Friday, April 5, 2013

"And you belong to him": Male guardianship in The Sound of Music.

Over the Easter weekend, we went to Salzburg, Austria (and its surroundings) for a few days. I didn't realise that this city was the setting for the film 'The Sound of Music'! Having only learnt its songs and watched bits of it when I was young, I was so excited to watch the entire film in the hostel (which screens it every night without fail).

Being single makes you happy! Source.

The storyline is great: Maria, a trainee nun, is sent on 'God's errand' to be a governess to the 7 children of a naval captain. Along the way she falls in love with him, and (predictably) marries him.  Watching the full film after having studied sociology and gender studies (curses --  these have spoiled my joy of films!), I was amazed at the amount of gendering going on. But I guess the film was not meant to be otherwise.

Besides the dichotomy of young, virgin, innocent Maria and the charming, dark, manipulative Baroness, I was most disturbed by this song that Maria sings with Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter:

Where Maria suddenly forgets she belongs to God

[Maria:]
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Waiting for life to start
Somebody kind who touches your mind
Will suddenly touch your heart

[Liesl:]
When that happens, after it happens
Nothing is quite the same
Somehow I know I'll jump up and go
If ever he calls my name

[Maria:]
Gone are your old ideas of life
The old ideas grow dim
Lo and behold you're someone's wife
And you belong to him

 You may think this kind of adventure
Never may come to you
Darling sixteen going on seventeen
Wait a year...or two

 What! This coming from a nun, who previously thought that loving a man would mean loving God less. Suddenly when she gets married she loses all those spiritual ideas and says that she belongs to a man?

What I liked about that period was that being a nun was a legit way of living life as a single woman. Granted, you were subject to lots of rules, but you could still live by yourself and be considered more spiritual than the average person. (The b├ęguinages in the Low Countries in the 13th century were another legit way for women to live by themselves, without the rules of a spiritual order like the nuns.)

The real Maria.
Luckily, the real Maria von Trapp did not seem to espouse such ideas. The real Maria didn't want to marry Georg, the captain. According to her:
"I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. . . . I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after." 
Sadly, no such idea exists in mainstream Islam. First, we belong to our fathers, then our husbands (as so aptly illustrated by a quote that is often mistaken as a hadith). We can help men become more spiritual (if we're the right kind of woman), but it's so difficult for us to be spiritual beings in the first place. Women are denied spiritual leadership in many, many cases, even if we have the qualifications.

 I still love The Sound of Music, but I think I'll just avoid this scene next time.

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