Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos and Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald were written in the 1920s in the day of age where young women are starting to embrace a more independent lifestyle away from the patriarchal beliefs society has historically set. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes follows the events of Lorelei Lee, a socialite and gold-digger, as she entertains suitors across Europe. Bernice Bobs Her Hair describes Bernice and her cousin Marjorie who are dealing with the pressure of fitting in and being popular among the men in their town. While Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes uses patriarchal expectations to her advantage, Bernice in Bernice Bobs Her Hair adheres to patriarchy as a way to be accepted by her peers.
During this time, society upheld strict standards and stereotypes that women were supposed to uphold. Whether that being submissive to a man or having certain physical and personality traits that are deemed desirable, both Loos and Fitzgerald had a different idea of how a woman should act. Lorelei is described as ditzy and yearning for entitlement based on materialistic commodities such as lavish dinners and jewelry encrusted in diamonds. She knows men value being in control and knows the beauty that she owns. With this, she manipulates men into giving her what she wants. This is described when Lorelei states “I mean it seems to me a gentleman who has a friendly interest in educating a girl like Gus Eisman, would want her to have the biggest square cut diamond in New York. I mean I just say I was quite disappointed when he came to the apartment with a little thing you could hardly see” (Loos, 6). With her beauty and ambition for wealth, she learns to have some power over men. On the other hand, Bernice was portrayed as insecure and undesirable by men compared to her cousin, Marjorie who is bolder and wittier. Marjorie is popular with the men and is described as “…having a fairylike face and a dazzling, bewildering tongue…” (Fitzgerald, 210). Fitzgerald breaks away from the physical traits that a woman is supposed to have and focuses more on personality traits that are desirable by men. The men in this story are more preoccupied with how enticing a conversation is and how other men perceive a certain woman rather than outward appearances. “No matter how beautiful or brilliant a girl may be, the reputation of not being frequently cut in on makes her position at a dance unfortunate” (Fitzgerald, 212). In order to be more attractive to men, Marjorie coaches Bernice to hold more interesting conversations and how to flirt with even unattractive men. And while this difference in the portrayal of an ideal woman can also be partly due to the age difference between Lorelei being a young adult and Bernice being a teenager, for both of them social reputation is important.
The relationship between social reputation and femininity can also be seen in both stories. Lorelei knows how to use her femininity to sway men and gain social status while Bernice challenges traditional expectations of femininity to be more well-liked. Once again, Lorelei uses her gold-digger and “dumb blonde” attributes to attract rich men. She understands the power struggle between a man and a woman but knows that with her exaggerated femininity she can manipulate men into thinking they are the ones in charge. Society at this time belittled women’s capabilities which can be seen from the start of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Lorelei laughs at a man who underestimates her literary ability and states ‘A gentleman friend and I were dining at the Ritz last evening and he said that if I took a pencil and paper and put down all of my thoughts it would make a book. This almost made me smile as what it would really make would be a whole row of encyclopediacs” (Loos, 1). This implies to the readers that women are able to move past limitations put on them. Lorelei knows she can use femininity as a tool in pursuit of being a socialite and to gain social status. This contrasts from Bernice who takes on a form of “masculine femininity” as she bobs her hair. The concept of “masculine femininity” breaks the traditional views of how a woman should act and makes the reader think about what women expect from other women such as what Marjorie expects from Bernice. Fitzgerald questions the previous models of femininity and shifts the attention towards not only how to gain attention from men but peers as a whole. Fitzgerald describes Marjorie as a more masculine woman and yet she is still more well-liked by men compared to Bernice. “Marjorie never giggled, was never frightened, seldom embarrassed, and in fact had very few of the qualities which Bernice considered appropriately and blessedly feminine” (Fitzgerald, 213). As Bernice and Marjorie continue to have differing views on how to talk to men, Bernice overhears Marjorie complaining about her one night and confronts her the next day. They bicker and Marjorie exclaims “Girls like you are responsible for all the tiresome colorless marriages; all those ghastly inefficiencies that pass as feminine qualities” (Fitzgerald, 217). The way Fitzgerald describes “masculine femininity” showcases some shortcomings in societal standards of how women are supposed to act. It is clear that both Bernice and Marjorie are displaying femininity in the way they think they should but are ultimately subverting to these expectations fulfills neither standards of feminism. As the title states, Bernice ultimately bobs her hair after being teased by Marjorie and her peers. Suddenly her newfound popularity takes a turn and men start losing interest in her. Ultimately, she comes to a realization that there is also a line that can be crossed when one becomes too masculine in “masculine femininity”.
The ultimate end goal for both Lorelei and Bernice is to gain attention from a man. No matter the differences in what an ideal woman should look or how feminine they are, society bases a woman’s success in life by finding a man who can provide for them. Lorelei views this as materialistic while Bernice views this as a companionship. Lorelei always seeks the easy way out of situations in order to get what she wants. Her single-minded approach can be seen throughout the book as she sees a man as a monetary exchange for resources rather than valuing any emotional or physical connection. She gets attached to diamond tiara owned by Mrs. Weeks and begs Mr. Eisman to give her $10,000 to buy the tiara. When he refuses, she resorts to what she knows best, manipulating men. She meets Piggie, another suitor who has enough money to buy diamond tiara which Lorelei happily obliges as a gift and states “So now I have a diamond tiara and I have to admit that everything turns out for the best” (Loos, 48). Her manipulative spirit drives her to find the easy way out of conflict. If she can’t get what she wants from one person, she knows that there is one unlucky man who can fix the issue. The more Lorelei gets, the more she starts to admire and fall for men who can provide for her. Lorelei is confident in herself and the attention she receives is what Bernice is trying to learn. With the help of Marjorie, Bernice slowly starts to be more comfortable in herself and reflects on her newfound confidence. “With the feeling that people really enjoyed looking at her and listening to her came the foundation of self-confidence” (Fitzgerald, 222-223). Bernice is impressionable and is pressured to be someone she isn’t because that is what her peers and Marjorie view as normal. With this influence, Bernice starts to shift her values and now sees the importance of receiving attention from men. So, while both Lorelei and Bernice want attention from men, they view what men can provide for them differently. Whether that be physical gifts or a companionship, this upholds the patriarchal view that a woman needs a man to feel fulfilled in life.
Both pieces of writing show that men hold the power and that women should be concerned with what men think of them. This similarity in patriarchal expectations is based on a woman being submissive and making decisions on men’s approval. Bernice is self-conscious about the lack of attention she receives from which Lorelei doesn’t have an issue with. Lorelei is confident in herself but still yearns for more and more attention from the opposite sex. Bernice goes as far as cutting her hair to gain attention which ends up backfiring on her. She is so caught up in gaining popularity that she willingly, without questioning Marjorie’s intentions, gets mentored because she is unsure of her own identity. This compared to Lorelei who roams Europe finding her next victim in her scheme of gaining social status, is very different. For example, Lorelei is open to flirting with married men and is not keen on forming romances but still is ready to move on to the next person who has enough wealth to support the life she has been accustomed to. She finally meets Henry Spoffard who she later decides to marry because he can help her financially pursue her dream of becoming a Hollywood star. She describes him as “…the kind of a gentleman that a girl could sit at his feet and listen to for days and days and nearly always learn something of other” (Loos, 119). Not only is the word girl used instead of women, but this continues the portrayal of male dominance. To sit at a man’s feet and gawk at him as he speaks further explains the power men have over women. In both cases, men are superior to the women and the women base their decisions on what a man can provide for them whether that be self-confidence or a step up the social ladder.
All in all, both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos and Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald describe women set in a patriarchal society who are trying to embrace a newfound sense of independence. Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes uses patriarchal expectations to her advantage by gaining social status while Bernice in Bernice Bobs Her Hair adheres to patriarchy in order to fit in with her peers. Both authors describe a different idea of how a woman should act, forms of femininity, and ways a man can provide for a woman with the overarching theme that men hold the power in a multitude of situations.