Lyrics and Life
By Caitlin Ward
Going to a party and she’s wondering what’s
She had a black dress that I remember still
Now she’s in something from the hardware
Now she’s in something that she’s
put on by chance
Jeans and a sweater
I don’t remember my feminist awakening, but my sister does. It came at the age of five or six. We were watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in the basement of our old house on 3rd Street one afternoon, when my mother sat down with us. After a few minutes, she said, “why do you think Princess Aurora can’t save herself?” For us, that was it. We’ve been card carrying members of the equality camp ever since.
In retrospect, I sometimes feel quite sorry for my elementary school
The upshot of being so fervent at so young an age is that
by the time I got to university, I had calmed down quite a bit. I have
never stopped identifying myself as a feminist, but I’m not constantly upset
at the world anymore, either. I have my moments, but after a certain
point I realized I couldn’t spend my life railing against the machine
at every waking minute. It may be maturity, or it may be exhaustion.
Take your pick.
Not so for everyone, though. One of my good friends had
a feminist awakening fairly recently. I think it started when she was
buying toys for her nieces; she looked around at shopping-obsessed Bratz
dolls that dress like hookers and the latest incarnation of My Little
Pony, in which every magic pony seems to be weirdly preoccupied with
having a pony-boyfriend. And she wondered how her young nieces were going
to grow up, living in a media-soaked world that heavily implies they
should be “sexy” before
they’re even in elementary school. And then she began to think
about all the ways women are objectified, and the impossible beauty standards
they’re held to, and then she wondered why a woman’s worth
had to be so intimately connected to how thin she was. And then she started
watching documentaries about all this. To be honest, she’s been
angry ever since. That was a year ago.
Frankly, I don’t blame her. You see, last Friday, she came over
to my house for supper. She’d recently watched a documentary about
how porn culture’s infiltration of the mainstream was adversely
affecting young women. She hadn’t seen a lot of the music videos
that the documentary addressed, so we ended up spending a chunk of the
evening watching Katy Perry and mainstream hip hop videos while we waited
for the onions to caramelize. After about 20 minutes, we were both furious.
Well, that’s perhaps a slight overstatement. And it’s hardly
original, but it’s difficult to suppress the thought that, as a
culture, we’re constructing a somewhat bizarre public perception
about what it means to be a woman. It’s one thing to be risqué in
the context of a mature audience — it’s another thing entirely
to trade on some abortive idea of sexual freedom with pre-teens.
At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jonathan Richman, an American singer-songwriter known for his quirky lyrics, being the godfather of punk, and refusing to play old songs at shows. Well, perhaps not much at all. But then again, perhaps that’s the point. You see, it’s because of songs like this that I manage not to be constantly furious at the mainstream music industry for their somewhat grotesque treatment of women. Was Everyday Clothes ever a top 40 song? No. Is it an intelligent diatribe on feminism? No. Is it anything more than a rather sweet and slightly silly love song? Well, no. But in 1989, Jonathan Richman released a very real love song about a very realistic sentiment — made all the more believable by the fact that it’s about his wife. And when I get the chance, I’m going to play it for my friend’s nieces.
Ward is a freelance writer and aspiring documentary filmmaker based in Saskatoon. You can find her short bursts of insight and frustration at http://www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings