Rose Dawson: The Girl Who Lived

Every year around this time I think about one thing – no, not a rush of panic to do my taxes – but rather a nostalgic pang in my heart for fictional characters who fell in love on a real boat that sunk in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Exactly 104 years ago today, at approximately 11:40pm, the Titanic slammed into an iceberg on its starboard side, causing a massive gash in the steel and allowing the cold ocean waters to flood into the ship. In a world where Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater exist, this was right around the time they had finished Nude Sketch and Chill in an inexplicably steamy car.

Right after Leo won his Oscar in February (REMEMBER WHEN LEO WON AN OSCAR), my friends and I had all the feels and the only way to deal with them was to watch Titanic. Upon re-watching it for the fafillionth time, I noticed something I’ve never took note of before – Titanic is a feminist film. Or, Titanic features a strong female HBIC of 1912.

I’m blaming the fact that I was blinded by Leo’s handsomeness and wrapped up in the “OTP: I Will Go Down With This Ship” of it all when I first saw the movie as a 12 year old, but now, nearly 20 years later, it’s become glaringly apparent to me that Titanic’s not even about Jack + Rose or even about Jack. It’s about Rose. It’s about the girl who stepped onto the ship as a rich socialite preparing to become a wife, and left as a single woman free from the chains keeping her down. She’s The Girl Who Lived.

From the moment we meet young Rose, she doesn’t seem to be the typical Edwardian, demure, soft-spoken woman that are common characters in the early 1900s. Instead, she constantly says statements or small little actions to let you know it just wasn’t typical of a woman to do at this time, which is smack dab in the middle of the women’s era and eight years before females even got the right to vote.

While a lot of women at this time were either playing the role of Wife or factory workhorses, Rose seems to be a smart, learn-ed, modern woman. She can tell the difference between a Monet, Degas and Picasso – all of which are artists whose paintings she owns. She can use a Freud insult in the right way and not apologize for it. She can do fast math when it comes to the ratio of passengers to lifeboats.

For the last five hours of the movie – JK more like four – Rose just does not have any more fucks to give and lets her gut lead her confidence moving forward. She smokes at lunch even though she knows her mother hates it, she talks back to Cal (“I am not a foreman in one of your mills that you can command. I am your fiancee”), she gives the middle finger to Mr. Lovejoy as he attempts to hunt down her and Jack and even pushes the dude in charge of the lift because she needs to go save Jack. Friendly reminder: the year is 1912.

She’s also embracing her strength as a woman by letting this dude she’s known for two days draw her completely naked. But she doesn’t go about it in a demure way, Rose straight up tells him to do it. She’s forceful but strong, a characteristic that was overall not seen by women in this era (did I mention it’s 1912?). “I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this. And only this.” “Put your hands on me, Jack.” She is a sexual human being and isn’t afraid to show it.

On top of that, she’s so desperate to break out of her corset and leave the world of decorum that she, with the help of Jack, breaks all the boundaries of both gender norms and class distinction. She wants to learn how to “chew tobacco like a man” and “ride horses like a man” and “spit like a man”, and journeys down to the somewhat forbidden third class deck to drink and dance and go en pointe and smoke some more. I mean, just look at her longing to escape this world.

And of course, there’s the whole reason why she’s on the boat in the first place – she went to England to find a rich husband and become his arm candy, while her mother benefits from the social and financial gains. She found that man in Cal, who just so happens to be a selfish, misogynistic, lying bastard. Her voyage on the Titanic was not only the pathway to a life as a dutiful wife, but one last chance to escape from it all.

Enter Jack. Rose was already feeling helpless when she met him. Remember the whole, “With all due respect, Miss, I’m not the one hanging off the back of a ship here” moment? She wanted more for her life but there was no one to turn to when she needed to be heard. But it was Jack who pushed her to do all those things, because he believed in her and she just needed confirmation, like when he gives her the inner power for that iconic, “I’d rather be his whore than your wife” line. Unlike a lot of female protagonists, she wasn’t swayed to make a life-changing decision based on her lover’s opinion. He could see her potential, and he encouraged her to be more than what she was pretending to be.

Rose: Look, I know what you must be thinking. “Poor little rich girl, what does she know about misery?”

Jack: No! No, that’s not what I was thinking. What I was thinking was, “What could’ve happened to this girl to make her think she had no way out?”

. . .

Jack: Rose… you’re no picnic. All right? You’re a spoiled little brat even. But under that, you’re the most amazingly, astounding wonderful girl woman, that I’ve ever known… They’ve got you trapped, Rose. And you’re gonna die if you don’t break free. Maybe not right away because you’re strong, but sooner or later that fire that I love about you, Rose, that fire is gonna burn out.

Rose: It’s not up to you to save me, Jack.

Jack: You’re right. Only you can do that.

Now get ready for a REAL good analogy – Rose is the Titanic. She hits a metaphorical iceberg meeting Jack, who turns her world upside down. He gives her the jolt of energy she needs to fully realize that she doesn’t have to be what her mom or Cal say she has to be. And all this happens as both her personal world and the physical ship is going down. She feels like she’s drowning and has no idea how to go back up for air. But she holds on for as long as she can until she can’t anymore. And she survives. She fights back. She fights for her life. She becomes The Girl Who Lived.