Today, relationships are hard to define. With the newfound acceptance of homosexuality, the border between male homosocial relations and homosexual relations has become fuzzy. The distinction between male homosocial and homosexual desires are what I will be exploring in My Fair Lady. In the classic movie My Fair Lady the relationship between Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering displays both homosocial and homosexual characteristics, and models the triangular desire defined by Eve Sedgwick.
Higgins invites Colonel Pickering to his house and then the next morning invites Eliza to his house. This action of inviting Eliza to stay over after inviting Pickering can be explained as having both homosocial and homosexual characteristics. The homosocial interpretation of this situation is Higgins feels a strong friendship towards Colonel Pickering. Rather than having him pay for a hotel while visiting London, he invites him to stay at his home because it is the friendly thing to do. Higgins then sees it might be awkward for two confirmed bachelors to be living together, however temporary it may be.
Uncomfortable with implications some people may draw, he invites Eliza to stay in order to maintain his masculinity and not have people speculating about his homosexuality. When arguing his actions as homosexual, his invitation to Pickering is not motivated by friendship but by his desires to have sexual relations with Pickering. Having Pickering live with him would be the easiest way to accomplish a discrete relationship. Creating a façade, Higgins invites Eliza so society will not discover his true intentions.
After bringing Eliza into the house and suffering through a few problems Higgins sings Im an Ordinary Man to Pickering. Listing some negative qualities of women in his song displays both homosocial and homosexual characteristics. A homosocial standpoint sees this as Higgins, like many men do, telling his buddy about all the drama a woman brings into his life when having a relationship with a woman. Just like women get together with their girlfriends and gossip about the silly things men do, Higgins and Pickering are doing the same thing. The two laugh about the silly behavior of women and can relate to one another because both have had similar experiences, bonding in a strictly same-sex, non-sexual manner.
Higgins is also promoting his own masculinity by noting the flaws in a womans character, expressing his views on why males are more superior then females. However, at the closing of the song, Higgins declares, I shall never let a woman in my life, implying his homosexuality. Rather than listing the faults of women jokingly, his song can be interpreted as a justification for his choice of a homosexual lifestyle. He even states, Why Cant a Woman Be More like a Man, implying women should lose all their female characteristics and become men, thus, making them appealing to him.Again, Higgins is declaring man the superior race and because men are superior, he has a sexual attraction for them which he may not share for women.
Higgins focuses so much attention on Eliza while refining her and this attention can be viewed as his romantic feelings for Eliza, meaning his relationship with Pickering is strictly homosocial, or that his feelings for Eliza are a displacement of his homosexual feelings for Pickering. The homosocial viewpoint sees Higgins, transforming Eliza from a measly flower girl into a beautiful lady, his ideal woman. He felt an attraction to Eliza when he found her in the gutter but due to social restraints, he knew it was not socially acceptable for him to date a woman of her class. After her transformation, he is now free to love her. Ironically, the women he creates is goddess-like, statuesque, untouchable to the common manHiggins and Pickering strike a bet with one another on whether or not Higgins can pass Eliza off as a duchess. Higgins will have to teach Eliza proper English, dress her in high fashion, and train her in the appropriate manners of society.
In my experience, not many straight men find giving a woman make-over to be very fun which is why Higgins actions can be viewed to have homosocial and homosexual motivations. A homosocial attitude on the situation would explain this as two men competing in a bet, meaning Higgins is only participating in activities categorized with the homosexual stereotype to win. The two are able to bond over the experience and in the process; Higgins can shape Eliza into the kind of woman he desires. Instead of directing his motivations for playing real-life Barbie on the premise he is only doing this to win a bet, the homosexual interpretation would focus on the primary action; taking a girl from drab to fabhomo.
Lets face it, while this is a huge generalization, most men in Western culture dont care about fashion, let alone womens fashion. If any two confirmed bachelors today were to do these same action, singing all through the house, designing high fashion clothes, and showing up at an event sharing one girl amongst the two of them, (with their kind of money they could get two or more girls for each of them) suspicions of homosexuality would be inevitable.
This three way relationship between Eliza, Higgins, and Pickering forms a model of Sedgwicks triangular desire. Both men feel affection for Eliza but feel a stronger connection for one another. When celebrating their victory of passing off Eliza as a duchess, Higgins and Pickering completely forget about Eliza and celebrate amongst themselves. As Eliza becomes more of a lady each day, she becomes less of an actual person and more of a symbol of their creation, their relationship, until she completely fades out of the picture. Thus, Higgins constant displacement of his homosocial and homosexual feelings on Eliza are finally directed on Pickering, the person they were originally intended for.
Homoerotic relations are present in several other movies, television series, and literature. Currently, when men wish to express emotions and love for their friends, in a strictly homosocial way, they are blocked by homophobia, fearing if these emotions are projected, they will be labeled homosexual. Breaking down current sexual beliefs and behaviors, I believe the entertainment industry is the most accepting medium for the varying degrees of male relations. I believe as more homosocial works are produced, men will find it easier to express their emotions and still maintain their masculinity and heterosexual identity.
“My Fair Lady” Directed by George Cukor. Warner Bros. Studio. California 1964