Judging women: ‘You Overdid it Doll’

(Yes, this blog is back from the dead, hopefully permanently, but that all depends on how much sleep I get, how exhausting work and teaching experience is, and, apparently, by how often something enrages me.)

I just heard You Overdid It Doll by The Courteeners on the radio, and it inspired me to resurrect this blog, something I’ve been trying to for a long time. How did it do it? By enraging me. I seem to have a very few topics that I return to again and again, and this song epitomises one of them – the way women are judged and have their behaviour dictated to by men.

You Overdid It Doll is basically about a man saying how much of a mess the ‘doll’ of the title is, she seems to be his ex-girlfriend, but now ‘Your teeth are starting to go, 5 nights a week its starting to show’, but it’s ok, because though she takes ‘it’ to an extreme he doesn’t, ‘it’ be drinking and social drugs or it could be harder drugs, suggested by the phrase ‘I shoot it like a Tommy gun’, not far from the “shooting up” of heroin.

The content of this song is essentially the same as Thrash Unreal, by Against Me!,which I have written about before. Both are from a male’s perspective, about a woman who is beginning to suffer from the effects of a party lifestyle, for lack of a better term. But there is one very big difference – the narrator of You Overdid It Doll is judging his ex, it’s obvious in the title of the song, and it is obvious the whole way through. He criticises her appearance, ‘Your teeth are starting to go’, ‘Dark shadows around your eyes’, and her personality, ‘the taming of the shrew’. Ah yes, throw in a Shakespearian comparison, which incidentally sets him up as just the man to “save” her, because shattering her spirit, just like in the play, is such a wonderful thing to do. He judges her and finds her failing, and then proceeds to dictate to her what her behaviour should be, all the while showing hypocrisy because whatever it is she is doing, drink or drugs, it is fine for him to do, in moderation or not.

This is rather different from the acknowledgment in Thrash Unreal that the woman is her own person, ‘If she wants to dance and drink all night then there’s no one that can stop her’, her situation is presented rather than judged, in fact the narrator appears to sympathise with her, ‘We do what we do to get by’, ‘they keep getting younger don’t they baby?’ Here the pet name is one of solidarity, but, of course, the use of ‘doll’ in the title of The Courteeners song grates with me, it’s patronising and a reminder that the woman is the narrator’s ex, as in not his girlfriend any more, and so nothing to do with him, and yet he still looks at her and judges her.

It really annoys me that while I was doing research for this piece all I found was people raving about how good the lyrics are. Hah, they’re sexist, prescriptivist, high and mighty and just a little bit creepy. I think I’ll stick with Against Me!, who show that men can write about women as people, to be understood and sympathised with, whether their actions are agreed with or not.

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Writer’s Block 2

‘If you could go back in time to another decade, which decade would you choose and why? Would you want to return or stay there? What if you could bring one other person with you?’

This is easy, it would obviously be the 1890’s. Hopefully I’d still be in London too, perfectly poised to be on the edges of the fin du siecle, I’d be able to read all the amazing literature as it was happening, and of course I would be a New Woman, maybe even writing for journals myself, or editing one. I’d be a suffragette too, of course, and would probably be doing everything I could to combine the decadent and the political lifestyles, and also possibly being arrested for stalking Oscar Wilde  or Algernon Charles Swinburne.

I would want to stay there, but that would mean living through the 1900’s, which would be good from a political perspective at least, but knowing that WWI was coming up, though hopefully I’d not be too old when Virginia Woolf’s early work started coming out. I wouldn’t need to bring anyone with me, I’d be having enough fun on my own.

‘Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious…’

Yesterday after work I went to the anarchist book fair at my old uni in East London, or rather I met up with some friends from back home who had been at the book fair and went straight to the pub. I had been interested to go to the actual book fair, one discussion they went to about gender, sex, sexuality and anarchism sounded like it would have been awesome, but the pub is always good.

It was really nice to catch up in person with one of my best friends, but the main thing about last night that was good was standing around and mostly listening to the anarchists talk, most of the people I talked to all belonged to one message board, which I sort of do, and have decided/ been urged to start going on again, and of course they all assumed I was an anarchist too. What with not being, and for most of the time being the only girl I felt pretty much an outsider, but that was ok as it was interesting just listening to people talking. However, I did get to talk to a guy who recommended me a few queer/feminist groups in London to look into, when I said about how cut off from the kind of politics that I feel connected to. Anything that leads to me getting to know some more interesting people will be good, especially considering how lacking in intellectual stimulation most of my life is at the moment.

The other thing hat came out of yesterday is the fact that I really need to work out what my politics actually are, in some areas I know what I think and I can be very vehement about it, but when it comes to general politics I really am not sure, I know I’m a feminist, but I while I vaguely think of myself as liberal I don’t know how well my views fit into that, or even what my views on so many issues are. And then there are issues where my views totally fit with most leftist views, not surprising considering some of the people I’m very good friends with. It’d be far too easy to pass myself off as apolitical, I’m not though, not really, I just don’t pay any attention to most politics, and to be honest most politics bores me, but my opinions on queer or feminist politics are obviously informed by my general political views, it’s just like I have to work backwards to them.

Performativity, punk and politics

Yet again I found myself in the middle of a gig, when I should only be concentrating on the band, going ‘I need to write an essay’ and trying to remember all I can about performativity and Judith Butler. On thursday night I went to see Random Hand, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Leftöver Crack, which bought all my mixed feeling about performativity and watching punk bands together into one confusing issue.

Basically, I identify as feminist, anti-racist, pro-choice and queer, so the fact that Leftöver Crack are explicitly anti-sexist, racist and homophobic, anti- breeding and pro-choice has to be a plus point in thier favour, though the fact that they make amazing, interesting music is the real reason that I like them. However, I also sort of think of myself as a pacifist, and as liberal and vaguely leftist, but not as socialist or anarchist, and there is one issue that occurs in Leftöver Crack’s music, as well as that in other bands that I definatly don’t agree with, the extreme anti-police sentiment.

I’m sure for lots of people this wouldn’t be an issue, but not only can I not help analysing song lyrics, I also can’t help applying performativity to my actions, so, when I was in the pit singing along to Gang Control, ‘fuck the police, they’re gang control’, I was expressing violent anti-police feeling, whether I believed the words I was saying or not. It was an uncomfortable feeling, especially as I can’t deny the importance of that kind of communal expression of belief, because I totally teared up when the lead singer talked about hypocerasy in the music scene, and I meant every single word when I was singing along to Gay Rude Boys Unite. To an outisder I was passionatly singing along to two songs, they could not have known my mixed feelings, and if course it gets better, because performativity is all about the importance of repeated actions, and the number of times I have seen Sonic Boom Six and sung along to Piggy In the Middle, and so expressing, again, strong anti-police feelings that I don’t think I actually share, but fulfilling the conditions of the performative action, and I do believe that language changes things, word-acts can be as valid as physical acts.

This leaves me in an uncomfortable position, my love of the music of Leftöver Crack and Star Fucking Hipsters, and most of their beliefs, isn’t enough to outweigh my dislike of one branch of their expressions, as the rampant misogyny of Imperial Lesiure was. However, I don’t advocate the killing of police officers, in no way do I agree with that. I think this relates to the gap between the singer and the narrator of a song that I always end up writing about, perhaps I need to theorise some sort of parrallel gap for the audience of a song, but at the moment I can’t help but the very acts of singing and dancing along to a song validates it, and implicits to the world that you agree with the feeling expressed by it. This sort of theory about music seems to be shaping up to be my life’s work, I could at least write a dissertation for my MA on it, if not for a PHD, if I ever get as far as doing one.

Until then, there was one thing I noticed the morning after the gig (apart from the fact I really did appear to have scraped half the skin off my elbow and it was leaking yellow stuff), the tshirt I bought, the Gay Rude Boys Unite one, of course, advocates true unity, among others ‘gay, straight or trans’, I’ve never seen another band acknowledge the problem of transphobia, let alone use a gender-neautral pronoun for that matter, it appears that to hear other people really express believe in the opinions that I hold I need to venture further into what I always think of as ‘proper punk’, and be aware that more extreme beliefs in one area are likely to mean more exptreme beliefs in another area as well.

Hi, is there anything I can help you with?

I know people have got fired  for writing unfavourable things about their jobs on their blogs, but I can’t see that this post will get me in trouble, even if any of my managers read it. Still, I am going to be very vague about where it is I work – lets say I’m a sales assistant in the men’s department of a fairly large, well known clothes shop in central London. First, I should make it clear that I love my job, I don’t even really mind the early starts or the late finishes, and the people I work with are all great, and retail is what I know and what I’m good at.

However, though I’ve worked in retail for six years now, including in one of the largest fashion clothes shops and a large comic/ book shop, I’m noticing something I’ve never come across before. Sexual harassment at work is a big issue, especially legal, but what do you do when the harassment is not coming from the people you work with, but from the customers? I feel like I should make it very, very clear that I have no problems with any of the people I work with, but if I did I know exactly what I would, I know my rights, and also I would feel comfortable and able to object to any behaviour that made me uncomfortable, it’s just not the same with customers.

As a sales assistant I often feel very submissive, an interesting position for a often rather outspoken feminist, but what I’m there for is to basically do whatever the customer asks me to, and do everything I can to make them happy (and make them spend lots of money). The more worrying implications of this became apparent rather early on, within days I learnt it was just day to day life for the female sales assistants to chatted up by the male customers on a regular basis, I’d been there six days when I was asked out for a drink. Most of this is rather innocent, and understandable to an extent, after all, we are smiley and friendly to everyone, it’s our job, and the guy who asked me out did look nearly as embarrassed as I felt.

There are less innocent examples – twice I’ve come across people avoiding specific customers because, for want of a better word, they are being stalked by them, and one girl was asked to be a customers wife, she thought he was joking, as you would, he told her he was serious. And, best of all, something that happened to me the other day. I was on the fitting room, I always lead customers to a free changing room (saying ‘if you’d like to follow me’, and feeling like I’m basically asking them to stare at my arse) and put the tag with how many items they have on the wall for them, which means I go into the room then come out, so of course one customer pretty much leers at me and says ‘are you coming in with me?’ And of course all I can do is smile politely and go away, feeling disgusted, and unable to do anything, because my job is to be nice to the customers, no matter how they act towards me. I would much rather a customer being rude or angry than leching all over me.

The worst thing was hearing a fellow sales assistant complaining about a customer talking to her breasts for ten minutes then saying ‘I guess it’s my fault for not wearing a cardigan’. But of course it’s not, only the victims are made to feel like it’s their fault because there is nothing we can do, unless we’re actually being physically threatened, and I do at least feel like if I was being physically threatened the company I work for would be supportive of me. But the thing is that in a way the behaviour I’ve been on the receiving end of isn’t that bad, while thinking about this issue I stumbled across this article, which shows the extreme lengths that strangers sexual advances can go to. Obviously death isn’t a common result, but maybe I am lucky that I mostly get harassed in a safe environment, if I can’t retaliate in the way I would on the street I also know there are other sales assistants and security guards around if I am being physically threatened. The fact that I can attach the word ‘lucky’ to any sort of repeated harassment is so wrong though, especially when I do feel like I, if not invite it, make it appear more welcome, by the way I behave, when all I am doing is my job.

If I could think of a way to act against this then I would, but while ignoring cat calls on the street works I have to carry on smiling and being polite to the men who lech at me, I have to laugh at their suggestive jokes, I have to worry if I’m being ogled while I’m showing people to fitting rooms. I love my job, and I enjoy it, and really this isn’t a large part of it, but it is a significant minority of customers, and I don’t want it to be something that makes me dislike my job, or does the same for any of the people I work with.

‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’

I’m writing a big essay about Big D and the Kid’s Table, but until that’s done I thought I’d write something shorter as a filler, and I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while, so this seems a good time for it. Incidentally, this might be the most antagonistic thing I’ve written, at least in a while, I feel like I should have some kind of warning, ‘careful: feminism ahead’.

Guana Batz are one of the classic UK psychobilly bands, I have the best of album and I love it. It’s mostly simple, stripped down and fairly aggressive, with loads of songs that make me want to dance, and a few slower songs, with an interesting variety of subjects and themes. However, there is one song I really have a problem with, little as I want to.

I have no problems with the sound of Lady of the Night, but the more I listen to it the more the lyrics worry me. The refrain is ‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’, and the song essentially tells of the narrator’s struggle to understand why a woman who once turned him down is now a prostitute. It begins with a fairly typical description of a woman as admired by a man, though ‘the big old moon up above, looking lonesome and oh so cold’ is a foreshadowing of what is to come, especially as the moon is such a typically female symbol. The chorus makes it obvious that the woman being watched is a prostitute, a lady of the night, and ‘looks so different in the cold daylight’, ie when she is no longer the object of lust of the male viewer, here the typical stereotypes of the prostitute begin to creep in.

The association of the cold moon and the woman is revealed in the line ‘you know she used to have feelings’, she is being set up as the femme fatale, the hard woman who has done what she had to survive, this seems to be the ‘reason’ the narrator is searching for, but there is more. It become obvious that ‘you could have been away from all this, if you’d only said yes when I asked’, in other words, she rejected the narrators advances, ‘because of her foolish pride’. This pride seems to be the reason the narrator is searching for, though why pride would cause someone to not only reject a man but become a prostitute, after all, it ‘hurts me to see you put yourself through all this’, ie her profession is her choice, is unclear, at least to me. I can’t see the link between pride and a profession so often associated with shame and desperation.

The overall message of the song is clearly that it is the woman’s fault she is a prostitute, because she was proud and she rejected the narrator. I suppose the view is that she thought she was too good for him, but it’s ok because now he’s too good for her. Read like that the song becomes the story of some kind of karmic revenge upon the woman. Apart from the statement that she chose her profession, unless I’m reading too much into that, and ‘chose’ simply means “deserves everything she gets because she had the cheek to turn me down.” Not especially flattering to the male narrator involved, in fact I find it totally disturbing, the song takes, presumably, a strong-willed independent woman and punishes her for that independence, all too like the Victorian morality tales where vanity and pride were the start of the slippery slope to prostitution and death in the gutter.

This impression is aided by the mention of all the troubles she’s faced but no mention of what they are – is she a prostitute to support her habit? Her children? Because she has no other options? If so there is no mention of those factors, just like the Victorians who blamed prostitution on the woman’s nymphomania and vanity, not her lack of skills, job opportunities and extreme poverty. Then there’s the fact she ‘used to have feelings’, so she doesn’t have them any more, which is awful for a number of reasons. 1 – it’s contradictory, because the narrator also talks of watching her ‘put yourself through all this’, implying her situation is as distasteful to her as it is to him, but if she doesn’t have feelings then she wouldn’t care. 2 – more horrible stereotyping of prostitutes, she becomes inhuman in her lack of feelings and connection with the ‘cold’ moon, it’s a type of objectification, perhaps a way of the narrator distancing himself from the lust he still feels for her, despite how ‘different’ she looks from previously. 3 – It’s the same objection as most of my other reason for disliking this song, but seriously, dumping someone makes you emotionless? That’s just stupid.

The more I think about The Lady of the Night the more it annoys me, and though there are lots of different things about it that annoy me they all come back to the same thing – this song is basically a working illustration of the male gaze in effect. This song is not about the woman, not really, it’s totally about the male narrator, and though he may go on and on about the unnamed (of course) woman’s terrible pride, really his whole motivation seems to be revenge and wounded pride. And why does he need to find a reason for the woman being a prostitute? She dumped him, she shouldn’t be anything to do with him any more. I think he needs to find a reason so that his pride can heal, and the fact that she became a prostitute after dumping him, though there’s absolutely no proof in the song that the two are in any way related, is some kind of odd boost to his ego. Again, everything in the song is about the man, and I thinks it’s this that makes me dislike it so much, be self-obsessed if you like, but don’t pretend to be concerned about someone else to cover up that self-obsession.

What part of your body is most beautiful?

I really like this post, I especially like the way the answers seem to have turned from ‘what part of your body is most beautiful’ to ‘what part of your body do you like the most’, so that not all of the answers are about conventionally attractive things, lots of people saying scars or stratchmarks, individual things. It makes such a difference from being told what to like by other people, or worse, hearing people list things that they don’t like about themselves. This sort of thing is so easy to do, just a couple of mintutes to read the commentsor think about what you like about yourself, it’s the sort of self-help thing I’m always a bit suspicious of, but in this case it really just makes me pleased.

For me, I like my hair, even though it’s all full of split ends it’s tick and long, and the most amazing shade of green at the moment. I like the inside of my arms, they’re really pale and smooth, and my veins look interesting, though they show scars and bruises really easily. I have good hands too, small but with very long, thin fingers, and long nails, and interesting little callous’ from writing so much. I have good legs too, I’m short but they’re proportionally pretty long and look good with pretty tights and big boots. I like realising that there are lots of things that I like about myself.