It’s not jokey

Dec 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Pop thinking

The newspapers were a day old by the time they reached our classroom. They were delivered each morning and read by the staff and the following morning would be passed on to us. It led to a classmate paraphrasing the lyrics of The Rolling Stones’ song ‘Yesterday’s Papers’. Messrs Jagger and Richards asked  ‘Who wants yesterday’s papers?’ and answered  ‘nobody in the world’; the answer sung by the classmate was ‘5A’.

The fact that the newspapers were a day old meant that the front page stories were stale by the time they reached us, even in the 1970s the print media was falling behind, instead the stories that were of interest were on the inside pages, the stories that told of life in the reality beyond the small community in which we lived. One morning, maybe in late 1976 or early 1977,  for I was the age of the person featured, there was an article about a sixteen year old girl who had married a professional footballer. The footballer was objecting to the fact that his wife was expected to stay at school until Easter of her final year, ‘she should be at home making my dinner’ he told the reporter.

There was a moment of anger reading the story; is this is what he saw is wife as? Someone at home to make his dinner? Why couldn’t he make his own dinner? My dad could always make dinner.

My sixteen year old self was obviously naive in assuming that the footballer was unreasonable; most people seemed to share his attitude, there were even women who seemed to think that an entire future spent in the kitchen was something to be expected.

Attitudes accepting the subjugation and dominance of women seemed to go unchallenged. The Rolling Stones who asked us about ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ also sang ‘Under my thumb’, the lyrics of which include:

Under my thumb
The girl who once had me down
Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around

It’s down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come,
She’s under my thumb

Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb

In a 1995 interview, Mick Jagger tried to play down allegations of sexism,’It’s a bit of a jokey number, really. It’s not really an anti-feminist song any more than any of the others . . . Yes, it’s a caricature, and it’s in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman’.

It’s hard to imagine that women who live in fear of disobeying men would find it ‘jokey’. The song continues to be played, featuring in an hour of Rolling Stones’ music on a radio programme this afternoon. Would a song celebrating the subjugation of a person from an ethnic or religious  group be acceptable? Presumably not. So why can a woman be referred to as, ‘The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day’?

The horrific story of the young woman tortured, raped and murdered on a bus in New Delhi is not an aberration, it is part of a long history of the oppression of women; a history that continues, and not just in India.




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