WE DON'T NEED THE MEN

I read in Con Ed Magazine
June 1956, page 10
That married women are not so happy
As women that have no men

In some ways, this is a controversial song - which baffles me. I've heard this statement myself from many women's magazines, with statistics showing that single women live longer and feel better than married women. The implication tends to be that men drive women insane, or that marriage is a terrible burden, or whatever spin the author chooses to put on this sort of poll. As far as I know, nobody has conducted this poll among women who are married to women, or women who are married to more than one person of any gender (governmental blessings aside), to see whether it is the long-term intimate relationship or the gender identity of their partner that is apparently causing such problems. And even though these statistics have been out there for fifty or more years, they are treated as little more than a slightly baffling joke most of the time.

Married women are cranky,
Frustrated and disgusted
While single women are bright and gay
Creative and well-adjusted.

A song by activist, singer, and songwriter Malvina Reynolds. It is featured on the Bluestein Family album Shut Up and Sing!: The Bluestein Sampler, released in 1990 on Greenhays Recordings of Chicago - which is how I discovered it. 1990 was apparently something of a banner year for this song, as it was also the year "We Don't Need the Men" was covered by Rude Girls, on Mixed Messages from Flying Fish Records, and subsequently played on many an independent radio station, especially on the Dr. Demento show. (Windows users can hear a little of it at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000MOI/absolutsearch05/103-5955147-3095061.)

We don’t need the men,
We don’t need the men.
We don’t need to have ‘em around,
Except for now and then....

They can come to see us
When we have to move the piano,
Otherwise they can stay at home
And read about the White Sox.

It was first released in 1975 by the very prolific Malvina herself on the album Held Over, put out through Cassandra Records via Schroder Music of Berkeley.... whereupon it was also played by many an independent and college radio station, as some of the earliest "women's music" available to them.

This song is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of traditional American gender roles. Men are jokingly made into sex objects in ways usually reserved for women - in tiny bathing suits on a billboard, for example - and portrayed teasingly as being good for nothing but piano-movin'.

We don't care about 'em,
We can do without 'em
They'll look cute in a bathing suit
On a billboard in Manhattan!

This is pretty standard binary gender humor nowadays. (That is, humor predicated on the premise that "men are like this! women are like that! ha ha ha ha ha!") This is not to say that it isn't still funny. It retains most of the stereotypical ideas about gender, but reverses the power dynamic. She paints a world of women sitting around singing together, powerful in their own right, considering the role other half (or so) of humanity and what they wanted to keep of that dichotomy - thinking about how much they even wanted men in their lives.

Sally Sheklow describes this song well. In her syndicated humor column, "Living Out," she describes a straight woman's reaction to the crowd waiting to see a lesbian comedian:

"Where are all the men?" she asks again, apparently not noticing that she's with one, there's one selling tickets, and another one waiting to usher them to their seats. I recognize a couple of guys in the audience and wave. Seems like plenty of men here to me. The woman grows more agitated, "Where are the men?"

"Who needs them?" I reply without thinking. My instinctual reaction sounds hostile, but I didn't mean it that way. I swear. I’ve come off sounding like a complete man-hater, but that’s not it at all. My mental sound track plays folk singer Malvina Reynolds' "We Don't Need the Men," a good natured ditty inspired by women mill-workers who were getting impatient for the men to end their checkers match and show up at the union meeting. What I meant to convey is the song’s message – women don’t need men around to take care of business. Malvina’s song is about affirming women's competence and self-reliance, not man-hating.

(http://www.sallysheklow.com/columns/Where_Men.html)

This is the kind of thing that makes many people spin in their boots, horrified at the cavalier treatment of men, sure that these women want to destroy society and damn men to a lifetime of working in the salt mines; in reality, I think that this teasing contemplation of separatism is just a sign that a group is regaining its freedom and considering what to do with it. At the time that it was written, it was pretty strong stuff; maybe it still is.

We don't care about 'em,
We can do without 'em
They'll look cute in a bathing suit
On a billboard in Tierra del Fuego!

This writeup has been CST Approved!

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