Friday, December 28, 2007

Just a Few Little Words

I noticed something interesting this morning. It would be an understatement to say that I'm a music nut. Music has always been one of the most important things in my life (I'm currently devouring Jim Walsh's book about The Replacements, a Christmas gift from a musical partner in crime). Nearly every spare minute of my life is crammed with music - in the house, in the car, on the 3 block walk from my car to the building my office is in, on the bus, I've even brought my laptop to hotel rooms so I can listen to music if I want. I'm also extremely picky about what I listen to. I'm not quite a musical snob because I listen to plenty of things my music snob friends wouldn't deign to experience (Third Eye Blind, for example).

Since I've listened to so much music in my life, I love a good cover song, both studio and live (one memorable highlight, Paul Westerberg covering "I Think I Love You" the last time he played here). So, I was understandably thrilled when I found Information Society's cover of Madonna's "Express Yourself" (for a Cleopatra Records tribute to Madonna). (I was also a huge Madonna fan when her first major record came out in 1984). I've been bopping around to that and a few others I found recently (on the Madonna theme, KMFDM reinterpreting "Material Girl"). This morning I was in the car and it struck me that IS's version of that song makes it sound sexist. I assume most of the members of IS are straight guys because they changed the pronouns in the song. Here's a sample:

"Don't go for second best baby

Put your love to the test
You know, you know, you've got to
Make her express how she feels
And maybe then you'll know your love is real

You don't need diamond rings
Or eighteen karat gold
Fancy cars that go very fast
You know they never last, no, no
What you need is a big strong hand
To lift you to your higher ground
Make you feel like a king on a throne
Make her love you till you can't come down"

"And when you're gone she might regret it
Think about the love she once had
Try to carry on, but she just won't get it
She'll be back on her knees"

There's also a woman's voice that periodically comes through and says something about "one woman with many faces." If I recall, that line refers to Eve and her "blunder" and how all women are essentially similarly "defective." Not exactly complimentary.

In doing something so small as changing the pronouns, they've changed the message of the song. Madonna's version is about empowerment, about taking a different approach in a relationship. This version is about subjugation. Changing the pronouns changes the meaning because women and men, despite having very few fundamental differences, occupy different roles in our society's hierarchy (this was a recent revelation to Dan Savage, whose column I typically enjoy). The image evoked by "she'll be back on her knees" is different than the image conjured by "he'll be back on his knees."

Another one of those million little things that happen every day that reinforce the status quo and make any degree of equality seem just out of reach.