Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Woman on Woman Action Part 2: Offensive Threat

Part two of my series analyzing songs where women fight over a man looks at songs told from the offensive position (here's the intro and part one), women who are staking claim to a man who, by all social conventions, is already spoken for. These women are after some other woman's husband/boyfriend, and the fact that they are dismantling another woman's position is perhaps even more important than the "love" they feel for the men they are trying to claim. These songs may be the most overtly aggressive examples of women tearing each other down over a man because they are not provoked.

While we often think of "the other woman" as a negative stereotype in popular culture, these singers push back against that portrayal, claiming that their competitors are simply weak, unworthy of the men they have. By positioning men as mere prizes in a Darwinian battle, these women attempt to proclaim themselves as powerful. What we can lose focus on in these claims of self-importance is that the power comes at the expense of other women, women who have done nothing wrong, who have only tried to play the game the best they could. 

"Girlfriend" Avril Lavigne 

The speaker of this song sings directly to her potential conquest, and her message is clear:
I don't like your girlfriend . . . I think you need a new one. . . I could be your girlfriend
While the speaker does focus on some of her own positive attributes to make her case (most notably that she's "damn precious" and "the mother fucking princess"), most of her argument is based not on her own value, but on her competitor's weaknesses:
She's so stupid, what the hell were you thinking? 
The video is even more disturbing. Avril Lavigne plays both characters: the speaker and the "stupid" girlfriend. She plays up stereotypical portrayals for each. The speaker is dressed in black, playing on Lavigne's image as "punk rock," while the girlfriend is more traditionally pretty with long, flowing hair and dressed in pink "preppy" clothes. Over the course of the video she is physically assaulted by the speaker and her friends, mocked, and demeaned--all for having a boyfriend. The boyfriend is portrayed as some passive prop with no agency in his own decisions. While he seems amused by and attracted to the speaker, he shows no signs of leaving his girlfriend (as he is continuously out on dates with her throughout the video) and doesn't end up with the speaker until she literally gets rid of the girlfriend by hitting her in the head with a golf ball and knocking her into a lake.

Both the song and the video demonstrate that this power play is not really about the boyfriend, but about breaking down another woman. Since Avril Lavigne plays both women in the video, it could be read as the need to break down the traditional stereotype of woman in favor of a more authentic self, but the fact that the "authentic" self is just as much a stereotyped persona does not bode well.

"Don't Cha" Pussycat Dolls

I suppose I should give this song some credit. After all, it doesn't end with a cheating lover. The speaker goes on at length about how she knows the man she's pursuing wants her, but she also recognizes that "if it ain't love, it just ain't enough to leave [his] happy home." 
Maybe next lifetime . . . Possibly . . . Until then old friend your secret is safe with me 
So, this speaker is not actively trying to take a man away from his girlfriend. That's good, right? Especially considering some of the other songs we've seen in this series. Even still, this woman is getting her value from direct competition.
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me/Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me/Don't cha
She clearly sees herself as sexually adventurous, and that makes her superior. She admits that she would be willing to share the man with the girlfriend, but she knows that the girlfriend won't go for that, presumably because she's not a "freak" like the speaker. Here, her sexual willingness is portrayed as power, and the girlfriend's adherence to a monogamous relationship is seen as weakness.
I know you like me/I know you do/That's why whenever I come around she's all over you
While this song may not end with a direct betrayal of another woman's trust, it does center around one woman needing to break down another in order to find self-confidence and identity.

"If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" Meshell Ndegeocello

This video is interspersed with clips of women talking about cheating, jealousy with other women, and loneliness. These clips underscore the theme that we're really looking at in this series. How do these messages about how women are "supposed" to interact with one another break us down? How do they impact the friendships we make and the way that we look at the world?

If the lyrics of this song are any indication, not in good ways. 
Now late at night he calls me on my telephone/That's why when you call him all you get is a busy busy tone/Grew upset cuz you one stuck up bitch/Maybe he needed a change, a switch/Who am I not to oblige/Especially if the man is fly/So call me what you like/Go ahead call me what you like/While I boot slam your boyfriend tonight/Boyfriend, boyfriend, yes I had your boyfriend/If that's your boyfriend/He wasn't last night 
This speaker indicates no responsibilities to the girlfriend. "Who am I not to oblige?" she asks. She sees it as her right to follow her sexual desires, and that right centers around the fact that the man approached her. She is adamant that she didn't seek out a man to steal, but now that he's come to her, she feels no sisterly bond that requires her to respect the bounds of the relationship he's formed with another woman.

On top of that, she feels the need to tear the woman down: "you one stuck up bitch." Her tone is mocking and, like in "Don't Cha," the other woman is portrayed as prudish and weak.

Underneath this current, though, is a more subtle one. The speaker is not (like the women from the duets in the first post from this series) trying to claim the man as her own. She's merely in it for the fun and the sex. She's not defining herself off of this relationship, and she sees the other woman's need to label herself as "girlfriend" as a sign of weakness. While her complete disregard for that label and what it means is disrespectful, it is also a nod to self-assurance and possibly even insecurities. She does not need to be anyone's "girlfriend," and that's empowering. But if she was someone's "girlfriend," another woman could come and do the same thing to her that she's doing, and that's terrifying.

Wildcard- "Booty" Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu steps in and subverts the theme of offensive attacks on other women over their men. 

Your kisses might be wetter/But your nigga likes mine better/But I don't want him
Ya got the beans and rice and the hot ho cakes/But ya nigga still over here in my plate/I don't want him
Ya got a PhD, Magna Cum Laude/But ya nigga love me with a GED/I don't want him
On the surface, this doesn't seem much different than "Don't Cha." Here's a woman who could have another woman's man if she wanted to. She chooses not to, and--in doing so--affirms her own power.

The difference comes in the reason she's making that choice. The speaker in "Don't Cha" chooses not to break up a happy home, mocking the girlfriend for not being as "freaky" as she is. Badu's speaker has a different reason.
I don't want him cause of what he doing to you/And you don't need him/Cause he ain't ready/I don't want him if he ain't made no arrangement with you/I hope you would've done the same thing for me too 
With that last line--"I hope you would've done the same thing for me, too"--Badu subverts what could be a woman tearing down another woman over a man into something more. While, yes, there are still definitely elements of competition ("Your booty might be bigger/But I still can pull your nigga" is the opening line, after all), that competition is ultimately dismantled when the speaker admits that she's not more powerful than the girlfriend. She's simply got the upper hand in this particular exchange. Some other time down the line, the roles might be reversed. She sees a sense of responsibility to respect the boundaries of the relationship while simultaneously telling the woman to get out and take care of herself, to get with a man who respects her back (a man who is "ready").

The video I included is a mashup with another Badu song--"Kiss Me On My Neck"--and I think that it's really fitting that these two go together. "Kiss Me" is a positive affirmation of sexual security and self-worth. I can't help but believe that respect for other women is a step toward that kind of positive outlook.

All of these songs represent the offensive attack, women who are able to take another woman's man away from her. When women see this ability as a power, they undermine a sense of community and respect for one another, they turn dating into a dog eat dog competition that tears other women down and leaves men unaccountable for their fidelity. Ultimately (as Erykah Badu's song and Meshell's video point out) this hurts all women.

Intro- Woman on Woman Action: Why Do We Tear Each Other Down?
Woman on Woman Action Part 1: Direct Competition
Woman on Woman Action Part 3: Defensive Threat

1 comment:

  1. Just commenting to say I'm reading and liking this series. (Too drained for more intelligent sentences.) :P