Take it from Lesley Gore: You Don’t Own Her

For International Women’s Day 2017, I have resurrected and updated a column I had in the Guelph Tribune on this day in 2012. It sometimes feels like we are five years further forward and fifty years further back.

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Misogyny is the hatred of women. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about today, International Women’s Day, but it just won’t go away . It would be nice to think we could get through at least one day in relative peace, but we won’t. Today, somewhere in Guelph, more than one man will lash out in anger. More than one wife, daughter, sister or mother will be hurt.

A lot of people are  justifiably upset and disturbed that last November, 47 per cent of Americans cast a vote for the most blatantly misogynistic President to ever run for election. It was a shocking result. He had bragged about his awful behaviour, but still almost half the people who voted cast a ballot for him. Now, four months later, he and they remain unapologetic. Violence against women is that deeply ingrained into our culture. Nowhere is it more so than in the popular music fed to us on a regular basis.

Cast your mind five years back, if you will, to the 2012 Grammy Awards. That’s where the American music industry honours its big achievers every year. Chris Brown took two awards home, and performed one of his songs. Also on hand was Rihanna, who sang two songs during the show. What upset many people was that three years before this, Brown viciously beat Rihanna. As well, the 2012 Grammies celebrated the lives of two women, Whitney Houston and Etta James. Houston herself was badly beaten by her former partner, singer Bobby Brown. Chris and Bobby Brown are not related to each other.

A year after this column was printed, Robin Thicke released his creepy song Blurred Lines. There has been a steady stream of them ever since, from singers like Bobby Brown, Kanye West and many more.

To my tired old eyes and ears, the misogynistic content of a lot of music these days is getting worse. Maybe it is, but it has always been with us to some degree. In 1955, Elvis Presley recorded a song Baby Let’s Play House which contains the lines “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” John Lennon lifted these words and put them into his own song Run For Your Life. He said he always regretted writing such a nasty song, but he did.

Another one, Hey Joe, became a signature song for Jimi Hendrix. It’s all about a man who shot his wife because he caught her running round with another man. Mick Jagger wrote several songs for the Rolling Stones, from  Under My Thumb to Brown Sugar, celebrating the subjugation of women.

Misogynist songs didn’t start with the hip hop onslaught. They’ve been around since before I was born, and they exist in every genre, whether rock, blues, country, or schmaltzy Vegas crooners. Many are in my own collection and sit happily on my CD shelves.

I don’t believe in censorship, and these songs shouldn’t be banned. They don’t cause domestic violence, other than when a wife threatens her husband with the rolling pin if he ever again puts Wives and Lovers on the hi-fi. The songs are more a reflection than a reason. They reflect a dangerous attitude that does cause the abuse. We don’t need to ban the songs. We do need to ban the mindset behind them.

Compare the imagery in Run For Your Life with that in I’d Rather Go Blind as sung by Etta James. She would rather go blind than see her man walk off with another woman. No guns, no knives, no fists, no vengeance. Just acceptance of a love that couldn’t last.

There is one song that every parent should run out and buy as a Women’s Day gift for their daughters. Buy it and play it every day until the concept is so deeply implanted that it can never be erased. You Don’t Own Me was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963. It stands the test of time very well. Some of the lyrics are “don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say, and please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.”

We don’t own our wives, our girl friends or our daughters. We shouldn’t try to control them and force them to do things they don’t want to. If we can get this simple idea through our testosterone addled minds, maybe by this time next year we’ll have a violence-free International Women’s Day.