Women in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

Over at BitchFlicks today, a feminist perspective on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from Myrna Waldron, as part of this week’s ‘Women and Gender in Musicals’ series.

“The friendship between Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw is one of the most positive female friendships depicted on film, and is one aspect of the adaptation distinctly improved from the original novella by Anita Loos…They’re a lot closer to ‘frenemies’ in the original, which is a surprisingly misogynistic depiction of women from a female writer. The musical version instead makes Lorelei and Dorothy inseparable. They are absolutely devoted to each other and protective of one another…Each thinks the other is foolish when it comes to relationships, but they accept each other’s differences and are loyal to each other before any other man in their lives.

Another feminist aspect of the film, one which I think is left over from the characters’ original incarnations as flappers, is their complete sexual liberation…They drink, they smoke (though they are never seen actually smoking, just buying cigarettes), they dance, they party, they stay out late. And while wealthy men like Gus’ father look down on women like Lorelei, they are completely unapologetic about their choices.

The film also depicts the women as unmistakably intelligent, albeit in different ways. Dorothy is very obviously meant to be the “smart” one, who corrects Lorelei’s mistakes, catches on to other people’s insinuations, and is always ready with a witty retort. But while Lorelei might be ‘book dumb,’ she’s not stupid. Together, Lorelei and Dorothy are master manipulators, and she’s far more devious than she lets on.

The most famous number in the musical, by far, is ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’, which has endured for over 60 years and is considered Marilyn Monroe’s signature number… On the surface the song is about being materialistic – that Lorelei’s love for jewels supersedes all other things, and at the surface, yes, it would be a theoretically anti-feminist song. But I think the song is actually about a longing for financial independence.”

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