My Un-Fair Gentlemen

         Suppose women were to call men by pet names and treat them like dolls? Or suppose a woman decided to transform a man into what she feels could be the perfect mate, possible or not? The answer is simply that people do it everyday and in many societies, both modern as well as historical. Two early European plays, George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, turned into a movie directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard in 1938 and Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, filmed in 1973 by Patrick Garland, show some of the mistreatment that women endured from the men in their lives, through lack of respect and name-calling.

         In the play Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins wagers his colleague Colonel Pickering that he can transform the speech and manners of a poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle (a woman whom he met on the street), in such as fashion, that in six months he could pass her off as a Duchess at the embassy ball. "You see this creature with her kerbstone English…I could pass her off at an ambassador's garden party." Higgins is a phonetician and is very experienced in the arts and sounds of languages and is thus confident in his abilities to transform his statue. Throughout the play, Higgins holds no regard for Eliza's feeling as he often treats her like a child, despite the fact that she is grown woman and often refers to her with disturbing names such as "Impudent Slut," and "Creature." It may have been that Higgins does not know how to treat women, as he prefers to keep the company of his fellows or his work.

         In the film the audience is able to see first hand, Higgins' (Leslie Howard) mistreatment of Eliza (Wendy Hiller), through him giving her a hard time Eliza works. Even when she starts to improve he never shows her any credit. When Eliza is successful at the ball, and in so doing, wins the men's bet, Higgins only response to Pickering is "We've done it." It is clear that the "We" refers to him and Pickering (Scott Sunderland). Never once after that night does Higgins congratulate Eliza for the milestone that she has overcome. Instead, he asks her to fetch his shoes and tells her how foolish she is for wanting to marry Freddy (David Tree), as he feels that she would have to be the breadwinner in their household. Pickering has been the only one that has treated Eliza with respect as he has made her feel as though she was a lady before her transformation, by calling her Miss Doolittle. "Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me."

         A Doll's House is similar to the scene set in Pygmalion as Nora (Claire Bloom) too, has to deal with a male that wants to control her and refers to her in third person with pet names. This male is her husband Torvald (Anthony Hopkins). Torvald plays the patriarchal male figure to Nora's little-girl wife, who requires the guidance of her male friend Dr. Rank (Ralph Richardson), through whom the couple also communicates. There are two scenes in particular, within the film, which allow the audience to witness the control that Torvald has had over Nora. The first occurs when Nora is practicing her dance, the tarantella, for the party that the Stedborgs are throwing. In this scene Torvald prefers Nora to perform the dance in a fashion that is pleasing to him and encourages to her to go more slowly and even says to Dr. Rank: "I can correct her better," when Dr. Rank takes over the piano, making Torvald more free to criticize. The second scene happens when Torvald is ready to loosen ties with Nora after he has found about what she has done. During this scene he shakes and slaps Nora, which seems to have made Nora come to her senses as she is for the first time seeing the real Torvald and decides that she must leave him.

         Though the men in their lives have mistreated both Nora and Eliza, the women have been able to realize their mistake and make changes. It is not right for anyone to be mistreated, or for anyone male or female to want someone to be what he or she wants him or her to be. It is right to realize that one-male or female-has control over one's destiny. Therefore one can change one's condition, or accept things for what they are.

Chantal Curtis

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