Tim Stobierski thinks John Mayer’s hit song “Daughters” is damaging to both men and women.
And before we go any further, just let me say: yes, I know it’s an old song. I had actually forgotten about its existence some time ago. But I was reminded of my loathing for the song yesterday, when it came on the “retro-rewind” special on my favorite radio station. Seeing that the song is at least relevant enough to still be played on the radio, I wanted to make sure I addressed it before I forgot about it again.
To sum it up in one statement, this is one of the most openly sexist songs that I have ever seen rise to the rank of #1 hit. People love it, despite the negative messages that it reinforces in our society.
Although I do have to admit, I don’t think that it was John Mayer’s intention to write a sexist song. In all honesty, if just one stanza had been removed from the lyrics of the song, it would remain the beautiful and loving appeal to fathers that it was meant to be.
But this one stanza—six lines in total—is enough to counteract every positive image that the first four stanzas create:
Boys, you can break.
You find out how much they can take.
Boys will be strong
and boys soldier on,
but boys would be gone without the warmth from
a woman’s good, good heart.
Wait a minute. Did I hear that right? No, I couldn’t have. Let me go back and listen to it again. Crap.
In one fell swoop, John Mayer managed to take a pretty positive song and turn it into an attack against both women and men. If it wasn’t so idiotic, I’d think he had done it on purpose—it takes a skilled hand to pull off such a swift turnaround. It just surprises me that something like this could have been done by accident.
This stanza is a double-edged sword because for everything sexist idea it reinforces about men, it says the opposite about women.
Why is it, Mr. Mayer, that it’s okay to break boys? Why is it alright to push them, to “find out how much they can take”? And why did you decide it was a good idea, right in the middle of this overbearingly sweet song, to hit the listener with the image of boy-as-soldier?
Oh, that’s right. Because that’s the role that society tells us that men are supposed to play. Boys are warriors. They are meant to fight and to be strong. So it’s okay to push them—they’ll bounce back. They’re resilient, after all. They’re boys.
Never mind the young boys who have committed suicide because they were pushed by their parents to do things that they didn’t want to do. Never mind those who suffered from years of psychiatric problems because they couldn’t be the stereotypically male specimen that their fathers wanted them to be—those who weren’t good enough at sports, those who were wallflowers, those who were (dear God!) gay.
They just weren’t up to snuff, I suppose.
And to take a close look in the other direction: exactly why is it that we can’t push girls? Why can’t we “break” them? Are we to believe that it isn’t in the nature of girls to be strong enough to push back in the way that boys are “supposed” to? Or is it that when girls are pushed and broken, they take on qualities that we don’t want to see in our “lovers” and in our “mothers”?
If the last statement in the above paragraph is indeed true, I suppose that means that we don’t want strong, self-possessed women. We don’t want women who can hold their own, women who know how to fight back.
We don’t want women who are like men.
And, conversely, we must not want men who are like women.
We’re supposed to be moving towards a society that’s open and accepting of the differences that make each of us unique, and yet a song like this, which reinforces gender stereotypes on both ends of the spectrum, makes it to the top of the charts?
I hope I’m not the only one who sees something wrong with that.
—Photo Tom BKK/Flickr