I had an epiphany the other night. Many classic musicals have a not-so-hidden subtext about gender roles and power. Consider the three most popular shows by Rodgers & Hammerstein:
“The King and I”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.
“The Sound of Music”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.
“South Pacific”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.
…you get the idea.
Is this a big coincidence, or is the enduring popularity of these films and shows premised on the fact that they endorse the customary sex roles? Are they loved by women and men not in spite of their traditional romantic love arrangements, but because of them?
None of the heroines in these shows are pushovers. They are all, to varying degrees, “spunky” intelligent women who have plans for their lives quite different than where they end up. And they all are eventually successfully wooed by dominant men.
“My Fair Lady” is a special case. It has the structure of a romance, but for most of the work, the protagonists openly loathe each other. Higgins is possibly cinema’s most charming misogynist: he has no fewer than two songs devoted to explaining how horrible women are:
Why is thinking something women never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Straightening up their hair is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?
Let a woman in your life and your serenity is through,
she’ll redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome,
and then go on to the enthralling fun of overhauling you…
At the end of it all, the most romantic thing Higgins can think of to say about Eliza is that he’s grown accustomed to her face. (Well gee, thanks for that.). And Eliza’s motivation for returning is more opaque still. She has a shot with the cute if somewhat foppish Freddy Eynsford-Hill (a “beta” male, to use the trendy parlance.) She could have a perfectly nice bourgeois life with him. He adores her. And yet, she returns to the man who has essentially created her new persona. Higgins may be a pompous alpha shit, but he understands the new Eliza better than anyone, because she is him. Albeit in much, much nicer clothes.
What do you all think?