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  • Elizabeth Phillips

Women Prefer Liberated Women

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

In the 1950s, Hollywood was dominated by the male gaze. Male directors shot their movies in a way that forced the audience to eroticize the woman on screen. A woman’s sole purpose in any film was for visual pleasure and her role added little to no significance to the overall plot. The first director to push back on the industry’s representation of woman was queer director, Howard Hawks. In his movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Hawks challenges these archetypes by giving women total power and control throughout the plot. The following essay analyzes how Hawks’ musical comedy challenged women’s traditional portrayal in the media and fought against sexual objectification of women.

In this film, the two female protagonists, Lorelei and Dorothy, continuously objectify men. In one specific scene, Dorothy is in the gym admiring the visiting Olympic team. The camera follows her eyes showing the viewer incredibly fit men engaged in their daily workout routine. It simulates what the male gaze does from a female perspective. Every shot provides up close viewing of the men’s taut muscles, sweaty clothes, and strenuous exercises. It is impossible to watch the scene and not think of these athletes in a sexual manner. Hawks’ filming strategy is purposeful, making it abundantly clear that Dorothy is not just exploring the facilities. She is attracted to these individuals’ physiques. As Dorothy objectifies one particular man’s body, Loreli takes a different approach by fetishcizing the team members’ wallets. Upon discovering Piggy's occupation, Loreli literally starts to view this man as a diamond as his face on screen is replaced by this shiny gem. This scene manipulates male gaze by turning the objectification back onto the men. Whereas women are typically reduced to just pretty faces and slim bodies, now the men become the “eye candy” being admired only for their attractive bodies and large bank accounts. The women further demonstrate this by playing dumb to make the Olympians feel in control. This manipulation allows these clever ladies to get exactly what they desire while the men are none the wiser.

This female empowerment film not only objectifies men, it also asserts a woman’s power over the male species while encouraging a strong sense of sisterhood. One blatant display of control is shown through the mise-en-scene of the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” dance sequence. During this number, Loreli has men begging at her feet while she rejects them in a very sadomasochistic style of degradation. She swats them away with her fan and slaps diamond bracelets onto their wrists while her love interests pretend to commit suicide because they cannot have her. A red, seductive backdrop serves as a powerful use of color to further assert dominance. Modern uses of this color are witnessed in films like the 50 Shades of Grey (2015) with the red room being used by a dominant on a submissive. The very notion of a woman in the 50s depicted as a person in control, or the dominant, in a room filled with men stands very forward-thinking and controversial for the times.

The best part about this power dynamic is that the film never pits the women against each other. Dorothy and Lorlei are looking for different things when it comes to love, so they never stand in competition. The end of the movie portrays this strong female union by depicting a joint wedding with the grooms-to-be cut out of the frame. These two women are equals and their unbreakable bond is demonstrated as they look at each other in admiration before looking at their husbands. In contrast to the era’s societal norms, these women chase after their wants and desires and they think independently from each other and from those around them. Women supporting each other is a rare depiction in this time period. In The Women (1939), for example, the females are pitted against each other, making the “other woman” the villain instead of the adulterous husband. Hawks’ film takes a different and more refreshing approach as it demonstrates an undying support despite the ladies’ differences and disagreements. This dynamic pushes the boundaries of female representation by allowing women to be themselves. Instead of just being an attainable object for men, these leading ladies form bonding friendships and have life adventures that expand the plot, not just eroticize it.

Hawks did an excellent job of breaking out of the mold that was set for women during these decades. He humanized them, while humorously toying with the idea that objectification is not just reserved for men. His filming approach was a clever and outstanding way to make light of a discriminatory industry. These days, Gentleman Perfer Blondes (1953) does not seem like a feminist icon in comparison to other films at our disposal. However, for its time, it was an extremely progressive and beneficial addition to the feminist movement of the 50s.











Works Cited

Cukor, George, director. The Women. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Hawks, Howard, director. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Twentieth Century Fox, 1953.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema.” 1975. LUXONLINE.org, http://www.luxonline.org.uk/articles/visual_pleasure_and_narrative_cinema%28printversion%29.html/. Accessed 11 February 2021.

Sam Taylor-Johnson, director. Fifty Shades of Grey. Focus Features, 2015.


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