(*opens three cans of worms simultaneously*)
I planned to write an upbeat, happy post today after a few days of quite personal ‘God I love my friends’ nonsense, but the musicians I quoted in the title were brought to my attention today, and so that changed. For those of you who have been blissfully living under a rock like this badass, RaeLynn is a singer whose song ‘God Made Girls’ include such lyrics as ‘Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt, / Somebody’s gotta be the one to flirt [and] drag his butt to Church’, and Meghan Trainor’s recent ‘Dear Future Husband’ contains the lines ‘I’ll be the perfect wife / Buying groceries’ – neither of these songs are what I’d call particularly ‘progressive’.
Raging (Yet Respectfully Reserved) Feminist James was up in arms about this, and wanted to wrest control of my mind to write a post about how these artists, Dapper Laughs and the Justice For Men And Boys Party are helping to set back gender equality about six thousand years; and how we men should all relinquish all social, political and economic positions of power and give women a go because we’ve basically been steering humanity since we crawled and frakked our way out of the gene pool onto land, and we’ve done a pretty shambolic job of it. But then Reasonable James regained control, and I started to think that perhaps these songs aren’t quite as women-ruining as they first appear. No, hear me out on this.
The first point is that these are women producing art, and this is being acknowledged; whether we agree with Trainor’s floor-mopping techniques, or RaeLynn’s bizarre infatuation with woman-on-horse action, these are subjective, flexible opinions – the fact remains that women are being musicians, in an industry that is, according to some, not as upsettingly sexist as it once was (although it’s not perfect). It’s an old problem that feminism has – if the movement is about empowering women to make their own choices, what if a woman chooses to have some choices made for her, and some power taken away? Is this a feminist thing, because a woman is making a choice, or an anti-feminist thing, because power, by whichever route it gets there, is ultimately being taken away from women?
Personally, my issue with these songs is not that they present a submissive, romantically-driven, male-defined image of women – if you’re a woman and those things appeal to you no-one can tell you you’re wrong for wanting to pursue that image. My issue is the relentless and narrow reinforcement of that image, that instead of choosing to be a horse-riding, ballet-dancing heartthrob, women have to be a horse-riding, ballet-dancing heartthrob. Look at the lyrics – ‘Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt’ suggests that caring about one’s appearance is some kind of intrinsic social obligation, and by fulfilling it women are just filling a role picked out for them in advance, rather than wearing that skirt because they actually like it, which places the emphasis on the woman’s ideas and her own power in choosing what to wear. Trainor’s command ‘Take me on a date / I deserve it’ is a more aggressive version of the same idea, that women go on dates because they’re women and that’s what they do rather than because they enjoy the company of their date, or are genuinely interested in seeing the upcoming Avengers film. In both these examples, there is a similar outcome – women wear x, women do y – but for dramatically different reasons – of arbitrary social obligation, and individual choice.
And while I’m not sure this is strictly ‘feminism’, sexuality isn’t addressed in these songs; ‘Dear Future Husband’, from a female narrator is a pretty clear reinforcement of heterosexual relationships, as is RaeLynn’s ‘He stood back and told the boys “I’m gonna rock your world” / And God made girls’. This furthers the lack of choice in these songs; there’s nothing wrong with heterosexuality (we do kinda need it to continue the human race) but there is a problem when heterosexuality is sexuality, and no alternatives are presented. Even The Bloodhound Gang addressed non-straight orientations in ‘I Wish I Were Queer So I Could Get Chicks’ – it’s vulgar, homophobic and makes awful generalisations, but at least it presents queer sexual orientations as a topic for consideration, discussion and, in this case, comedic inspiration. The difference between The Bloodhound Gang and the other two musicians is the former present a thing in a way that offends me so as to provoke a reaction and a discussion, while the latter ignore it altogether, killing even an appreciation of the existence of that thing.
This is my overall point – that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to do anything, especially when it comes to something so personal and complex as gender roles. Independent, reliant, empowered or disenfranchised, these are a few states of being with merits and drawbacks, and as a complex society consisting of complex individuals, we owe it to ourselves and each other to present these as equally valid choices, so that we can have discussions about our decisions, not damn people for the ‘wrong’ choice, or force them to pick a shit option because no alternatives were presented. Personally, I don’t agree with the priorities presented in those two songs – that life consists of romance and domestic submission – but I’m sure a lot of people do, and even more won’t have an idea; but those songs suck because they don’t cater to those who disagree, or those who haven’t made up their minds. Opinions don’t matter, but the ability to choose them is vital.