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Feb 01 2006

My Jarring Experience


Wearing a fashionable jello mold and potato sack, the graceful Hepburn cheerfully awaits patriarchy’s shackles

Last night I made the mistake of falling asleep with the TV tuned to the Misogyny Classic Movies channel, and when I awoke it was to the jolting horror of pervy old Rex Harrison rapping “Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man,” his woman-hating anthem from the highly insulting “My Fair Lady.”

A few of the heartwarming lyrics:

“Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags! ”

Audrey Hepburn is supposed to be some sort of goddess or something, but I can’t stand this fucking movie. Henry Higgins is the biggest asshole on film, and Eliza Doolittle, though Henry has patronized and humiliated her to a degree scarcely imaginable even by today’s romantic comedy standards (two words: “Shallow Hal”), goes crawling back to him at the end and hands him his fucking slippers like a trained chimp. This I-heart-male-privilege theme–i.e. churlish (can we resist that word now?) mad scientist creates sexbot dishrag out of previously fully-realized human woman–is among literature’s most popular and most repellent.

And, yeah, fuck “The Taming of the Shrew,” too.

81 comments

2 pings

  1. norbizness

    Let me put the over/under on the “it’s about class, not gender!” on 8 posts.

    In any event, there’s nothing we can do, as Harrison and Hepburn have passed on. However, Kate Hudson and John Cusack are still alive. DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE!

    I know, nobody likes to hear anything bad about Lloyd Dobler, who occasionally posts on Arianna Huffington’s website in an attempt to prove that he’s not a conventional sell-out. But when I heard that his latest craptastrophe was called “Must Love Dogs” all I could think was “Must Eliminate Cusack.”

  2. Ms Kate

    As for men being rational, hah! There is scientific evidence they are not.

    I always hated it when my dad played the “I’m being logical and rational game”, but it took me a while to put my finger on exactly why it drove me nuts. Once I was old enough to vivisect his bullshit and call him on it, I realized the extent to which “logic and reason” were but “male” facades used to obscure and buttress faulty reactionary emotional premises (which, as we know, women are to be faulted for).

    To dad’s credit, being called on it has had positive effects.

    Andrew Lang said it best: He uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

  3. Ms Kate

    http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060129/NEWS06/601290427/1012/NEWS06 is the link to an article on partisanship – it looked at how they processed clashing info from and on their favored candidates.

    Thirty men participated in this study. They weren’t using the rational parts of their brains to process the information. So there!

  4. shannon

    “Woman of the Year” alas!

  5. jaye

    Ms. Twisy:
    I chanted my new mantra last night during the disgraced State of the Union.

    “This knob will shut up soon.” I have added that useful word, “knob,” to my vocabulary.

    You inspire me and so many others.

  6. Rachel

    Also see Philadelphia Story, to which I say: fuck Cary Grant.

  7. Janis

    I always wanted to make a sequel to that movie called “My Fair Later.”

    Eliza’d dose Higgins with rat poison slowly so that he’d die in six months time, and she’d make a fetching tearstained widow at his funeral.

    Then, she’d kidnap pretty Freddy Aynsford-Hill and run off to the US with him on a steamer. They’d wind up in San Franciso, where she’s run a casino and rake in enormous amounts of money, all the while with pretty, adoring Freddy at her beck and call.

    It also softens the blow to know that in Shaw’s original story, “Pygmalion,” Eliza leaves and marries Freddy and realizes her ambition of owning a flower shop. The prospect of her marrying Higgins was utterly inconceivable to Shaw. That was a tacked-on piece of shit ending typical of Hollywood, bastion of right-wing brainwashing.

    You wanna talk disgusting, tell me how the playwriters changed the story to make Annie Oakley LOSE ON PURPOSE to a man in order to woo him. In reality, she beat him, and he still fell in love and married her. But we can’t be having THAT ending, now can we? I mean, little girls who see THAT movie might think they can be just as god as a boy and still find some sort of romantic fulfillment — we need to make sure that girls know that they need a man, and that they need to be his inferior to get him!

  8. Sharoni

    Strangely enough, instead of watching the state of the union address last night (I’m packing up my whole house to move two states away so I’m not really watching anything, just using it as background) I watched “Born Yesterday.” While that movie posits a female “helped” to enlightenment by a male (i.e. made into a suitable mate for him by his molding of her mind much like fair lady), it did show several examples of patriarchal males that should remind us all why it is we need to blame the patriarchy and go on blaming it all our lives. There are things that I never thought to teach my daughter that I need to teach my granddaughter before she gets too much older. One of them is to praise Twisty all her young life.

  9. CafeSiren

    Oh my yes.

    I grew up listening to (and learning by heart) the “My Fair Lady” soundtrack. At nine, I could sing “Wouldn’t it be lover-ly” in a cockney accent. I still know all the words to most of the songs.

    But I never saw either the play or the movie version. Until I was 22, and living abroad. Christmas eve with some friends in Denmark, this came on, and I convinced them that we *had* to watch, because it was a classic, and a part of my childhood. So three of us women, aged 20-30 hung out, munched chocolates, and watched. We enjoyed the hell out of it, until that very last 30 seconds.

    When Henry Higgins says “Liza, fetch me my bloody slippers.”

    And Hepburn *smiles.*

    We all sat in stunned silence for about three seconds. Then, as one woman, we howled in outraged protest.

    My childhood has been retroactively ruined.

  10. Dianne

    I don’t know if this will encourage or enrage you, but Shaw would agree with you. In Pygmilion, the play My Fair Lady is based on, Eliza goes off with Freddy, who adores her and will fetch her slippers, rather than staying with Henry, who is an idiot. Shaw says in an afterward that (paraphrasing slightly, as I’m going from memory) “only an idiot whose sensibility has been ruined by romantic comedy” would expect her to do otherwise. Too bad Hollywood’s collective brain has been thorougly ruined.

    As for Taming of the Shrew, I read it as a tragedy: the destruction of a real, living, thinking, churlish woman. The brilliance of Shakespeare is such that one can make that reading, even though he himself was a patriarchal asshole who saw the whole thing as a joke.

  11. Hattie

    Well, Kate was supposed to be seen as superior to her insipid sister, so there was a kind of subversiveness to the play. Kate’s submission at the end struck me as unconvincing, like a sop to patriarchal conventions.
    I thought the real suckorama musical of all time was “South Pacific,” Remember the poor peasant woman selling her daughter to the nice GI?

  12. A White Bear

    Why can’t a woman be more like a man? I thought the problem with Eliza was that she’s too “mannish” for ‘Enry. She speaks her mind and is unashamed of her accent and demeanor. She takes up space in the world and has practical concerns. How can ‘Enry be pissed when when he forces her to become a simpering, hyperemotional doll and she complies?

    The patriarchy makes sure most men can’t stomach the sight of a woman thinking for herself, and then comes right back around and makes them hate women for being mindless silly clotheshorses. Does this make anyone happy at all?

  13. zz

    I don’t know what disappointed me more, the ending scene or finding out that Audrey lip-synched all the songs.

    I used to love “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” as a kid because I was a big Sidney Poitier fan. I recently watched it and ended up screaming at the TV most of the night. Spencer Tracy’s character epitomizes the arrogant patriarchal prick. Yeah, I know it was groundbreaking at the time because of the interracial relationship but my god, try watching it now.

  14. robin

    I’ve always hated that wretched movie too.
    That anyone in the world could have ever seen that idiot Henry Higgins as clever or charming is beyond me. I hated it when it first appeared on screen when I was a girl and I hate it now.
    I hated Taming of the Shrew also.
    The title alone is cause for hatred.
    The whole idea of “taming” any living creature is quite bothersome in fact.

  15. Sylvanite

    Hmmm. I put “My Fair Lady” on my Netflix queue, since I’ve never seen it, and keep hearing that it’s a classic. Perhaps I should just read “Pygmalion” instead.

  16. Nancy

    A couple of people on this thread have already pointed out that GB Shaw’s original play, PYGMALION, was very different from MY FAIR LADY, and they are exactly right. Shaw was a feminist. I just saw his play MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION and the message about women supporting themselves or fall into the clutches of assholes is just as true today as when he wrote it in 1894.

    You can read Mrs. Warrens here:
    http://drama.eserver.org/plays/modern/mrs-warrens-profession/

    and Pygmalion here:
    http://drama.eserver.org/plays/modern/pygmalion/default.html

    TAMING OF THE SHREW, I’m sorry to say, is about the domination of women. Some directors try to play that down, and some people are even deluded enough to think that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly mean the things Kate says at the end of the play. Although I love Shakespeare, he was a man of his time, at least in his work, and I really can’t stand this play.

    Shaw in contrast, was a man ahead of his time.

  17. piny

    I don’t know if this will encourage or enrage you, but Shaw would agree with you. In Pygmilion, the play My Fair Lady is based on, Eliza goes off with Freddy, who adores her and will fetch her slippers, rather than staying with Henry, who is an idiot. Shaw says in an afterward that (paraphrasing slightly, as I’m going from memory) “only an idiot whose sensibility has been ruined by romantic comedy” would expect her to do otherwise. Too bad Hollywood’s collective brain has been thorougly ruined.

    Yup. The scene where Eliza tells Higgins to go articulate himself–after having tea with his wonderful mother–was Shawsesque (Shawsian?). The scene where she fetches his slippers was disgusting. I think he also implied a little more of the overall crappiness of her choices: Freddy was kind of a stiff, albeit nicer in every way than Higgins.

  18. Penny

    piny writes:

    > Shawsesque? (Shawsian?)

    Ooh! Ooh! I know this one: Shavian. No, really, you can look it up: http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/shavian

  19. Twisty

    English majors!

  20. Janis

    Naah — Freddy was okay. He was young, pretty, and he adored the hell out of her. Just the sort of spouse that MEN are encouraged to get hold of in the movies.

    I still think they ran off after Eliza poisoned Higgins and opened a casino in San Francisco. Freddy gave her footrubs every night, too.

    (Besides, Freddy in the movie == Jeremy Brett. Hot.)

    In general, though — do movies SUCK ROCKS OR WHAT? It never fails to amaze me that they are filled with a shitload of left-wing liberal actors (most actors are practically Green party, with some exceptions), and they reinforce every disgusting ultraconservative stereotype known to humanity.

  21. piny

    Don’t forget Saint Joan! I love him. He was such a grouch.

  22. Sjofn

    Yes indeed, fuck Taming of the Shrew. And My Fair Lady. And South Pacific. All of Rogers & Hammerstein, really.

    It’s funny, becoming a stagehand made me hate a lot more plays and musicals than I would’ve otherwise. Although I would’ve hated “Cats” either way.

  23. piny

    Ooh! Ooh! I know this one: Shavian. No, really, you can look it up: http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/shavian

    Heh.

    Thanks.

  24. Jodie

    Rachel, don’t write Cary Grant off entirely. Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic hoot, even if his character does start out as a patriarchy-loving woman-hating idiot.

    PS I’ve never seen Philadelphia Story.

    PPS And I never could figure out why in My Fair Lady, Liza kicks Freddie to the curb; now I know that wasn’t the original plan.

  25. wheelomatic

    It is nice to know that I am not the only one who found Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins to be creepy, not charming. I always thought him a big ol’ perv.

    The 1st time I saw MFL on TV with my mom and dad at age 8, maybe, I too, HOWLED in protest at the end. “But, Mom, he’s so mean! Why didn’t she chuck those slippers at his head? Mo-oom!” The response? Dead silence.

    Of course, my mom also took me to see “Sound of Music” at a real movie theatre when I was 6. Christopher Plummer terrified me.

  26. wheelomatic

    Oh by the way, since we are discussing movies.

    Have you seen “The Country Girl” with Bing Crosby as a drunk has-been actor and Grace Kelly as his long suffering wife who props him up one more time, because that is what a woman does?

  27. midwesterntransport

    Twisty,

    This is my first visit to your site and I am cracking up at work. I hate Taming of the Shrew, too, as per: http://dirtygirlfromill.blogspot.com/2005/11/queens-company-does-taming-of-shrew.html

    Anyway, you rock!

  28. DrSue

    And don’t even talk about Gigi! (The movie, not the Colette story, which is problematic but still smart and knowing.)

  29. metamanda

    I just saw the movie over Christmas. My mom, bless her heart, loves it. So I understand your frustration with the ending, and I second all the people who said Shaw didn’t intend it that way. (Though as I understand from the epilogue, her marriage with Freddy wasn’t happy either.) The ending of the musical looks so obviously grafted on, and the rest of it I think is a pretty interesting critique of class and gender relations in England at the time, and what a gordian knot that really was. Once Eliza becomes middle class or upper class, her options as a woman are more constrained than when she was a flower girl.

    But it really all came together when Higgins turned to Colonel Pickering and said:

    “Why can’t a woman be more like… you?”

    You see, THOSE GUYS ARE TOTALLY GAY. Why else do you think Higgins and Pickering are shacking up like that? They’re totally a couple. I mean… he met the guy on the street and took him home. “Confirmed Bachelor” is just some kind of Victorian code. It’s almost cute that way, or at least it enabled me to amuse myself whenever he got particularly misogynistic.

  30. Kyra

    One of my sisters did a paper for her English literature class comparing and contrasting “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Phantom of the Opera.” She asked me for help with ideas regarding the contrast. Bad idea. My decidedly unhumble opinion? They are both uberpatriarchal perversions of the term “romance,” featuring female leads who are pressured by society to put their lives and selves aside to humor the man who’s interested in them, and eventually do so, at which point the play calls it a day but doesn’t call it a tragedy. They differ from each other in the respect that one has music in it, and the other is written entirely in unrhymed iambic pentameter.

    My sister loves both stories. She thinks they’re very romantic. I think they’re wonderful purgatives—I wanted to vomit after hearing just her abridged description of them.

    Somehow I’m thinking this would be very amusing if somebody fed either of them, or “My Fair Lady” through regender.com—in fact, I think I’m going to do that right now. With “My Fair Lady,” that is—I’ve seen that one. Don’t want to waste brain cells or unnecessary angst knowing anything more about the plots of the other two.

  31. metamanda

    um, to clarify, it’s not so much that i think there’s anything *inherently* funny about being gay. but juxtaposed with Higgin’s and Pickering’s extremely proper victorian demeanor… well it takes the edge off and keeps me from ruining it for my mom.

  32. Liz

    The hideous Pygmalian theme–where the brilliant compentent accomplished asshole guy takes some naive ignorant untutored but of course ALWAYS beautiful and sexy young woman, and transforms her into a fine and talented but meek and adoring lady almost worthy of sharing his knobship’s own grandiose status, for which transformation he takes full credit–this Pygmmalion shit runs rampant in the dance movie genre. Easter Parade, Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Tango Lesson–the damn list goes on forever. Because I’m a dancer I like to watch dance movies, but because I haven’t been lobotomized yet they ALL make me bang my head on the floor for an hour or two after they’re over.

  33. Sharoni

    How about Monster, how about A Home of Her Own, how about, there aren’t that many movies out there with not-perfectly-proportioned, pretty lead roles in them, but Whoopi makes movies (whether good or bad), and Kathy Bates usually manages to get the good leads. The problem is, though, I think Janis is right – Hollywood tends to support the godbag, rightist we all have to be this way “norm” and there seems to be no good reason for it.

  34. Sravana

    Whatever you do, grrrls, don’t do opera. You will end up chewing nails at the most misogynistic of art forms.

    Bummer, I really like the tunes.

  35. Ms Kate

    At least “Taming of the Shrew” is blatantly honest about itself in the title. Take one independent, strong-minded woman (not that Kate was independent, or able to be independent – taming of the brat more like) and make her a “good” woman by marriage. Domestication, pure and simple. In other words, find her “womanly” qualities and exploit them one way or another to tame her, break her, and ride her.

    Now I suppose it would be called “The Shrew Whisperer”. Hah.

    I seem to remember a movie by the title “Educating Rita”, and that it was sort of the Eliza thang, but a bit more complex with the class/education/exploitation angle.

  36. Janis

    Sharoni, there’s the best reason of all for Hollywood movies to suck potatos through PVC pipe: MONEY. In a world where movies cost ridiculous sums of money to make and the A-list actors command scary salaries, there is NO WAY IN HELL they will risk that sort of money on anything truly worth watching. By definition, the American movie industry is gonna blow chunks. It breaks my heart to see the legions of slumming limeys working in these pieces of fecal matter when watching their UK work leaves one’s jaw on the floor with how much deeper and more textured it is. And we won’t even talk about the number of middle-aged British actresses who can stare holes through cinderblock they’re so good, like Judi Dench and Julie Walters. Even the awe-inspiring Kathleen Turner is working over there now, because gawd knows she ain’t gonna work over here no more. (AND she’s playing Mrs. Robinson and boffing Matthew Rhys on stage, so that’s pretty good, all things considered.)

    It revolts me to think of how good Keira Knightley and her ilk will be in forty years time, and how not a single one of us is ever gonna see it. Her career and others like her will start ramping down when she’s in her 30s, and she’ll either go the Demi Moore route and try to act like flapping her tits around is iconoclastic, or else she’ll back out, get knocked up, and act like she intended to give it all up for muthurhood all along.

    I fucking HATE HOLLYWOOD. This is why I puke in my mouth a little at the thought of getting cable and spend my time colelcting weird little 10-minute long student films in Welsh and German. The shit that’s got money behind it blows chunks.

  37. Burrow

    Rachel, don’t write Cary Grant off entirely. Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic hoot, even if his character does start out as a patriarchy-loving woman-hating idiot.

    I agree. One of my favourite movies is His Girl Friday and while he’s a prick in it (it was made in 1940 so it was timely), he knows how smart and what a good reporter his ex-wife is and cons her into doing one last story before she remarries and becomes a suburban housewife. (Even though one of his intended purposes is to break up the marriage, his other, better, purpose is to get back his star reporter.)

    I like to interpret the ending (or epilogue) as her realising what talent she has and seeing that the idea of kids and a white picket fence was something she dreamed of only because society told her to, because throughout the movie you can see just how much she enjoys being a reporter. And she’s damn good at it too. See that movie instead.

  38. Tara

    Hey, Dirty Dancing is not like that! She’s strong and powerful before, during, and after. Actually I think it’s the story of his transformation and her sexual awakening.

    Jeez I hope I’m right and not retroactively salvaging a childhood favorite. Maybe it’s time to watch it again…

  39. Twisty

    His Girl Friday, that’s the one where everybody talks so fast it doesn’t even sound like English.

  40. CafeSiren

    You know, there is one point in MFL where the “shavian” (!) themes manage to peek through: After Eliza comes back from the ball, and she overhears Higgins and his buddy congratulating each other on “their” accomplishment — doesn’t she get pissed and bolt at this point?

    Sure, the act of rebellion is effectively neutralized by her coming back to the man who had “grown accustomed to her face.” Well, yeah, now that I think of it, the fact that it’s there and gets deliberately buried is pissing me off even more. Nevermind.

  41. LMYC

    If Ir ecall correctly, she gets pissed and bolts not because her part was not acknowledged, but because Higgins wasnt’ all womantic and bowled over by How Pwetty She Was and just treated it like the business deal it was.

    That was the implication, if I recall correctly.

    That movie stinks on ice.

  42. CafeSiren

    Thanks LMYC — I’m obviously remembering my girlhood interpretations of the soundtrack, rather than the movie itself.

    Childhood retroactively ruined? Confirmed and double-confirmed.

  43. Aussie Liz

    There’s also a really good one-liner in Pygmalion where the furious Eliza says that when she was selling flowers at covent garden, she was only selling flowers, not herself. Higgins has turned her into a commodity that’s meant to be sold in the patriarchal marriage market = prostitution.

    Liz

  44. Burrow

    His Girl Friday, that’s the one where everybody talks so fast it doesn’t even sound like English.

    Yes! That’s the one. It also stars Rosalind Russell.

  45. Liz

    I want to rewrite the screenplay to MFL but in my ending, she’ll dump both Nice Guy Freddie and Ass Hat Higgins, and move in with Higgins’s mother, the only one who TRULY appreciates Eliza for who she really is.

  46. Mandos

    Thankfully many people have brought up the fact that Shaw didn’t intend his play to have the ending that MFL did. I read Shaw’s play before watching MFL, and I was utterly flabbergasted by the MFL ending, especially since Shaw’s anti-romantic ending was the WHOLE POINT, and one he made emphatically and repeatedly in the very long afterward.

    Shaw was my kinda guy: his forewords and afterwords were longer than his plays.

  47. tisha

    . . . oh yeah, that’s why I don’t have cable, and rarely watch TV or go to movies. Thank you for reminding me!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AUGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  48. Rachel

    I don’t remember Strictly Ballroom as being that bad. It’s been a long time, but I remember the actress as being refreshingly ordinary-looking, that she called the dude pro-dancer on his douchetruckery post-haste, and that their romance and ensuing victory only occured once he got over his priveleged butt and started seeing her as a human being w/ valuable insight resources. He might have had the years of training, but she was the really ambitious one. And I don’t remember her undergoing meekification, I thought she became more confident? And, I guess, not wear giant T-shirts. (Of course the joke is that that the supposed “ugly” girl’s the only one not made up like a Maybelline beast.)

    Anyway, I think that’s how the movie goes. Or am I white-washing it?

  49. Cass

    “Taming of the Shrew” is a lot like “the Merchant of Venice” in that its gone through all kinds of “updates” to make it palatable for a modern audience, but it never quite works; if its faithful at all to the original product, its going to leave you with a sick feeling at the end. And of course Shakespeare isn’t known for having written female characters particularly well.. with a few famous exceptions, there’s no one in his work that measures up to Antigone, Cassandra or Euripides’ version of Elecktra.

    I agree with those who think we should cut Cary Grant some slack… read the comments he made about himself after he started dropping acid.

  50. Rachel

    Also: His Girl Friday’s one of my favorites too, but oh boy does Philadelphia Story have a way of wiping your palate clean of whatever good came before it. (My piddling rant here.)

    Of course I think everything that’s been discussed pales pretty bad next to David Niven’s “The Impossible Years”, which I once caught on TCM. A 1968 film whose typical scene sees a teenage girl’s doctor coming over to her house to tell her dad about her new-broken hymen (to gloat, ya see, because she was too good to date the doc’s son). It’s so wretched, such filth that of course it was a huge box office hit. I actually hope it gets to DVD, it’s a wonderful reminder about women’s tenuous grasp on human rights.

  51. kactus

    Oh boy, I’m gonna go out on a limb and confess to loving My Fair Lady for the music and the clothes. Does that make me a gay man in disguise? I never paid much attention to Professor Higgins except to note that he was a jackass, then proceeded to swoon over Audrey and her outfits. Don’t hate me, please.

  52. kactus

    Oh, and I thought I’d mention that I was in my high school production of Annie Get Your Gun, and although I was the best singer in the choir (teacher’s words, not mine) I didn’t get a singing part, or a speaking part, because I wasn’t “pretty.” Instead I had to put on tons of dark make-up and hang out as a sullen Indian woman. The girls who got to sing and speak were all the high school princesses and cheerleaders.

  53. Betsy

    For an antidote to nausea after viewing “My Fair Lady,” may I recommend “Roman Holiday.” All of the Audrey, none of the schmaltz. Plus, she cuts her hair short. Good move, Miss Hepburn.

    Or, if you can take a double-header, do “Jean de Florette” followed rapidly by its sequel “Manon des Sources.”

  54. belledame222

    >Pygmmalion shit runs rampant in the dance movie genre. Easter Parade, Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Tango Lesson–the damn list goes on forever.

    Don’t forget the most vomitous offender: “Pretty Woman.”

  55. Sidra

    I remember the first time I saw My Fair Lady, and I actually sat there — in my days of not yet realizing Certain Important Things About Oppression just yet — and thinking to myself, WTF?

    I mean, and back then, at the tender age of something-teen, “F” was a pretty big word for me to be sitting on the floor in the living room pondering, you know, I thought she was going to leave him. I didn’t like the idea of Eliza Doolittle running off with Freddy, he doesn’t deserve her, but I loved Whatisface’s MOM. I’m with Liz. They should just be housemates and do whatever the hell they want with their “gentleman callers”.

    So, there I am, first viewing, totally in love with the hats and the costumes, etc., with my limited pre-teen/teen prognostication abilities, completely muffing the dismount. I was appalled. Why did she go back? It never made sense to me.

    I watch it now and I think there’s a redemptive bit for Whatisface, with this solo tune he does about missing her, or air, or something — but *Eliza* never gets to see that, so she has no idea. She’s going back to an asshole. It makes no sense from a *story* perspective, goddammit!

    [Thank all of you who explained about the Hollywood Ending. I'll have to go read the Shaw.]

    And then I *just* saw Philadelphia Story a couple of weeks ago — I was crushed! Same god. damn. gobsmacked WTF moment. Son of a bitch. Caught me off guard, dammit.

  56. Violet Socks

    I loved My Fair Lady as a child, even though I knew perfectly well that it was misogynistic horseshit. I was already a feminist at the age of 10, but there wasn’t much feminist enlightenment to be found in popular culture yet (this was the early 70s). So I would just mentally deconstruct the bad shit and enjoy the parts I liked: the music, singing along with Marni Nixon, the costumes, the Shavian wit. I was going through a show-tune stage and spent hours with the soundtracks of My Fair Lady, The King and I, etc.

    Like CafeSiren, I memorized the words and could sing all of Eliza’s songs with flawless Cockney accent. (Obviously I was already in training for my later career as a circus performer.) I still know “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” by heart.

  57. NancyMc

    And of course Shakespeare isn’t known for having written female characters particularly well.. with a few famous exceptions, there’s no one in his work that measures up to Antigone, Cassandra or Euripides’ version of Elecktra.

    Say what? Shakespeare isn’t known for having written female characters particularly well? According to whom? Do you really think Antigone, Cassandra or Electra beat out Cleopatra, Lady MacBeth and Rosalind? Not to mention Juliet, Goneril and Mistress Quickley. And plenty of others.

    Shakespeare wasn’t a perfect feminist, I’m painfully aware of that, but the sad fact is that that Elizabethan/Jacobian writer created more and better parts for women than almost any contemporary playwright! Try comparing the roles Shakespeare wrote for women with the roles that, say, David Mamet writes for women.

    I worked for Actors’ Equity and I know what I’m talking about. The ratio of male to female roles in contemporary plays is about 2:1. And of course the male to female actors ratio is 1:2. That makes for lots of underemployed female actors.

    With the possible exception of Shaw, I don’t think any other playwright has written as many good roles for female actors as Shakespeare. And no, 2 ancient Greek playwrights writing 3 female roles is not sufficient.

    In fact, I think that one of the reasons that Shakespeare is still so popular today is because his plays usually have a goodly number of decent roles for women. Especially compared to other plays in the popular repertory.

    I could go on, but I guess that’s more than enough for a site devoted to Patriarchy blaming, not English Lit.

  58. octopod

    Hey, “Merchant of Venice” can be done right. Did you see the most recent version? The one with Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino? It was awesome – played with the kind of pathos where you end up feeling for *all* the characters, I found.

    “Taming of the Shrew”, though, I agree, blows chunks. There’s just not much you can do with that thing.

  59. The Happy Feminist

    For a truly horrifying experience, try attending a Shakespeare performance put on by your little niece’s fifth grade class — only to find that they are performing some of the most loathsome bits of “Taming of the Shrew.” All the adults are laughing and nodding like it’s the cutest thing they’ve ever seen. I thought I was going to explode.

  60. Dim Undercellar

    I can’t speak for many of the others, but Lady MacBeth was an MRA’s rhetorical wet dream come true. I seem to recall it was HER plan to kill the king and elevate her husband, and he just went along with it (by consulting three hideously ugly devil-worshipping… what else… women), and then she’s the one who cracks under the pressure and gives him away in the end (“Out, out damn spot!”).

    Yeah, she’s strong and powerful and feminist. More like conniving, greedy, power-hungry, and simultaneously too weak to handle men’s traditional roles (of “regicide conspirator”, in this case).

  61. weeza

    On a vaguely similar note, I nodded off in front of the telly to wake up to a promo for ‘Beauty and the Geek’ wherein a number of not-pretty-boys who, presumably, like computers ‘compete’ for the attention of your-standard-partriarchal-example-of-beauty along the lines of ‘Ordinary Joe’. Cue feather-spitting.

  62. Jay Woolsrake

    You get a gold star for matching the perfect photo to your post!

    Anyway, when I taught high school in the Midwest AGES ago, I was given the responsibility of directing the plays. The hardest part of the job? Not the high school histrionics of the drama queens, or the meddling parents, or the grind of the rehearsal schedule.

    No, the hardest part of the job was choosing a musical that didn’t send the kids some ridiculously outdated (at best) or dangerous message. All of the musicals that were not to risqué for the school’s administration turned on horrific portrayals of women or relationships or falling in love and getting married the moment you lay eyes on each other. And they all end with someone googely eyed into submission or dead for love. The turning-point for poor South Pacific is the discovery that the man of her dreams had Polynesian children from a previous marriage! Oh the shame! Oh the horror! And the heroines go running back to abusive idiots in far too many of musicals.

    Aside: I had an old friend who used to sing the song you mentioned from My Fair Lady as “Why are the Brit men more like women?” To which a woman friend of his use to demand, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing, Mister?”

  63. M

    Nancy MC – what about Aristophanes? Of course, any genre where the Huge Strap-on Willy is a major part of the entertainment is a full-on part of the patriarchy. But, especially given the flexibility of translation you can work them to almost any contemporary theme. ‘Lysistrata’ in particular has a strong female character at the centre, and is a damn good demonstration of women as the Sex Class (no indication of course that Aristophanes disagreed with this in any way).

    Not just Aristophanes; Euripides has a lot of parts of women (Phaedra, Medea, Andromachae, Hecuba etc). Their role is problematic, given the amount of negative traits they are often given; so much so that Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae is based around the idea of the women of Athens getting so pissed off with him they want revenge.

    … and I must stop going off into random historical rambles. Sorry. I’ll do my best to refrain in future (as long as no-one insults the medieval period).

  64. Jezebella

    Ah, Taming of the Shrew – whoever it was up there who saw fifth-graders performing it (!!) has topped my own hellish viewing of the play last summer in Oxford, Mississippi, at their Shakespeare Festival. I was sickened and frankly, shocked, that anyone could stage that play in this day and age with NO nod to how unbelievably offensive it is. What’s worse: a we were there to see one of my cousins perform as Kate. She told me later it was one of the roles she always wanted to play. I don’t know her that well so I didn’t inquire whether she knew how bloody offensive it was. I was in a foul mood for days afterward.

    Must remember to never, ever, EVER watch My Fair Lady. Thanks for the heads-up.

  65. Cass

    NancyMc: I wasn’t referring so much to Shakespeare’s views (which can only be guessed at of course) as to the quality and depth of his female characters. Rosalind is a great role, I admit, and I probably have to go back and read A & C. Lady Macbeth starts out magnificently, almost as attractive in her evil as Richard III, but her unravelling doesn’t seem as convincing. (And yes, it is a very conservative play; her strength and authority were clearly part of the vision of a world turned upside down.) Goneril is strictly 2-D, though, and I can’t think of any his other heroines that leap off the page for me the way the best of Euripedes’ do.
    (Euripedes’ genius for drawing female characters was noticed by ancient writers, and he was even mocked for it in “The Frogs”. Not, again, that he always drew them as angels or blameless victims… Elektra’s a neurotic and Medea is a monster, but they still live and breathe in a way not many other male writers have managed.)
    I didn’t see the Pacino “Merchant to Venice”, largely because I wanted to avoid that sick experience I described above. I agree with whatever critic who wrote that Shakespeare’s powers of humanity undid his purpose in this play: its supposed to be a comedy, but it ends with a villian he’s made all too sympathetic being stripped of his possesions, and forcibly converted to a different religion. We don’t want Shylock to get his pound of flesh, but he damned sure didn’t deserve all of that…

  66. Sharoni

    What about “Far From Heaven” ??? That is a movie that combines 1950′s patriarchal oppression, homosexuality (as seen in the 50′s) and racism (as seen now and just “not seen” then) into a beautifully photographed, awe-inspiring performance. If anything in Hollywood even approaches blaming the patriarchy, that’s it.

  67. jp

    What complicates the “Sheakespeare wrote such great roles for women” meme is that the roles weren’t written for “women” at all; they were written to be played by young boys. So all of the roles are ENTIRELY patriarchal constructs: imagined, written by, and performed by men. It’s simplistic to imagine them as “great women’s roles”–that’s just alien to the way in which they were conceived.

    And even all those charming comic roles that we love so much and point to as some evidence of Shakespeare’s nascent “feminism” have their problematic aspects. Sure, Rosalind is fun, but keep in mind that in its original staging what the audience saw for most of the play (while Ros flirts with orlando) were 2 boys playing love scenes together–both in boys’ costumes, mind you, as Ros spends most oif the play dressed as the boy “she” really is. And when she puts the dress back on, it’s only to submit to both father and husband: “To you, I give myself, for I am yours.”

    Even in *Much Ado About Nothing*–the “kinder, gentler” Taming of the Shrew silences Beatrice in the end: “Peace,” says her husband, “I’ll stop your mouth.”

    Ah, the patriarchy! The patriarchy’s to blame!

  68. piny

    If Ir ecall correctly, she gets pissed and bolts not because her part was not acknowledged, but because Higgins wasnt’ all womantic and bowled over by How Pwetty She Was and just treated it like the business deal it was.

    Well, they sort of were bowled over when she came down the stairs in her chandelier outfit. I get that the romcom fairy-tale thread’s in there–without it, the idea of the evening as a triumph doesn’t make sense–but she gets furious when she hears Higgins and Pickering singing a duet, “You Did It,” about what an incredible job Higgins has done with her:

    Pickering: “All alone you hurdled
    Ev’ry obstacle in sight.

    Higgins: “Now, wait! Now, wait!
    Give credit where it’s due, A lot of the glory goes to you.”

    Pickering: “But you’re the one who did it,
    Who did it, who did it! As sturdy as Gibraltar,
    Not a second did you falter.”

    (snip)

    Servants: “Congratulations,
    Professor Higgins, For your glorious victory!
    Congratulations, Professor Higgins!
    You’ll be mentioned in history!

    Rest of Servants: “Congratulations, Professor Higgins!
    For your glorious Victory! Congratulations,
    Professor Higgins! Sing hail and hallelujah!
    Ev’ry bit of credit For it all belongs to you!”

    Footman (Simultaneously with Rest of Servants)
    “This evening, sir, you did it! You did it! You did it!
    You said that you would do it And indeed you did.
    This evening, sir, you did it! You did it! You did it!
    We know that we have said it,
    But-you did it and the credit
    For it all belongs to you!”

    And that’s either right after or right before she sings, “I Could Have Danced All Night:”

    “I could have spread my wings,
    And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.”

    …And after we see many times how terrified she is of fucking up and being exposed and humiliated as the fraud she is.

  69. piny

    I think that all along she sort of believes that once she can speak his language and move through his world, he will respect her (and, stupid Hollywood, lurve her). The night of the ball, she felt that she had finally reached his level. Then she comes home and finds out that he never will see her as anything more than a scrim onto which to project his hypotheses. She’s a doll with a pull-cord in her back, and that’s it. When she finally confronts him, she rages at him for never thinking of her even for a moment “What am I fit for?” and then exposes him as the horrible person he is when he raises his arm to hit her for talking back: “I always knew you’d strike me someday, Henry Higgins.”

  70. LMYC

    Ah, “Much Ado.” That one at least can be salvaged by a good director and good actors with modern sensibilities. Beatrice can be played just as snarky at the end as she was at the beginning, and I’ve seen it done so that it’s lovely, so that the message is that these two grumpy misfits get along well and can make a healthy, friendship-based relationship.

    Of course, questioning marriage PERIOD was not imaginable for Shakespeare or goddamned near anyone else — and we didn’t see B&B together ten years later when he realizes that marrying a woman who has a brain comes with complications that he didn’t anticipate, like the fact that she ain’t gonna morph into June fucking Cleaver just because she said “I do.”

    But compared to “Venice” and “Shrew,” “Much Ado” can be salvaged nowdays.

    I think the same thing of “Macbeth.” Lady M for me is a lesson on why NOT to stifle female power. If she’d been a king herself, she could have been a cold but fair one. But in a world where she couldn’t be anything but some chump’s helpmeet, she got twisted and strange.

    In general, though? Sorry, but Shakespeare sucks for women. The men get the kings and generals and the guys at the center of everything. We get helpmeets and victims. He was a product of his time, but if I wanted to be an actor, the prospect of doing Shakespeare wouldn’t be a big draw for me.

  71. NancyMc

    Sorry, but Shakespeare sucks for women. The men get the kings and generals and the guys at the center of everything. We get helpmeets and victims. He was a product of his time, but if I wanted to be an actor, the prospect of doing Shakespeare wouldn’t be a big draw for me.

    I bet you would change your tune if you were an actor! Most contemporary playwrights produced today – overwhelmingly male – have a body of work of which the female roles don’t have the variety that Shakespeares’ have. Are you familiar with David Mamet, one of THE most celebrated playwrights of our time? You’d go running back screaming all the way to Big Bill once you were forced to act the female roles in Mamet’s plays.

    I run a writers group, and few of the members write roles for females that are better than Shakespeare’s. And they live in the 21st fucking century.

    Besides were Cleopatra or Titania helpmeets? Were Rosalind, Beatrice, Portia, or Helena victims? Cause they weren’t in the editions I’ve read.

  72. NancyMc

    Not just Aristophanes; Euripides has a lot of parts of women (Phaedra, Medea, Andromachae, Hecuba etc). Their role is problematic, given the amount of negative traits they are often given; so much so that Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae is based around the idea of the women of Athens getting so pissed off with him they want revenge.

    Well if you’re going to gang up the Greeks against Shakespeare they have a shot at beating, but not one of them, taken as an individual playwright, could match Shakespeare’s female roles for depth or variety.

    And as I said, other than Shaw, I don’t think any playwrights, even right down to the present time, can match Shakespeare on that score.

    But if anybody reading this thread wants to compare any single playwright to Shakespeare, (besides Shaw), and argue that they have better roles for women, I’d love to see that – maybe there’s a playwright out there who has written better parts for women that I should know about.

  73. LMYC

    Just cuz Shakeapeare sucks LESS doesn’t mean he’s a draw. I still stand by what I said, although I can’t really think of ANY compelling reason to collude with the mainstream film or theater industries. If you want to find anything good as a woman, you’d better stick with the outliers.

  74. Cass

    NancyMc: I’m not interested in pitting any writer against another, and I didn’t mean to question Shakespeare’s obvious genius. If, however, want to compare writers, its important for the sake of fairness to remember the great majority of Greek tragedies have been lost. More of Euripides survives than any of his fellow playwrights, but even then, it only amounts to 18 or so out of possibly 90-plus original works. God only knows what kind of fabulous female characters may, even now, be written down on papyrus and laying in an ancient trash dump, somewhere under a Beirut high-rise…

  75. NancyMc

    Cass, I’m well aware of all the lost plays of the ancient Greeks. Maybe they had lots of fabulous roles for women – but I’m arguing about what we know for sure, rather than speculation.

    LMYC – when I asked for examples of writers with a better track record than Shakespeare on women’s roles, I certainly wasn’t excluding non-mainstream writers. So if you know of any who improve on Shakespeare, please share.

    In my experience most non-mainstream is just as bad. And in part because even non-mainstream, although to a lesser extent, is stil dominated by men.

  76. tigtog

    I don’t know about improving on Shakespeare, but there are some playwrights who give women a voice of their own. Tennessee Williams writes screwed-up women, but at least they seem real. And his men are screwed up too. I know a bad director can let Tennessee’s plays just get histrionic and whiny, but they’re actually written better than that.

    Lewis John Carlino’s Cages:Snowangel is a phenomenal part, but she is a prostitute, which is a patriarchal bummer.

    Alan Bennett writes well for women, especially in his Talking Heads series. Most of his work does a lot of implicit patriarchy-blaming, too.

    I’m finding it hard to think of too many others, and yes, where are the mainstream women playwrights?

    This reminds me of being in drama school and being great friends with one of the instructors, who I regularly drove home as it was only a few blocks out of my way home to hubby. We talked of many things, and he was witty and snarky and while sexist it didn’t bother me too much. We both liked SF, and I lent him a Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lois McMaster Bujold novel. When he gave it back, he didn’t say “thanks but I don’t like her writing” – he said “yup, women can’t write science fiction”. I never liked him quite so much after that.

    This is the entrenched privilege women are up against. If a woman fails, it is considered proof of something about women as a class rather than just that person’s capabilities. A man who fails to achieve a goal isn’t considered to represent an entire gender in the same way.

  77. piny

    I’m finding it hard to think of too many others, and yes, where are the mainstream women playwrights?

    The late, lamented Wendy Wasserstein. Paula Vogel is an awesome playwright, although I don’t know how mainstream she is. I know that her plays have been produced all over the country. How I Learned to Drive is incredible. Mary Zimmerman is another playwright who’s kinda famous; she wrote Metamorphoses, an adaptation of Ovid’s work. Suzan Lori-Parks is incredible; so’s Rebecca Gilman. There’s also Eve Ensler, Shay Youngblood, Anna Deavere Smith, Alice Tuan, Ntozake Shange, Alice Childress, Maria Irene Fornes, and Caryl Churchill now. Lillian Hellman, Lorraine Hansberry, Jean Kerr, Tina Howe, Beth Henley, in the recent past. And Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote Chicago.

    Oh, and Aphra Behn.

  78. piny

    Oh, and Sarah Jones, she of the spurious FCC indecency charge:

    http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=3082

  79. SimoneDB

    Joining the party late … I logged on to say, basically, what Piny does, right up front: that My Fair Lady totally destroys the message of Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion,” in which Eliza Doolittle, exploited protege of unctious ‘Enry ‘Iggins for the nice working class bloke who runs a flower store and treats her with respect.

    However, there’s at least two more situations ripe for patriarchy-blaming here:
    1. Although Julie Andrews originated and received many awards for the role of Eliza on Broadway, she wasn’t cast in the film version because she didn’t look like a Hollywood ingenue.

    2.To add further insult to injury, Audrey Hepburn didn’t do vocals in “My Fair Lady.” The uncredited voice belongs to Marni Nixon, who also sang Natalie Woods’ songs in “West Side Story.”

    So what did Julie do after not being cast in “My Fair Fair Lady”? Well, she got the lead in “Mary Poppins” in which, I guess, she didn’t need to be a glamour-puss, and the rest is history:
    “Ironically, Julie Andrews was awarded a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Disney’s competing film Mary Poppins, and Hepburn failed to receive a nomination for her part. ”

    Weirdly, Marni Nixon and Julie Andrews share a striking physical resemblance.

  80. SimoneDB

    Re: women playwrights … I think you’re about right, Piny. There’s Margaret Edson, who wrote “Wit,” and people like Betty Comden, who wrote lyrics for all kinds of musicals in the 1940s and ’50s, such as “Wonderful Town” and “On The Town,” both of which were scored by Leonard Bernstein, but I’m having a hard time adding to your list. I was going to list Muriel Spark, but she wrote the novel “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” not the play.

    Regarding Anna Deavere Smith: she just spoke at my university’s MLK Day comemoration, and what an amazing writer and performer!’

    From the 18th Century: Joanna Baillie, Alicia LeFanu, ??
    From the Irish Renaisance of the early 20th century: Maud Gonne and Lady Augusta Gregory …

  81. piny

    There’s Margaret Edson, who wrote “Wit,”

    Yes!

    And do you know, the guy who wrote the stage play that became Stage Beauty came to talk to our playwrighting class and mentioned her. He told this anecdote about how she’d submitted W;t for some contest and was rejected by the judge because, as a lowly (female) kindergarten teacher rather than a (probably male) grad student, she was less likely to write more plays and therefore less deserving of patronage and acclaim. Stage-Beauty guy had no problem with this rubric, of course.

    Motherfucker. Stage Beauty blew dead wharf rats, too.

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