The word “feminism” has been around since 1837. Originated by French philosopher and Utopian Socialist, Charles Fourier, the word was created to define a mentality (that had yet to become a movement), that women and men are equal. Of course, even before the introduction of the word, one that would find its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1894, the concept existed. Yes, for those of you who were unaware, feminism was not something that Gloria Steinem conjured up one evening. It’s been a persistent struggle, and a movement that was propelled forward thanks to the effort of she and many, many others. Gloria is so badass.
As one who regards herself as a feminist (finally!), it’s a cause that’s worth fighting for in my mind. It’s also something which I look for in friends, lovers, the art that surrounds me and the media in which I engage. It’s important to me that feminist qualities exist in things I love, because it’s important to me that feminism and, what it means in regards to human equality, is never put on the back burner. I always assumed this to be true about myself.
Then I read “The Great Gatsby” Still Gets Flappers Wrong, by fellow feminist and friend, Lisa Hix at Collectors Weekly. (Oh, the shit storm of debating that will follow on Facebook shortly!) While Lisa takes apart what the flapper really meant to our gender, and its impact on the generations that followed, it was the emphasis on the lack of feminism by F.Scott Fitzgerald that had me drop my face into my palm and mutter, “What the fucking fuck? Must we analyze everything to death?”
So, where does Fitzgerald get the flapper wrong? Well, for starters, it’s because “he portrays this liberated ‘New Woman’ through the eyes of men,” and “instead of intelligent, independent women telling their own stories of rebelling and rejecting their mother’s values, you have male war buddies sharing how vapid, spoiled socialites carelessly wrecked their lives.” I see, said the blind girl who’s about to get on a mini-rant. Seriously, I see and agree, and not just because those two words rhyme.
Apparently, men of the 1920′s were none to impressed with this new liberated woman, and, as Lisa writes, The Great Gatsby is a “cautionary tale“ that “seems to warn against the wiles of The New Woman.” Again, I dropped my face into my palm and sighed loudly while wishing I worked in an office so someone could ask, “Chatel, what the hell is your problem now?”
It is true that the female characters in The Great Gatsby aren’t exactly feminist. They are, indeed, portrayed as vapid, materialistic, slaves to the opulent era and provide a more decorative purpose than one that is steeped in a meaty presence. It’s even likely that had we asked Daisy Buchanan about feminism, she probably would have responded the same way Carla Bruni did, remarking that her generation doesn’t need feminism.
I would never, in a million years, suggest that Daisy is a feminist, or even a role model for women, and not just because of the line, “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” but because, as a whole, the character doesn’t truly embrace the new found power, or the impact that she could have made as a member of that generation of New Women. Instead, she cheats on her husband, can’t decide whom she really loves, kills a woman, let’s Jay take the fall, then slinks back into her world “wherever people played polo and were rich together.” She’s pretty to look at and the drive behind Gatsby’s rise to wealth and power, but not much more than that.
However, that’s exactly how I want The Great Gatsby to be, and any feminist rant knocking it can, well, can kiss my grits. (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
The Great Gatsby is a work of art. It is regarded, by most, as one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s both a love story and a tragedy; a comment on the times, an exploration into desire and delusion, as well as a story that closely parallels that of its writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is beautiful; it is flawless, and the language used is so eloquent that one can’t help but read several paragraphs out loud at a time just to feel that eloquence roll off their tongue. It’s also under no responsibility to uphold the ideals of feminism.
Do I care about the lack of feminism in the book? Hell no. But what I do care about is when feminists decide to take apart a classic novel and analyze it for the sake of a feminist agenda. What’s the point? What are you trying to prove? Shall we cover all other books that lack feminist characters? Do we really have that much time on our hands?
While no one seems to be disputing just how amazing The Great Gatsby is, the fact remains that someone in the world has their panties in a twist over how women are portrayed in it. Yes, it is an interesting (and factual) take, and the research should be commended, but at some point it would be nice if we could read something beautiful for what it is, instead of getting overly politically correct about it, and chopping away at it with our critical thinking.
I say this as both a feminist, and one whose favorite book in the world is The Great Gatsby. But I also say it as someone who was forced to critique the book from every angle in college, so I’ve been there and done that. At this point, I’m in it for the story, and I long ago learned to accept that not every great tale demands a feminist heroine.
Photo: Warner Bros.