My Fair Lady

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Source: My Fair Lady. Directed by George Cukor. Performed by Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Accessed December 1, 2016.

My Fair Lady is somewhat of a rags-to-riches story, but with a fun, sexist twist. The main character, played by Audrey Hepburn, is a poor young woman living in London by the name of Eliza Doolittle. After a chance meeting, Eliza goes to live with a man named Professor Higgins for six months as part of a bet that he could pass her off as royalty simply by teaching her to speak proper English. All throughout the film, Professor Higgins treats Eliza the same way one might treat a dog; he gives her rough commands with the expectation that she will immediately obey; he ignored her need for proper sleep and nourishment; and he has a complete disregard for her emotional well-being, evidenced by his constant insulting remarks.

Near the end of the film, Eliza attends a grand ball and is introduced to dozens of London’s high society, as well as some royalty. She successfully passes as a member of high society due to her newly acquired language skills. However, at the end of the evening, Professor Higgins close friend and the staff in his house all congratulate him on a job well done; not a word of congratulations is offered to Eliza.  When she expresses some of her concerns to the professor of how she’s been treated, he is completely shocked that she would complain about any sort of mistreatment. He is unable to see his actions as unfair in any way, and he even considers her ungrateful. This supports the idea we’ve seen in several periods throughout history that women are supposed to keep a cheery disposition even in the face of terrible circumstances; they are not to complain, for that is not the role of an ideal woman.

After all the abuse Eliza suffered, at the end of the movie she still returns to the professor’s home, and the audience can assume that she stays there for quite some time. This is one of the more unsettling messages from the film: even in an unhealthy relationship, men and women are supposed to be together, and that heterosexual relationships are the natural state for men and women. There were little hints of this theme all throughout the movie. During a song sung by Eliza’s father, we hear the lyrics, “the gentle sex was made for man to marry.” Very clearly, we see the expectation that women are supposed to marry and that that is a natural part of life. Later, when Eliza is considering what she might do after the ball and the bet are over, she tells Professor Higgins that she might marry Freddie, a socialite that she met at the races. That exchange illustrates how common marriage was, and that it was normal for a lady to consider marriage instead of any sort of career. This also supports one of the themes in Tyler Perry’s movies that marriage is seen as a solution to women’s problems.

Though Eliza has a bit more spunk than the average woman, she still feels drawn to an unhealthy relationship, for heterosexual relationships help keep the world in order.

 

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8 thoughts on “My Fair Lady

  1. It has been so long since I’ve watched My Fair Lady, but your post made me want to watch it again! Taking this class and a couple other women’s studies classes have definitely made me pay more attention to these types of issues in movies and television shows today. The ways women are portrayed in movies is fascinating, especially when considering the time period they were made and/or take place in.

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  2. Did you know that Rex Harrison (the male lead–who’s acting wasn’t very impressive or extensive in this film) was nominated and won, while Audrey Hepburn (who did a much more difficult performance given the accent she had to maintain, the emotion, the singing, etc.) wasn’t even nominated at all? While I already had issues with this movie when I first watched it (you mentioned a lot of them above), the fact that sexism also persisted outside of the movie and with the actors themselves was so appalling to me.

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  3. After taking this class I definitely do not view films the same way I used too. Just reflecting on My Fair Lady, I can see these stereotypes of men being superior to women, and it makes me angry. It’s interesting too what some of the stereotypes in the film actually were reflected in the actors life.

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  4. I’ve seen it in a thousand films. An old man and a young woman fall in love, he hurts her because of his hardness, but then he does something to win her back. The problem is that what wins her back is often an assertion of his power over her. Sometimes the man even slaps the woman and that somehow makes her more in love with him. “Where the devil are my slippers?” is such an iconic line, but it shows that there has been some imbalance between American ideals.

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  5. Did you mean to focus on Audrey Hepburn?
    I have always felt conflicted about My Fair Lady– and you touch on most of the points that concern me. As you said, Eliza is spunky and clever and “wins” in a lot of ways in the film. Yet, she is portrayed as a wild thing that must be tamed and, to a degree, eventually is by her callous teacher– a common trope for women in different periods of history (like the American Georgian era). Not the most feminist message I’ve seen.

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  6. Even though I love this movie, the misogynistic messages are definitely upsetting. The professor’s notion that Eliza was merely an experiment with which to show his prowess in phonetics insinuates the trivial value placed on women.

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  7. I think I have never watched My Fair Lady though I have learned about it in passing. It is sad that this film reinforces a harmful message. It is telling that Eliza is not complemented on her progress but the professor is. I should probably watch it sometime.

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  8. This is my all time favorite movie! Professor Higgins is very domineering, but I love the way Eliza seems to prevail socially as she embraces who she is and improves her speech. His behavior is of course not justified, however. I wish the film would have ended more closely to the way the novel did – in Pygmalion it seems that Eliza has more control.

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