I grew up loving Hollywood musicals. I still love the colorful, glorious, joyous, extravagance of them, but I see them with different eyes than I used to. I see the ways that they taught my young girl self to form her identity around life with men at the center. I see and think a lot differently than I did back then, I have more trouble just enjoying musicals, I have to think about them, the messages they reinforce, and the context in which they were made. Today I re-watched My Fair Lady, which could be aptly re titled Misogyny and Gaslighting: The Musical. The nice thing about My Fair Lady is that it is specifically designed to interrogate the power structures between men and women with a small side order of interrogating class structure. The hard part is that it was filmed in 1964, an era when American women couldn’t get bank accounts or credit cards without a man’s permission. So even while the film clearly positions Professor Higgins as an asshole and shows us that Eliza is trapped, even while it gives her a powerful song of declared freedom, all of that is undermined by the closing scene where she returns to him. Higgins doesn’t even turn to look at her, just asks after his slippers while she smiles. The film pulls its punch and reinforces a status quo where men get to be comfortable and women have to put up with it. Women, you can have your independent moment as long as you’re back in the house for slipper delivery.
As a text for discussing systemic misogyny, My Fair Lady is incredibly useful. Particularly since both the 1900’s era classism/misogyny and the 1960’s era misogyny are in there to talk about and discuss. Unfortunately it is one of the beloved movies from my childhood that I can’t share with my children and have them love it as I did. It would be a huge sociological discussion rather than a shared delight. (Though, to be fair, an hours-long sociological discussion with my kids is its own kind of delightful.) We’ll find other things to love together. I wonder how other issues-based musicals like South Pacific hold up. The ones like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are hard for me to even enjoy anymore.