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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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lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

@CassandraSays

This. Anything pre-’60s is actually very difficult to source stuff for, so it ends up either parodies of looks of the era or just bad suits-and-dresses and pisses people off for being expensive, and ’60s-’80s-’90s are all vaguely represented in current fashion, which encourages people not to add much more than a nod to the era or to go over-the-top in a cheesy way.

Plus anyone can go down to an op-shop and find something with flares or in brown or with a loud pattern or square toes or whatever very easily, because these things tend not to sell and sit around on the racks getting marked down.

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

What do you mean by “in reverse” with the Iron Maiden thing btw? Sounds like a similar situation.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

I mean that I know tons of normally quite pretentious and wanky about it rockers who will secretly admit to loving ABBA.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

Although I’d argue that it might be the cheesiness that people love in both cases – KISS too.

(Sorry, metal folks. I love Eddie too, but you have to admit that the whole Maiden look is pretty damn cheesy. In a good way.)

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

Same. But weren’t you saying “everyone seems to love Iron Maiden, even if they wouldn’t normally like that sort of music” and then saying the same thing with ABBA?

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

Reverse in terms of who likes it and normally wouldn’t, though.

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

I think the harmonies and the lyrics bring the real cheese in the Maiden equation. Eddie’s cheesy, too, but Di’Annio era Maiden doesn’t have the same cheesy appeal as Bruce Dickinson’s stuff. It’s all him and the stuff the band started doing behind him.

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

Right.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

Also I think part of the fun was that Dickinson knew that he was being cheesy and embraced it. When people do that stuff and are wanky about it then you end up laughing at rather than with them.

(Shades of the black metal conversation here.)

Tulgey Logger
Tulgey Logger
8 years ago

Holy shit you guize, I was considering not posting this here but I just found out where our dear friend Tom Martin gets his fascinating theories about prostitution.

Like literally, just listen to Oprah’s first two sentences:

I should have known, but still.

Melody
8 years ago

Why would you want a troll? I personally find them to traumatic to respond to.
I’ll get so fixated and angry that I can’t sleep.
Insanely frustrating.
I had a troll on my tumblr for awhile. Kept using anonymous and calling me names “femnazi”, “whore” ect.
Flashback central.

Hasn’t Steele whined about his mother/teachers ruining his education on other posts?

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
8 years ago

Also: Tubular Bells. I’ve never met anyone who particularly likes it but it seems present in everyone’s tape/record collections if they have them.

I used to love Tubular Bells when I was a teenager and into my twenties, especially the “Piltdown Man” sequence. Even bought Tubular Bells II (disappointing) and Platinum (because of Moonlight Shadow). (Trivia: the narrator introducing the instruments on TB II is Alan Rickman.)

AC/DC – meh, never interested at all. I did like ABBA. 🙂 Cold Chisel – gah, no thanks. I’d prefer Dire Straits, if it came to that. I like some of Mark Knopfler’s stuff, like Why Aye Man (mostly because of hearing it as the theme from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

I listen to so little pop/rock/whatever these days – really only Bruce Springsteen, whose stuff I’ve got into in the last year-odd. Always knew Born to Run and the better-known Born in the USA tracks, but not his other work. And I don’t listen to current music, as in newer groups/singers, at all. Never heard of most of the ones mentioned here, and I haven’t listened to the radio since, gods, probably the late 80s. I’m definitely middle-aged about music. (Or older … gimme Renaissance and early Baroque any day!) 😉

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

Man, Warren Farrell managed to both be a massive dickhead and beat my ’70s getup.

@Kittehhelp

You’ve broken the Cold Chisel pattern! My worldview is shattered!

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
8 years ago

Mwahahahhaha!

Carleyblue
Carleyblue
8 years ago

Sorry to be shallow, but those are some hideous clothes in that video…

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
8 years ago

Anything with shoulder pads is bad news …

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

@Carleyblue

It’s not as if there’s anything there that deserves a detailed response beyond “lol no”, so…

Tulgey Logger
Tulgey Logger
8 years ago

At least he didn’t complain about the chairs.*

*Note: I don’t actually know because fuck watching all that shit.

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
8 years ago

Tulgey – ditto to that. Flicking through the thumbnails was enough.

Dvärghundspossen
8 years ago

Like LBT I love comic books, particularly superhero comics, and like all of you I get annoyed when I find sexism, racism etc in stuff that I like. STILL… I don’t want to come off as “THIS THING I LOVE HAS NO PROBLEMS AT ALL” but I do want to point out that I think super hero comics are often less sexist than lots of other media. Or at least they were like fifteen-twenty-thirty years ago, and then the rest of media started to catch up.
I mean, the fact that super heroines are drawn with ridiculously sexy costumes lots of the times, and fight in weirdly sexualised poses, push their arses and boobs out constantly for no reason etc do get a lot of justifiable flak. But it’s also the case that super heroines get to fight, and have been fighting, side by side with the male ones for ages. A super heroine can be the one who saves the day. A super heroine can be the one to take down the big bad who everyone else failed to defeat. A super heroine can save a super hero. And so on. I think this is a big reason why I was drawn to super hero comics in the first place. In other media it’s been the case, for a loooong time, that although you can have strong women, it’s rare for them to be QUITE as strong as the men, they often need to be saved by a guy in the end, and the woman would NEVER save the man (well, there’s always been a few exceptions in movies etc, but it’s been extremely rare compared to comics).

Shaenon
8 years ago

“You Belong to Me”? Really? It’s like I’m the only person here taking my man-hating responsibilities seriously.

Shaenon
8 years ago

I took the Steele Challenge, Googled “misandry music,” and got some MRA lists of “misandric” songs. As I probably could have predicted, they mostly fall into the following categories:

1. Obscure songs no one has ever heard of.

2. Sassy pop songs about “girl power” or women breaking up with men. For example, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”: she’s dumping a dude and bragging about how easily she can get a new boyfriend, ergo misandry! Actually, all Beyonce songs fall into this category. But seriously, guys, she’s right. She can get another man. Fucking look at her.

3. Songs where I honestly have no idea where the man-hating is. In addition to “You Belong to Me,” apparently “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar is misandric.

4. “Goodbye, Earl.”

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”

Which was written by a man, and originally from a male perspective, where it really wouldn’t stick out much in the world of R&B.

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” and Rihanna’s “Breaking Dishes” are kinda recent and vaguely misandric, I guess?

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

Isn’t Beyonce 30-ish by now? That would explain why she’s being misandric – doesn’t know and accept her place as a woman past her prime babymaking years. Why, she’s visibly an adult! How dare she think she still has value in the sexual marketplace!

thenatfantastic
thenatfantastic
8 years ago

*small voice*

I like anarcho-vegan queercore 🙁

thenatfantastic
thenatfantastic
8 years ago

On a serious note, I find it too difficult to listen to stuff I find really offensive. In the way that there’s about a million bands out there, I’m not giving my money or time to the arseholish ones. I try to sit on my hands about other people doing it, but I also kind of think that if I was listening to someone without realising what a total dillhole they were, I’d want to know about it so I could make an informed decision *coughAmandaPalmercough*.

I’ve also spent about half an hour thinking about all the riot grrrl music I have (more than is generally considered healthy) and trying to find a misandrist one, but I honestly can’t.

lowquacks
lowquacks
8 years ago

@CassandraSays

She had a song called “Independant Woman” as well! And she’s gone for a rapper rather than a Nice Guy! And “Girls”, and “Single Ladies”, and, y’know, just songs about females and shit! And she’s, you know, not white! Queen Bey is an MRA nightmare in so many ways.

@thenatfantastic

That’s okay, too!

/exclamation points everywhere

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
8 years ago

There’s the whole body confidence thing, too. Remember that it’s very important for women to hate the way we look – makes us so hard to manipulate if we don’t.

magpie
8 years ago

kitteh help – no Chisel at all? Not even janelle or forever now? 🙁

titianblue
titianblue
8 years ago

Misandry! How dare Sara Bareilles defy a man? 😉

kiki
kiki
8 years ago

My partner and I have both been huge Beatles fans since childhood, despite their having their own peculiar brand of, as my partner puts it, ‘chirpy misogyny’ (a phrase that could convincingly be used to describe the rantings of one DK Meller). Aside from more disturbingly blatant examples like Run For Your Life, the real classic is Norwegian Wood, which hides its misogyny behind haunting tones and a poetic air. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the thrust of the lyrics – which are not intended ironically or as an example of how not to behave – is ‘This chick acted like she was going to bang me and then she didn’t, so when she went out I literally set fire to her house.’ It’s a fuckin’ MRA anthem.

kiki
kiki
8 years ago

For the disillusioned ex-superhero fans, I would highly recommend Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing (and the subsequent Marshal Law Takes Manhattan and Kingdom of the Blind), written by Pat Mills, the oldest working socialist in comics and the man who taught me never to have any heroes (which makes him my hero!). It’s pretty much what the term ‘savage satire’ was invented for, and it deconstructs superheroes from a leftist perspective (the three books mentioned above focus on parodies of Superman, the Punisher and Batman respectively). The artwork is sometimes a little ill-suited (at one point a feminist character says of a pneumatic, Eschergirls-esque superheroine, ‘My God! Do you realise that her head is smaller than her breasts?’, blissfully unaware that she herself has been drawn with her head smaller than her breasts in the very same frame) and there are TWs for rape in the first book and gory, over-the-top violence in all three, but it’s a real classic of the anti-genre.

Kakanian
Kakanian
8 years ago

>For the disillusioned ex-superhero fans, I would highly recommend

Not to claim that Marshal Law isn’t great, but personally I would recommend Yoko Tsuno, which is finally getting re-released by Cinebooks these days. It’s a great children’s scifi adventure series with… some oddly modern gender politics. Like the creator never pays any heed to remark on the fact that Yoko’s boyfriend is taking care of her child while she’s out travelling. In fact he’s extremely reserved to remark on her love life at all and their relationship is only very tangentially hinted at through their body language.

Or Passengers with the Wind, in which the MC saves her sweetheart a whole lot.

hellkell
hellkell
8 years ago

Damn, I go to bed and miss this. Boo.

Cassandra:

So most people end up liking some stuff that has questionable elements and just sort of choosing to ignore the bits they don’t like.

This is how I deal with my love of AC/DC. This may be more justification/rationalization of that love, but they always struck me as goofy and having a sense of humor about the sexism in their songs, not hateful about it.

I saw them off my tits on E, best show ever.

I think Tubular Bells was a hit int he US because it was the theme for The Exorcist.

kiki
kiki
8 years ago

Kakanian – those sound cool. I’m reminded of (by which I mean I’ll use any excuse to bring up) my favourite manga, Battle Angel Alita, and the relationship between the main character and her love interest. It’s a time-honoured story of ‘boy meets cyborg girl guarding nuclear-powered supply train in post-apocalyptic wasteland, cyborg girl repeatedly saves boy’s life during attack by bandits, boy’s pride is hurt so he starts a fight with cyborg girl, cyborg girl repeatedly kicks boy’s ass using secret Martian martial art, cyborg girl gets captured by bandits, boy rescues cyborg girl, cyborg girl and boy realise they quite like each other, then it rains fish’.

Another good comic-book relationship comes, surprisingly, from Frank Miller, in the Martha Washington series – the romance between Martha and her partner is very sweet, understated and, above all, equal. Of course, they break up after he gets brainwashed by a megalomaniacal supercomputer, but I think that’s probably happened to all of us at some point or other.

lauralot89
8 years ago

I always get jealous when people talk about their musical preferences – I have absolutely no idea how to describe mine. Until very recently I didn’t much listen to or experiment with music at all. You know how teenagers are generally thought of as broadening their horizons and developing specific tastes? I never did that. I’ve always been extremely sound sensitive and I tend to hate new things, so I mostly ignored music. It’s only extremely recently that I’ve started listening to things outside of whatever soft rock classics that my parents have their radios set to, and I still don’t know how to describe my preferences even know that I’ve broadened out.

RubyHypatia
RubyHypatia
8 years ago

I’ve always hated Wham’s Everything She Wants
“Won’t you tell me…
Why I work so hard for you?
All to give you money”

“Some people work for a living,
Some people work for fun,
Girl, I just work for you.
They told me marriage was a give and take,
Well, show me you can take you’ve got some giving to do.
And now you tell me that you’re having my baby,
I’ll tell you that I’m happy if you want me to…
One step further and my back will break,
If my best isn’t good enough
Than how can it be good enough for two?
I can’t work any harder than I do…”

thenatfantastic
thenatfantastic
8 years ago

Too easy, Ruby. Just too easy. Maybe they had SCIENCE on their side? (Or Youtube, it’s the same thing, amirite?)

pecunium
8 years ago

I like a lot of music (to include a fiar bit of Dire Straits, and Tubular Bells). I tend to the more rocky-folk (Boiled in Lead, The Oysterband) a lot of Irish/Scottish (North Sea Gas, The Clancys, some Pogues, the odd Dropkick Murphy, The Cheiftans), some 70s stuff (James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Janis Ian).

There is a lot of Buffet, and Gordon Lightfoot, some Oingo-Boingo, all of Zevon, some Leonard Cohen, Harry Chapin, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The Judds are ok, and I like Louden Wainright.

Because of my age, a vast swathe of music which is now, “classic” was stuff I heard in my formative years (say 1975-1990 radio), as well as the instrumental stuff I learned/enjoyed when I played the cello.

I also like Renaissance and Baroque.

I know a lot of independent musicians, Martyn Lawrence, Heather Dale, Betsy Tinny, as well as having a slew of CDs from bands which are no more.

And Filk.

I own no Green Day, don’t care for the Black Crowes, I wish I had some Django Rhinehart. Brubeck is nice, Coltrane is OK. Sinatra has his moments, so does Presley.

I never understood Alannis Morrisette being popular.

pecunium
8 years ago

I like ABBA. Where else will you hear a Swedish Group, singing in English about Mexican soldiers fighting the US?

hellkell
hellkell
8 years ago

Pecunium, re: Alanis Morrisette. Have met, was odd. Odd in a way that only famous people who deeply believe their own hype can be.

inurashii
inurashii
8 years ago

Oh, are we at the part where we list our musical preferences? Neat.

I am totally That Guy in my geeky friends group, because I’m in my 30s now and yet I tend to prefer music what ain’t got guitars in it.

I like contemporary Top 40, especially house, dance music, and hip-hop. This is obviously where I run into a lot of misogynistic lyrics, and often have to accept that I like problematic things.

I also love vocal and progressive trance, where the lyrics aren’t usually as awful. Or … there. Ditto for spanish classical guitar and ‘dirty tango’ electronica.

I do like a smattering of music from most genres I’ve encountered, including rock, country, folk, and even gothic/industrial (of which I am generally sick to death).

Dvärghundspossen
8 years ago

@Kiki: I like Marshall Law too. I like as well how Lynn is depicted like a LITTLE bit over-the-top feminist, like a LITTLE bit of a spoiled middle-class girl who goes on about oppression, and still she’s obviously meant to be COMPLETELY RIGHT in a lot of her analysis. That’s so rare. If there’s a feminist character in media, that character is usually either merely a mouthpiece for the feminist author, or a straw feminist to combat.

Kakanian
Kakanian
8 years ago

Can’t say that I’m an avid consumer of music. I mean, I don’t pirate albums these days and I’ve bought maybe three CDs over the course of the last few years – Kristin Hersh’s “Sunny Border Blue”, “Arias for Farinelli” (Kitschy Baroque castrati Arias) and Dengue Fever’s “Venus On Earth”.

Last piece of music I’ve really spent time on was: “How to listen to and understand Opera”, a multi-part video lecture on that subject and my side dish of music is usually a classic radio station these days.

>Kakanian – those sound cool. I’m reminded of (by which I mean I’ll use any excuse to bring up) my favourite manga, Battle Angel Alita, and the relationship between the main character and her love interest

Yeah, shame that not too much came of it up to now.

lauralot89
8 years ago

I suppose I am better at listing my musical preferences than trying to describe them…even then it’s weird because I tend to like individual songs more than particular artists/genres, and what I like ranges from “Für Elise” to “The Beautiful People,” but anyway.

Artists that I do listen to a lot of include They Might Be Giants, Dream Theater, Lady Gaga, Jonathan Coulton, Emilie Autumn, and Throbbing Gristle.

Artists whose music I like but don’t feel compelled to seek out or listen to their entire output include Swans, The Beatles, Marilyn Manson, Adele, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, and most current pop musicians.

I’d say I have a thing for creepy and/or lyrically dissonant music, but I also love upbeat happiness, so eh.

thenatfantastic
thenatfantastic
8 years ago

I like anything which is prefixed or suffixed with the words ‘dub’, ‘punk’, ‘ska’, ‘anarcho/a’, ‘queer’, ‘riot’, ‘hop’, the occasional ‘core’, or any combination thereof.

thenatfantastic
thenatfantastic
8 years ago

F’rex, I’ve just been sent an album to review which has been described as ‘anarcho-dub punk poetry’ and I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m currently listening to a riot ska compilation. I might just make a grammar wheel style contraption to decide what to seek out in future. The system works!

princessbonbon
8 years ago

I have a secret liking for the cheesiest sappy songs out there. *nudges her Celine Dion and Michael Bolton out of sight*

Amnesia
Amnesia
8 years ago

I’ll be honest, I have a bit of a soft spot for Taylor Swift. The songs spoke to where I was when I first heard her, a somewhat shallow teenage girl with some crushes, but too much infected by the patriarchy and ‘Christian values’ to actually make the first move. ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’ would actually make me cry. It wasn’t just unrequited love, it was repressed unrequited love, and the knowledge in the back of your mind that even if the other person’s relationship didn’t work out, it would just be more waiting to be noticed, because you couldn’t even admit it outright (See also her song ‘I’d Lie’).
Immature, perhaps, but sincere. I can respect that.
I also find ‘Should’ve Said No’ refreshing for laying all the blame on the guy that cheated on her, and not insulting the other girl he cheated with. As opposed to Carrie Underwood’s ‘Think Before He Cheats,’ and its mocking of the ‘beach blonde tramp’ who sings white trash Shania karaoke and can’t shoot whiskey.