Victor Victoria — Justice & Gender Roles

Victor Victoria Poster

Film:

Victor Victoria, 1982

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, and John Rhys-Davies.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano who, with help from a fellow performer (Robert Preston), finally finds success by posing as a male female impersonator. But what will happen when a nightclub owner (James Garner) finds himself attracted to Victoria’s cross-dressing male persona and begins to suspect “Victor” is really a woman? This gender-bending musical comedy received seven Oscar nominations and won for Best Score.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, any film which discusses gender roles and sexuality is bound to be controversial, even if it was made over 25 years ago, so before I go any further I would like to preface that whatever your opinion regarding homosexuality is, as well as of people who hold a different view than your own,  please keep this spiritual guidance in mind before commenting:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  ~ Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)

and

O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.  ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #26

When I first heard of this musical I thought it would be a mere comedy of mistaken identity and gender swapping, akin to a Shakespearean Comedy, and while it definitely has that feel and element, it also speaks on a deeper level.  In 1982, when this film came out, the United States had just gone through the Civil Rights movement,  Women’s Rights movement, and the Sexual Revolution.  Thoughts about what true justice meant were circulating around public consciousness, and being wrestled and debated with.  This film comes out of that context.

Victoria Grant is an amazing operatic soprano, yet due to the poor economy she is unable to find work in Paris during the 1930s.  She is so down on her luck she even auditions for a burlesque theater, insisting that she has a legitimate voice but the manager replies:

I’m looking for something
a little more illegitimate.

Victoria: I’m sure that with a little practice l…
Manager: Lady. That’s like a nun saying, with practice, she’d be a streetwalker.

However, Victoria is hungry and is about to be evicted so she is willing to compromise her virtue.  Toddy, a Gay nightclub performer, shows her kindness and as a result comes up with the idea that she should pretend to be a drag queen. Victoria is initially skeptical:

Victoria: Toddy, I don’t know how to act like a man.
Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts… there are different men who act in different ways.
Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.
Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women…and vice versa.
Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.
Toddy: Name one.
Victoria: Peeing standing up.

This is interesting to me because it is true that society has carved out roles for men and roles for women and those who do not fit into those roles can feel excluded, or worse yet have assumptions made about them.  We should love all people and should not try to constrain people unnecessarily and unequally (clearly there are some social constraints that are necessary, like punishing theft or murder, but they should be applied across the board, regardless of gender or creed.  The constraints I am talking about here are things like not allowing certain people to pursue a profession based on their gender, class, or creed.)

Apparently there is no market for a woman with amazing musical talent, but there is a market for a man who can impersonate a woman with amazing musical talent.  However there is no man, so now a woman must pretend to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman.

This amuses me.  Truly, it is all about perception.  It should not matter if it is a man or a woman, we are equal in the sight of God, yet for the audience it does.  Perhaps because a man should not naturally be able to sing that high, or perhaps because it forces them to wonder about gender roles.

Victoria ends up being wildly successful but is conflicted when she begins to develop feelings for a man.  If she were to pursue the relationship it would either out her as a woman, or cause people to think that the man was gay.  Eventually they get together clandestinely but it soon becomes a problem:

Victoria: I mean, a woman pretending to be man pretending to be…

King: Well, you can stop pretending.

Victoria: And do what?

King: Be yourself.


Victoria: But, you see, I don’t think I want to. I’m a big star now. I’m a success… And something more. I find it all really fascinating. There are things available to me as a man…that I could never have as a woman. I’m emancipated.

Victoria: Would it be fair for me to ask you to give up your job?

King: lt’d be ridiculous.

Victoria: But you expect me to give up mine.

King: There’s a difference, for Christ’s sake!

Victoria: Right, but there shouldn’t be.

King: Well, look, I’m not the one pretending to be someone else.

I think there are two very different and equally important spiritual truths in this conversation that need to be teased out.  Both Victoria and King have valid points.  Victoria has experienced injustice.  Despite her talent and hard work, as a woman she was not able to find employment.  Also, once she got used to pretending to be a man she realized how much more freedom this lifestyle afforded her (this is the 1930s).  Victoria shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to get work, she shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to be respected, yet this was the case.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #2

King is right though about her pretend game.  In the end she is lying, to herself and to the world.  What starts as innocent deception can cause a lot of emotional and social turmoil.  As much as we want to correct injustice we cannot do so by being unjust ourselves.

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The ending of the film was a bit confusing and unsatisfying, personally, because it did not resolve these problems.  Instead it seemed that Victoria chose to be with King and to give up her career, but maybe she will be able to continue singing now that people love her.  After all they clapped before she “revealed” she was a “man” so hopefully they would still enjoy the beautiful music despite the vessel it is in.

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3 thoughts on “Victor Victoria — Justice & Gender Roles

  1. I’m glad you reviewed this haha.

    in fact, I Love all your reviews….you’re doing an awesome job and its helpful.

    p.s. here is a film, ‘The Class’ I just watched and from a Baha’i Perspective of justice, education, diversity, racism etc….so much to talk about.

    WATCH IT, REVIEW IT…best film i’ve seen in years and it won Cannes last year:

    http://www.sonyclassics.com/theclass/

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