Roles of Gender in Southern Literature
The role of gender is believed to have taken root more in the South than in any other place in the country. This has, of course, influenced works of literature scripted from this region. Southern literature, which is simply regarded as literature about the American South and its writers and characters, has brought about a deep sense of justice, the dominance of religions and beliefs as well as the importance of an individual in a society.
But apart from the geographical background of this type of literature that gives it its nomenclature, Southern literature has historically been centered around slavery, the Civil War, land, racial issues, education and gender. This type of literature has a great influence on many readers, shaping their paradigm on key subjects.
On gender, for instance, men and women have been represented differently in much Southern literature. The advantages and disadvantages of the role of gender in this literature are interwoven. While it has brought female writers and their lifestyle into the limelight, some male-favored storylines have become a subject of concern to feminists. Female characters in many of these works of literature are less empowered and treated unfairly in contrast to their male counterparts.
Men, irrespective of their race, have enjoyed a substantial amount of freedom and dominance in society, while women with a high level of education and literacy are still portrayed as subjects. This imbalance was what Southern culture represented in its literature. A lot of essays have been written on the concept of gender roles, and there is even a study bay review on the idea of gender roles with several arguments in support for and against it.
Women have been forced to play a lesser or no role at all in politics. They have been relegated to being a submissive, shy, loyal and obedient wife whose primary assignment is to love and honor her husband, as well as manage her children and household. In fact, some opined that a child is likely to be unsuccessful if his or her mother works. It was believed that it is not within their jurisdiction to earn money or hold governmental positions.
Even when she was qualified for a nominated position, a woman would still not be voted for. One then begins to wonder, why can’t women be given the same level playing ground as men? This prejudiced mindset has gradually crept into Southern literature.
Let’s take the 1936 novel Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell as a case study. Mitchell started professionally writing after she was forced to abruptly stop her education in her second year, following the passing away of her mother. Gone with the Wind has a beloved female lead, Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett is a hardworking woman who makes painstaking sacrifices in order to fend for her family and friends. She is running a plantation, not minding public opinions on the venture. Her mother and sister-in-law are as well strong and full of sheer determination.
Scarlett was a beacon of hope for many other women in her time and even today. But things started to go haywire for her when she was forced to marry a man she didn’t love to keep her business running. In the end, Scarlett is not exactly a heroine. Although she was industrious, her life is subtly portrayed to be selfish, greedy and cunning.
Thankfully, the rise in the popularity of a feminist message has begun to cause a paradigm shift for many women. One can only hope that this will further influence Southern literature and one day there will be absolute gender impartiality.