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American Women and Stupid Girls: Misogynistic Lyrics as Faux Social Critique

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: Spokesmen for Clean Living
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: Spokesmen for Clean Living

 

Listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” the other day, I was struck by how much the lyrics resembled a misogynistic MRA rant. Ostensibly a song pointing out the hypocrisy of suburban squares attacking the drug culture whilst themselves popping prescription pills, the song extends its “critique” to cover such subjects as the evil of women making cakes from mixes instead of from scratch.  (See below for videos of all the songs mentioned in this post.)

So you go from this bit of, ahem, social criticism:

“Things are different today,”

I hear ev’ry mother say

Mother needs something today to calm her down

And though she’s not really ill

There’s a little yellow pill

She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper

And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.

To this:

“Things are different today,”

I hear ev’ry mother say

Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag

So she buys an instant cake and she buys a frozen steak

And goes running for the shelter etc etc

Yep, that’s right. Mick’s as bothered by the frozen steak as he is by the dangers of tranquilizer abuse. By the end of the song, the hypothetical freezer-and-cake-mix-using mother has died of an overdose. Told you so!

Misogynistic rock songs aren’t exactly a rarity – hell, “Mother’s Little Helper” isn’t even the worst offender in the Rolling Stones’ disography.

But unlike more straightforward outbursts of misogynistic nastiness like, say, “Under My Thumb,” “Mother’s Little Helper” pretends to be something nobler: a social critique.

The blogger behind the wonderfully arch I Hate the New York Times blog pointed out to me in a tweet that a surprising number of old rock lyrics play this little trick. Taking the form of a “critique of today’s inauthentic & hedonistic society” they are in fact “directed at [a] specific shallow hussy.”

Along with Mother’s Little Helper, IHateNYT suggested I take another look at the lyrics to Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Kicks.” And, yep, it’s basically the same thing: a critique of drug use in the form of a patronizing lecture to a young woman in search of “kicks,” starting out with this little bit of I-told-you-so, delivered with a sneer:

Girl, you thought you found the answer on that magic carpet ride last night

But when you wake up in the mornin’ the world still gets you uptight

It turns out that the song, written by the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was inspired by the drug use of a male friend of theirs – though somehow in the song this specific man became a hypothetical “girl.”

And then of course there is the Guess Who’s American Woman, a sort-of critique of America’s “war machines” and “ghetto scenes” in the form of a long, sneering diatribe against a hypothetical woman:

Now woman, I said stay away

American woman, listen what I say

 

American woman, get away from me

American woman, mama let me be

Don’t come knockin’ around my door

Don’t wanna see your shadow no more

And on and on and on for a very long five minutes and nine seconds.

One of the reasons these songs sound so much like MRA rants is that MRAs like to play the same little game, dressing up their misogynistic sentiments in the form of “social critique.” Thus Paul Elam’s faux-environmentalist attack on female consumers, and all that talk about how single mothers and/or “picky women”  are going to bring about the end of civilization. Heck, some manosphere fat-gal-bashers even pretend they fat-bash out of concern for the well-being of the women they’re ridiculing.

It might be entertaining to transform some of these old woman-hating songs into critiques of woman-haters. “Stupid Girl” by the Rolling Stones might be a good place to start. I mean, seriously?

Like a lady in waiting to a virgin queen

Look at that stupid girl

She bitches ’bout things that she’s never seen

Look at that stupid girl

Those are real Rolling Stone lyrics, not a comment from NWOslave. Have at it.

Here are videos of all the songs I mention above:

 

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LBT
LBT
7 years ago

Jonathan Coulton I feel kinda weird about. Like, I enjoy some of his songs a lot (see, his Portal work, and Creepy Doll), but the rest I find… I dunno, a little too precious. I feel like I’m being pandered to or something. Also, his fans seem to be REALLY into him, which tends to damp my interest. (See also: Joss Whedon.)

I’m glad I’m not the only one. Like sure, Skullcrusher Mountain was entertaining… but I’m not really WOWED by it. And I found his ‘Baby Got Back’ thing just completely dull. (But I have a bit of a thing about white guys taking rap or hip hop and doing it to acoustic guitar and it’s FUNNY! Because he’s WHITE!)

tawaen
tawaen
7 years ago

Can I pretend we’re still just posting what we’re listening to? These are instrumental so no deconstruction necessary. Just pretty.

pecunium
7 years ago

I love Rodrigo y Gabriela. They seem to be having so much fun, and it’s so synergistic. I wish I would remember to buy some, instead of listening to them on YouTube and Pandora.

katz: ShopVac bugs me, because I don’t feel as much of the irony. Code Monkey… I don’t think the narrator is the hero. He’s a passive-aggressive dude with a sense of entitlement. It comes across. What Lauralot said about Skullcrusher mountain too.

I also cut him some slack for how the larger portion of his work came about… writing a song a week is hard. I know I can’t write songs, at all. If I were able to, and trying to keep to that level of production, I’d probably be reworking ideas/themes too.

lauralot89
7 years ago

I do think with Shop Vac, Coulton realized once he was through creating it that he’d written a song about a terrible relationship without irony. The verse about the husband deciding he has no choice but to go back to the marriage he hates has a news broadcast going on in the background about a man (presumably the husband) who just went on a shooting spree, so I took that as Coulton’s way of countering the “I should really stay in this marriage that I can’t stand and just let my anger build” vibe that the song gives off. Of course, I could just be over-thinking things. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Dvärghundspossen
7 years ago

@Kitten:

Dvarghundspossen: it’s your second paragraph that talks about the Nice Guy (TM) rather than someone who’s actually a nice guy but who may be shy. Shakesville has a good rundown of the type. The TL:DR is that they aren’t actually nice at all. These are the blokes who whine about the horrors of being friendzoned, because they’re not remotely interested in being friends with women, they are only after sexual relationships.

That’s what I thought too, but I became confused when people started talking about that so many pop songs have Nice Guy lyrics. Yeah, there are tons of songs about not getting the one you love, but I don’t think it’s really that common with lyrics about how she’s terrible for not returning your love. Someone mentioned Pulp’s Disco 2000 as an example of Nice Guy lyrics, but the “I” of that song really just pines after a girl he’s known since they were kids, he doesn’t imply that she’s a bad person or anything.

katz
7 years ago

OK, I haven’t actually heard Skullcrusher Mountain.

But I’m not giving him a break for writing a song a week. Problematic stuff isn’t just going to appear in your work because you’re in a hurry unless it was there already. Taylor Ferrera and Parry Gripp both write (or wrote) close to a song a week and both manage to avoid writing about whiny dudes with relationship issues.

lauralot89
7 years ago

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the problematic elements of his songs are there due to the time frame in which they were written. I think they’re deliberately placed, as commentary/critique. The only thing I would attribute to the song a week time frame would be if the commentary isn’t as clear as it tends to be, which I think was the case with Shop Vac. Generally, though, I think his songs get that point across pretty clearly (as with Skullcrusher Mountain, Not About You, etc.).

Dvärghundspossen
7 years ago


You’re so hot you’re making me sexist… bitch.

Jemmilla
Jemmilla
6 years ago

Oh, so what? They wrote some lyrics that called some women out on their crap. They were surrounded by groupies and gold diggers and hangers on and assorted junkies looking for a free ride because they were famous. And that was a different time; People weren’t obsessed with being politically correct. My mom was (and still is) a “womens libber” back in the day and she still loved the Stones and their lyrics and she still loves them. She attended their concerts and remembers all the shrieking girls at the Hollywood Bowl. The lyrics to Stupid Girl were funny and shocking back then and would be even more controversial now precisely because our society frowns on insulting women. There’s a guilty pleasure in enjoying it. You’ve got Mother’s Little Helper all wrong anyway. TV dinners were mocked back then by the younger generation. There was a current of thought that became the precursor to the organic food farming movement. The Rolling Stones were ridiculing the older generation that went for the conveniences of industrial processed foods and the approved pharmaceutical drugs. They were taking a stab at the perceived hypocrisy.

Is there something misandrist about “Nowhere Man”? Or “Hit the Road Jack” or “You’re No Good” or any other song where a man is being called out for being a no good two-timer? No. It’s part of the range of human experience. Men get frustrated with or hurt by women and vice versa and this shows up in lyrics. Enjoy music for the great songwriting and lyrics and the musicianship and try seeing lyrics that seem (or are) misogynistic or man-hating as part of the spectrum of human expression.

As far as misogyny being disguised as social commentary, I could make a long list of songs from that era that made the man the butt of the critique. The older generation they were rebelling against was usually represented by a male cop (pig) or judge or any other male authority figure.

Maybe you would ejoy the lyrics to “Goody Two Shoes”? Miss Goody Two Shoe was a character from a series of stories and she had a lot to say about how other people should live, just like you!

cloudiah
6 years ago

ohmydog, seriously, you’re necro’ing a thread from 2012 to share your oh-so-deep-and-important thoughts? Maybe try NO.

cloudiah
6 years ago

And if you can’t figure out the difference between “American women are no good” and “some men are asshats” then I think you are not tall enough to participate on this blog.

Ally S
6 years ago

The lyrics to Stupid Girl were funny and shocking back then and would be even more controversial now precisely because our society frowns on insulting women.

Or rather, because some people think that society frowns on misogyny. Because the reality is that not only does misogyny still exist, but people also express their misogyny in subtle ways through misogynistic jokes. It doesn’t matter what the intent behind the humor is, it still reproduces misogynistic ideas.

As far as misogyny being disguised as social commentary, I could make a long list of songs from that era that made the man the butt of the critique. The older generation they were rebelling against was usually represented by a male cop (pig) or judge or any other male authority figure.

Criticizing authority is not the same as criticizing maleness.

Boooooooring. 0/10 would not post again

Anarchonist
Anarchonist
6 years ago

Yeah, somehow managing to twist criticism of authority into misandry shows just how utterly clueless the necro-troll is about societal power dynamics. I mean, could there actually be a reason that authority figures are traditionally assumed to be men? Something akin to a patriarchal power structure, for instance?

Hmmm… nope, must be misandry. Oh, the woes of having to rule and make decisions for those lesser people who could never handle the terrible burden of making decisions for themselves!

/sarcasm, in case that wasn’t clear.

cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
6 years ago

Question – how do the necrotrolls even find these old threads?

Lea
Lea
6 years ago

Jemillia,
When you feel like you should comment on a two year old thread, take time to pause and remember: DON”T.
It stands for: DOOOOOOOOOOON’T. Ever.

DaveDale
DaveDale
4 years ago

Bravo Jemilla, you are a great woman. As a 50 somthing guy with a lot of golf buddies, I can tell you that men my age think it’s absurd women complain so much about anything that calls out women. Men and women should be able to be called out all the time in art and entertainment, but in our PC world the powers that be, mostly ad men, have cowered to the boycott and the mighty dollar and have stifiled free speech. No man respects you when you whine about nasy lyrics, because we know there are ten times more and worse written about men all the time.
I am old enough to have been in high school a few years after this song was popular, (Stupid Girl), and we loved it and there was no issue with it at all other than the term “bitch” was used .
Men are way more likely to be victims of violence , addiction, suicide, depression, homelessness or almost anything else hideous that can happen in life. In spite of this there are all kinds of special protections for women when it is us that are far more likley to die young than women. Men do most of the hard work around here, construction , coal mining, majoring in physics , or anything else where your hands get dirty and American should start appreciating them. The reason so many young men are dropping out and not working or getting married is they know our society has no respect for them, so , why try? Have fun paying for your overpriced house because we don’t have enough men willing to build them, the housing crises is one of the many side effects of devaluing and mistreating men. The other big one is that your average woman is not going to be able to find a suitable mate, so many men have dropped out of the societal contract because they are mistreated, so why bother?

(((VioletBeauregarde))): Social Justice Necromancer
(((VioletBeauregarde))): Social Justice Necromancer
4 years ago

Men are way more likely to be victims of violence , addiction, suicide, depression, homelessness or almost anything else hideous that can happen in life.

Gee, I wonder why…maybe it’s because men are conditioned to “man up” and “tough it out” so that they feel ashamed to ask for help?

If so, that is the product of toxic masculinity (no, toxic masculinity does NOT mean natural male behavior)
which comes from the patriarchy (the existence of which people like you deny). Men need to be retaught that there’s no shame in seeking the help that they need, that being depressed doesn’t make them a “beta manlet”.

Yes, some feminists do disrespect men and the rest of us call them out when we see it.

Men do most of the hard work around here, construction , coal mining, majoring in physics , or anything else where your hands get dirty and American should start appreciating them.

*Sigh* Another “we hunted the mammoth” argument…oh boy.

Look, even if that were true, we appreciate that work no matter who does it. That said: men are not herd animals and so one can only claim credit for his own individual work, not the work of his sex.

There are other fields of work which may not involve getting your hands dirty, per se, which still should be appreciated. Even motherhood is a hard and dirty job which should be appreciated.

Thanks for playing, now go share your great insight elsewhere.

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