot of people that neither desire nor deserve the burdens of being free.

  3. The Left’s allegiance to progress demands that they progress towards maximum entropy with the help of their allies. They have the same goals at heart.

  4. Great, thoughtful post. I agree on all counts. I too also think “Gone With the Wind” still worth reading, as an eye-opening window into several different layers of the past! It’s certainly better-written and more educational than Danielle Steele.

  5. You expected a rabbi “on the left” to be an improvement over anyone else on the left? Why?

  6. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Sphere: Related Content […]

  7. Wow Book, this is why I keep reading your blog. Your reach is impressive. And you reinforce the fact that good novels are an important part of education

  8. Maybe the rabbi is defending that freedom of religion we speak so highly of? Some sects of the Jewish religion still cover their heads, (well the women do!) And just 30 years ago Catholic women still covered theirs. Granted it is a tradition that they can take or leave now, but!!! Does it really speak of a way to control, or simply a way to honor God? There are nuances to everything.

  9. I agree that many religions cover their heads in the sight of the Lord, Tibby, and do not have a problem with Islam to the extent the women wear those head scarves. My problem begins with the more radical clothing the rabbi also seems to approve — the veil. That goes beyond respect to the Lord and becomes erasure of the person.

  10. Hello Tibby. You must admit that there is a difference between covering one’s hair and covering one’s face. Certainly, we can wear a hat or a scarf and be recognizable. Not so with a veil. We can breathe fresh air with a hat or scarf on. Not with a veil. We can smile hello and have others see our smile and greet us in return with a head covering on, but not with a face covering. We can show excitement, distress, anger or joy in our faces and people can identify our feelings at a glance and respond to them, but with a veil those feelings must be verbally articulated to be noticed.
    People cover their heads for a variety of reasons. As you mentioned, religious Jews cover their head as a sign of respect to God, to remind them that there is Someone above them. Orthodox Jewish women, as with Catholic nuns, also cover their hair as a sign of modesty. Can the veil be taken also as a sign of modesty? Sure- it is modesty that renders a woman invisible, that makes one woman in public indistinguishable from another. Aayan Hirsi Ali, a woman who grew up Moslem in Somalia, described her feelings as a child arriving in Saudi Arabia and seeing moving black blobs, a sight that frightened her. Eventually she realized that under the blackness a woman walked. Who was she? No one could possibly know except by her escort; her son, husband or brother. Read Ms. Ali’s book to get a sense of what it is like to be invisible and unable to order coffee without a male escort or even to get home from the airport.

    I question whether these women are really making a choice anyway. What if a wife of a devout man didn’t want to wear the veil? As the property of her husband or father if she refused she would be forced to do so. Check out YouTube and look up key words “women’s rights” and “Islam” and you will see numerous film footage taken straight from Arab language tv on a variety of subjects such as domestic violence, child marriages, the veil, and so on. These are talk shows, interviews with clerics and intelligentsia who describe a woman’s world inconceivable to us. In lands where talk shows instruct men in the “proper” way to beat their wives, how much freedom does she really have?

    And btw, how comfortable is it to have cloth brushing against your lashes each time you blink, and a mask forcing you to breathe the stale air from your own breath. No, Mr. Joffie is wrong. This isn’t “freedom of religion”. This is when a so-called supporter of human rights gets so mixed up with messages of multi-culturalism and diversity that he actually supports the suppression of human rights.

    Try covering your face for days, weeks, months- it would be tantamount to a living hell. The fact that women who live this lifestyle accept it, even claim to feel liberated by it, doesn’t surprise me. The women behind the veil who don’t support it could not say so publicly. Look how long it took after the collapse of the the Taliban for Afghan women to remove their burqas and show their beautiful faces to the sunlight again. Despite the risk, it took no time at all.

    Sorry for the length of this tome but I feel passionately about this subject. This is not a freedom of diversity issue. This is a subjugation of women issue.

  11. Try eating with a veil on.

  12. Freedom of religion means the freedom to practice your faith, whatever your faith is. If your faith dictates that you slaughter an X number of people by Ramadan, is it against freedom of religion to restrict your ability to do so? Is it restricting a person’s freedom of speech when you prevent him from breaking confidentiality contracts? Is it a violation of the 2nd Amendment if you can’t own nuclear weapons, even if you had the money to buy them?

    Freedom is only seen by the progressives as the freedom to do whatever the hell they want, so long as it is someone else suffering. It is not liberty, however.

  13. I actually believe that the wearing of the veil itself, if done entirely by individual choice for the reason of either fashion or privacy while in public, is perfectly fine.

    When enforced by law or any form of force, it becomes a pure abomination. It’s a crime against individual liberty, because it is then, in fact, the deliberate erasure of worth and identity.

    And yet, still, all of our fellow Americans on the left refuse to speak out against this radical Islamic viciousness, as well as so many other forms of Islamic viciousness. They’ve abandoned a whole set of valuable “classical liberal” values for the single value of a hate of everything Western. How very pitiful, and sad for the American left; and extremely dangerous.

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