My little sister Jubilee is eleven years and she loves all things old fashioned. She obsesses over the Little House on the Prairie books, dresses up in a colonial maid’s costume to do her chores and love-love-loves classic musicals. Her favorite actress is Leslie Caron, and who can blame her? Leslie was (and is) elegant, talented and endearing. We also adore the accent, of course.
Since my mother and sisters and I have always had an affinity for old movies ourselves, we are constantly introducing her to “new” films that peak her interest. We’ve watched her light up in the glow of An American in Paris and The Sound of Music. Two movies she had never seen, however, were Gigi and the very famous, My Fair Lady. Jubilee was starting to get upset when she heard her younger friends quote the movies. Why couldn’t she watch them? Did they have bad words? She insisted on knowing.
Well, yes, actually. IMDB tells us that there are twenty-six uses of mild expletives in My Fair Lady, but no, that’s not why I always put my foot down when she asked to watch it. I personally prevented her from watching those two movies (which we had on DVD in our own cabinet) because I wanted to wait until she was old enough to understand my disclaimers.
Yes, even movies from the 50’s and 60’s need disclaimers sometimes, and especially when it comes to this issue. The issue of the portrayal of women may seem petty or whiny to some. Maybe it sounds like I’m trying to be political or popular. It’s nothing of the sort. The more I think about it, the more I read, the more I simply practice paying attention, the more appalled I am at the media’s portrayal of The Female and the more convinced I am that it affects nearly everything we do.
For example, the classic broadway-turned-movie starring the lovely Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady, is the tale of Eliza Dolittle; a poor, illegitimate English girl who survives by selling violets in the square, and is picked up by a cold and arrogant Mr. Higgins who prides himself in being a bachelor sociolinguist. From day one he is rude, degrading, disrespectful, harsh and heartless toward Eliza, who in turn is hateful toward him. However, as movies tend to go, she begins to fall in love with him in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way. As part of an experimental bet, Higgins trains Eliza to walk, act, dress and-most importantly-speak like an upper-class Englishwoman. In the end (spoiler alert!) she comes running back to him and, in a final act of submission, allows him to demand she bring him her slippers. After all, she loves him, and we can stretch our imaginations enough to believe that, deep down, he loves her too.
Yes, I’m serious.
The thing is, I love this movie in a way. It has excellent writing, good humor and music and, my favorite actress in the world-Audrey Hepburn. But I don’t like the message one smidge and I let Jubilee know that before I ever opened the DVD case.
We had a similar discussion before watching Gigi, a movie I love even more. Gigi too is being groomed, only this time with the specific intention of becoming mistress to a wealthy, French playboy. Jubilee and I talked about what a “mistress” is and why Gigi may or may not want to become one. We talked about respecting women (women have to respect women too!) and marrying for love and standing up for ourselves. And then we popped the movie in and had a jolly time.
You see, I’m not going to keep Jubilee from watching anything and everything I disagree with, but I’m also not going to accidentally endorse something I am staunchly against. Much to my heart’s delight, Gigi has a wonderful ending. Everyone learns something and an entire family line is altered. Love wins.
In the words of Eliza Dolittle, “The difference in a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.”
Oh Eliza, how true that is.