Welcome to the 50’s where a woman’s chance of being sucessful came from what type of husband she could snag. And as the title says it, the blonde ones have a hell of a higher chance of getting a wealthy man (not necessarily a good one) than a brunette.
Because they’re dumb.
In the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the stereotypes of women are heavily used in order to present the lead characters of Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw.
While the film appears to be a romantic comedy, the relationship that is at the core of the film is between two women, thus confounding the theories that suggest that the film is purely sexist and contains a plethora of sexist imagery and messages.
The plot is fairly simple. Two women take off on a cross Atlantic ship filled with a farcical romp of misunderstandings and manipulations as they search for their fortunes through finding husbands to give them love and security. One of the biggest and most memorable musical numbers in the film is performed in remarkable costumes that are unforgettable creations of hot pink impact, screaming their femininity as the Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee croons out her desire for diamonds as a source of security.
I love her. l love her very much. I’ve never felt–
Oh, shut up! Young lady, you don’t fool me one bit.
I’m not trying to. But I bet I could.
You might convince this jackass, but you’ll never convince me.
That’s too bad. I do love him.
Certainly. For his money.
You expect me to believe that you aren’t marrying him for his money?
Then why do you want to marry him?
I want to marry him for your money.
That’s why we need his consent, silly. We’re getting down to brass tacks.
You admit you’re after money.
No, I don’t.
Aren’t you funny?
Don’t you know that a rich man is like a pretty girl? You don’t marry her just because she’s pretty. But, my goodness, doesn’t it help?
Would you want your daughter to marry a poor man? You’d want her to have the most wonderful things in the world. Why is it wrong for me to want those things?
Well, l concede that– Say, they told me you were stupid. You don’t sound stupid.
I can be smart when it’s important. But most men don’t like it. Except Gus. He’s interested in my brains.
I really liked the end dialogue (listed above) a lot. It showcases a few tropes about women in the 50’s: ditzy blonde, gold digger, jewelry addict and shameless in her pursuit of a stable man while knowing fully that the only thing she could offer back was her beauty and her youth. Which of course was en-route for middle-age and had an expiration date.
She doesn’t plan on marrying for love and disapproves of Dorothy’s future plans. Lorelei may never have heard of Plato or middle distance or Chopin or the Nobel awards or the Locarno treaty, but she knew her oil, as the slang phrase has it, when it came to the pleasant art of extorting gifts of jewelry or money from wealthy men.
Why was it so important to marry rich?
Critics and fans alike often cite Lorelei as an example of Monroe at her gold-digging, “dumb blonde” finest. This is made clear in the opening minutes of the film when she brings Gus back to her dressing room. Dorothy looks at Lorelei and chuckles, “You know, I think you’re the only girl in the world who can stand on a stage with a spotlight in her eye and still see a diamond in a man’s pocket”.
Women’s potential to attain financial agency was limited by the wage gap and potential for career advancement. In fact, “86 percent of the women employed toiled in only ten occupations…”
But what about Dorothy? “This sidekick [Dorothy] is not only darker but smarter than the narrating Lorelei…”. She’s more of an innocent seductress vs. sexual predator, similar to dumb blonde or gold digger that other scholars have employed. She uses her dark features to present herself as possible wife material while indicating that Lorelei is just the fun.
But Dorothy is covertly promiscuous too – surrounding herself with the male swim team. Jane Russell’s version of “Is There Anyone Here For Love” turns the male gaze idea on its’ head. As Russell sings, she wanders through a gym, openly ogling the men’s Olympic team (clad only in barely there flesh colored shorts) as they work out. Dorothy is looking, and she is definitely enjoying herself. #MenAsObjects
Back to the Gold digging:
Lorelei is “aware of herself as an image, and she constantly adjusts this image to best ‘take advantage’ of the situation around her”. Lorelei uses performativity and her image as a desirable object to influence suitors to give her cultural signifiers which help her rise in class.
She pretends to be a Presbyterian who is getting educated and attempting to reform Dorothy to connect with Henry Spoffard, a rich film censurer. Lorelei consistently looks to the future with the way she presents herself. She explains that she is reforming Dorothy because she knows Mr. Spoffard will meet her one day and as Dorothy does not follow societal rules of etiquette as Lorelei does, Lorelei needs an explanation of why they are together. Lorelei becomes what she needs to be in order for a man to get her what she needs. If the only way for Lorelei to succeed in this society is through these signifiers, but she cannot buy these objects herself as she is financially limited, then it becomes a question of how can she manufacture the conditions that will get her the signifier? Her beauty is the currency upon which she earns the tokens that allow her to navigate society; however, as she navigates society, she simultaneously dismantles the very sentimentality that limits female characters
Happy end for all involved: a double-wedding. Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw are not vapid showgirls. Rather, the movie presents two women who not only know what they want, but are in complete control of their sexuality.