Tonight I am preparing for a class tomorrow morning on gender. I start all my college classes with a song that is relevant to the topic, and my dear partner and I were playing around with music for tomorrow, including The Kink’s Lola, Vitamin C’s Girls Against Boys, Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy, and John Lennon’s Woman is Nigger of the World. (I’ve decided to go with Beyonce’s, for a number of pedagogical reasons.)
As so often happens when we start listening to music on YouTube, we veered dangerously off track into talking about songs that have a different connotation now than they did at the time. Two that jumped right to mind were Baby It’s Cold Outside and Every Breath You Take. In the event that it’s been too long since you’ve heard these songs to hold a good conversation about them, you can read the lyrics from the links above or listen to them below.
Baby It’s Cold Outside was seen as playful banter, and Every Breath You Take was seen as a romantic ode.
When you look at the lyrics, they’re both excessively issue-laden songs that portray unhealthy attitudes about sex and relationships. Baby It’s Cold Outside is particularly rife for deconstructing in a class on healthy sexual communication (as a negative example, of course).
I think it’s all about the tone of voice in the songs, which we pay excessive attention to over and above the creepy, inappropriate lyrics. But this is one glaring place where children and preteenagers, in particular, get their crazy, messed-up notions of romance and dating. They see us adults – or their older siblings – singing along with these songs, clearly enjoying ourselves, and the young people around us do listen to what we’re singing, they do integrate it into their sponge-like-minds as adult-approved relationships. Even when we come back years later during comprehensive sex ed and teach that these kinds of relationships and coercion techniques are indications that the relationship is not healthy we simply can’t compete with the years of singing along that have come before us. And that’s when teenagers get the kind of sexuality education that they need – for all of the young people who never have a conversation about the “wrong-ness” of what’s portrayed in these missives, there is a glaring misunderstanding left standing. These stories are just so integrated into our society that it takes an immense effort to help young people fight against the flow.
More recent songs are rife with meaningless, gratuitous sex. This stuff gets into people’s heads, regardless of what they say about blocking it out. And everyone who comes through my classes claims to be above being influenced by the content of the music they listen to. Who do they think they’re fooling? Half the time they haven’t even noticed the inappropriate nature of the lyrics of their favorite songs – they just sing along, thoughtlessly. And without analysis, how can they be “above” the influence?
Before I bid my computer a good-night, one more song.
Through our Internet musical wanderings, I was introduced the following song, which I’ll leave you with, along with a short Wikipedia history:
(And as a side note, how tired am I of the story in the “new” Taylor Swift song below? Oh that’s right, I’m really, really, really freaking tired of it.)
We used to openly refer to “Every Breath You Take” as “The Stalker Song.” I LOVE that song though, so I hope my flippant attitude isn’t too offensive. (A lot of Sting’s songs poke fun at unhealthy relationships.)
Its amazing how many songs can be totally ruined if you actually listen closely to them. I used to really like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” but now it seems super creepy (I think the part about her maiden aunt was what first tipped me off). Its hard to find pop music that can really stand up to close inspection.
Of course now that I am not a teenager I get kinda bored by all the dating related songs – seems like there are so many about the beginning of relationships and so few about long term relationships – and almost none about (heaven forbid) people over 30.
Great topic, Karen!
For the record even in 1949 the subtext of Baby It’s Cold Outside wasn’t lost on the comedy duo Homer and Jethro. I can’t find the lyrics online (and they’re complex anyway) but I did find a video of them from the 1960s, reunited with June Carter Cash, that seriously gets the point across! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhUNLlXLBZg)
I always thought Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” is the outright creepiest — “Stay away from my window / Stay away from my backdoor too?” “Let me pour ya a good long drink?” “Don’t say a word, my virgin child?” Yikes! But then there was never a point where I thought it was ok.
The Four Seasons’ “Cherish” seemed pretty cool at the time but a few years ago I realized “You don’t know how many times I wished that I could hold you / You don’t know how many times I wish that I could / Mold you into someone who would cherish me as much as I / Cherish you” is somewhere between grooming and outright manipulation.
Then in the 1970s Smokey Robinson had a string of loner/stalker/sexual-harasser hits like “Take a Letter Maria,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Knock Three Times.”
The one-hit wonder “In the Summer Time” had “if her daddy’s rich / take her out for a meal / if her daddy’s poor / just do what you feel.”
And then there was Paul Anka’s “Havin’ My Baby!” (“What a lovely way of sayin’ how much you love me.”)
On the upside, if you closely read the lyrics to “Stand By Your Man” they’re pretty contemptuously subversive.
The list goes on.
Anyway, I agree that since many of those songs were written for the emergent-adolescent market, where generally speaking the audience was trying to process new emotions and hormones around things they hadn’t yet actually experienced the results could easily have been as pernicious as the accusations made against exposure to porn at the same age.
I think that a lot of the songs that people like to play for example the lyrics go something like this take these broken wings and fly again- you’re half of what makes me whole. to me that seems like submission and control. The music now days that I hear I really don’t like. There is something that I really do like about certain kinds of music because it can bring you joy. Music has a wonderful healing property to it but most of the music out there is garbage and should be avoided. The rush of hormones at adolescence personally I had a hard time with- especially with parents that I did not have a healthy relationship with. I looked to them as most children do but they really were not the best role models when it came to teaching children to understand about their own sexuality.
“Love is a Battlefield”—Pat Benatar, conjures up what women DO go through. Scabbard & Sword—that mental vision, is there any wonder there is fear of sexual violence & inequality along with longing about sex. “You say Goodbye”—J,P,G & R, elucidates how opposite we are & how many traditionalists SHOULD be denigrated! We all want & desire, I recommend everyone to read “The Heart of the Flower,” it might open your eyes.
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