Was watching the miniseries Scarlett, and it is a prime example of the contrast in behavior and reputation between men and women. Scarlett is the sequel to Gone With the Wind, for those of you who have not read the book or seen the miniseries.
It has Scarlett going to Ireland to make a fresh start with her father’s relations. She becomes a land owner and makes quite a name for herself. She meets a “gentleman” who is also a peer, but he is far from being a gentleman.
Scarlett gets upset with him, after learning he had fathered a baby with a young lady who Scarlett had hired to help care for her daughter (yes, Rhett’s child, conceived after the death of their daughter Bonny). The man refuses to leave Scarlett’s home, and begins to beat her and rape her. As he chases her about the house, tearing her clothes, striking her, Scarlett is screaming for anyone to come to her aid. The servants all open doors and look at her running up the stairs, the door being forced opened by the man, Scarlett screaming at him to leave her alone and leave the house, yet no one comes to her aid. She gets knocked out, and when she wakes, he is dead, with a knife sticking out of his chest.
So what happens??? Scarlett is arrested, hauled from the house in chains, still wearing the torn gown and blood and bruising on her face. It was clear to see what she had endured, yet she was treated little better than a courtesan. She is tried and convicted for murder (fortunately, the real killer is discovered and Scarlett is saved).
Now, what is my reason for discussing this? To show the difference in what was accepted, and the despicable way women were treated throughout history.
Here was a woman who was brutally beaten and violated, yet she is the one who faced charges. To me, if she had committed the killing, it would have been justifiable, due to self-defense. But she is treated as if she is the worst sort of mass murderer in the world. No one thought bad of the man, no one came to protect her during the situation, and they automatically think ill of Scarlett.
We see this sort of behavior towards women throughout history. A woman’s reputation can be damaged simply and often by accident. Take for example of a young lady entering a room, and finding a single, unrelated man in the room. If she were discovered, rumors could begin of an improper tryst. The lady would be thought a ruined woman, that she would give her favors to anyone. The man, he might be thought a rake, but most likely nothing would happen to him. And with some men, it would make him a stud to his friends.
A lady could not be seen in the company of an unrelated man, without a companion. She could not write to an unrelated man, take a walk with him, receive a gift from him, or anything else. And heaven help us if she is assaulted or raped by a man. The appearance of impropriety was all that was needed, not actual deeds. Even the simple task of a man coming to the assistance of an injured lady (such as checking for broken bones or wounds) could ruin her reputation, as a man had touched her in a manner she should not allow. Then the woman was a hussy, a flirt, a whore, loose, a harlot. Her entire family could share the shame. The men of the family would be ostracized for not having control over the women in the family, and the women of the family would be considered as bad as the ruined woman.
So her life was in tatters. She might be forced to marry the man, and if he was the sort who abused her or raped her, this would be a horrible situation for the lady. The other option was for her to be sent away somewhere, far from her dearest family members. The farther away, the better. Cut off from her parents and siblings. Forced to forget her past and repent her future.
What happened to the man? Rarely anything. There might be a duel, but they were illegal. And if the father, brother, or uncle were not good with swords or guns, add his death to the situation. As with the Bennets, had Mr Bennet challenged Wickham to a duel, most likely he would have lost. With his death, his wife and daughters would have been homeless and penniless. The man who was responsible could walk away from the ruined lady, and the most that would happen, besides a duel, was people considering him a rake or a scoundrel. But it was not treated near as harsh as the ladies.
And ladies, do not think this is a long ago situation. I gave birth to my daughter in 1990. I was not married; therefore, I was an unwed mother. I took a lot of criticism and discrimination, even lost some friends. But where was the term “unwed father”? Single dad is a term that is being used more, but it still isn’t too common. If a woman sleeps around, she is a whore. If a man sleeps around, he is a stud.
When my daughter was 3, I began my career at the police department. The man who was my boss had 2 females in the crime lab, me-single mom of a 3-year-old daughter, and another lady who was married and had a 10-year-old son. Her husband worked graveyard shift. So if there was a need to call in a technician, she did not get called in because her husband was working. But me, with a preschooler was demanded to be available to be on call. Fortunately, my parents helped me with my daughter, and we shared a duplex. But because I was not married, I was thought to be lower and therefore less deserving of respect. The next boss did not like single mothers or outspoken and opinionated woman. Come on, me? Outspoken and opinionated? He was of the opinion that women were to be married and subservient to men, therefore I didn’t deserve respect, where the other lady did deserve respect because she was married and meek. Sorry people, I have never been meek and subservient. I’m the only daughter (by birth, lots of sisters by choice) of three kids, and my father was the first man I had to convince that women are capable of doing many things that men can, and that means straight women, not just lesbians (I was told by many people that I must be a lesbian since I worked “man’s work”, but I am straight).
One way we can continue to improve the situation for women is to see past the labels. If a lady is unmarried, and has a child, do not automatically deem her loose. It takes 2 to make the child. Did the father abandon the mother and child? Did the man die suddenly, before the child was born? Look for the truth before being a Mrs Bennet. Do not spread gossip that could ruin a lady, find out more about the matter before making a judgment. And remember, women can be just as judgmental against women. How would you wish to be treated if you were in their shoes? If you were the victim of rape, and did not believe in abortion, would you have the strength to raise the child?
Today is a difficult day, as it marks the 10th anniversary of the death of my father. I was a tomboy, and learned you to ask Dad to show me how to do things, rather than ask him to do them for me. All my life, he was amazingly supportive and proud of my accomplishments. I wish he could have seen my writing career take off, as no one in my family knew I was writing until after I published my first two books. But I am certain he is proud of what I have accomplished. So this post is dedicated to Deryl Schertz.