The hills might be alive with the sound of music, but they aren’t rife with the patriarchy-infused concept that two women must exist to compete against each other for men.
Honestly, I don’t know how common a perspective it is that Maria in The Sound of Music is the “good” woman and The Baroness is the “bad” woman. However, one of my favorite events of December is the Sing With Maria Sing-A-Long put on by the Salt Lake Film Society each year. At this event, the audience receives a baggy of props, participates in a costume contest, and are given instructions for sounds effects to make at various points in the movie.
One of these sounds is to hiss whenever The Baroness appears, because as we are instructed, she is a slithering snake.
I don’t particularly want to point fingers at SLFS because that organization is one of my favorite things. And, overall, the sing-a-long event is wonderful fun and December just isn’t the same without it. However, the hissing at The Baroness is rooted in sexism and misogyny, and it would be nice if that part of the sing-a-long stopped.
Think about it: If Georg had never met Maria he and The Baroness would likely have had a lovely life together. They had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company. The Baroness’s biggest flaw is she’s not great with children--and really how many people could go from childless to seven all at once and be totally okay with it? Maria is the minority on that front.
There is conflict, of course. Baroness Schraeder can tell there’s something between Maria and Captain Von Trapp, but her concern isn’t sinister. On the contrary, it’s reasonable. Here she was planning on marrying this man and out of nowhere comes another woman to whom he is deeply attracted. That would break anyone’s heart.
Baroness Schraeder is perhaps not the most interesting of characters, but as far as we can tell from watching the movie, she’s really nothing but lovely, albeit not sure how to handle seven kids.
Max Detweiler, affectionately known as Uncle Max, on the other hand… well he is sinister. And it’s the presence of Uncle Max, with the absence of any sound effects besides laughter at the SLFS sing-a-long, that really brings out the internalized misogyny on the matter.
Uncle Max repeatedly makes it known that he enjoys the friendship of Captain Von Trapp because he likes the way he lives when he’s with rich people. Despite Georg’s repeated admonitions that his family will not participate in the music festival, Uncle Max nonetheless seeks to undermine Von Trapp’s wishes and puts the children in the festival anyway. And let’s not forget the part when Uncle Max says, “What’s going to happen is going to happen. Just make sure it doesn’t happen to you.”
As an audience I think we give Uncle Max a break because he makes us laugh. But beneath that humor is someone who toes the line, lives off the wealth of others, takes advantage of others’ skills, and--even according to himself--has no convictions. We don’t know why he is friends with Captain Von Trapp, or how they became friends. Clearly there is some sort of history and affection there. And were it not for the insistence that Baroness Schraeder is a slithering snake I possibly would not have even considered how awful Max can be. Nonetheless, when you really think about the characters in The Sound of Music, Max Detweiler is one you don’t want as an ally.
It is true, he supported the Von Trapp family's escape from the Nazis, and wished them a fond farewell. But even that parting included, “I shall miss the money I could have made with you.” And really, what did Max do to help, other than simply not get in the Von Trapps’ way as they made their escape?
The double standard of how men and women are treated in this story is glaring and disappointing.
I adore The Sound of Music. I sing the songs even when I’m not attending the SLFS sing-a-long. I love the props at the event, the costumes, and even the sound effects. But perhaps next year instead of hissing at Baroness Schraeder, I will simply ‘boo’ at Max Detweiler.