For the past few weeks, I’ve had a song stuck in my head. If you listen to pop music on the radio at all, you have almost assuredly heard the song that keeps running through my head. It’s a catchy little ditty by Canadian pop songstress Carly Rae Jepsen. You know what I’m talking about. It’s Call Me Maybe.
In its short run in the U.S., this song has already staked a chokehold as the most watched video on YouTube for the last few weeks, and is being played incessantly by pop and soft rock stations across the country. It’s spawned a series of parody videos (of particular note, check out Cookie Monster’s “Share It Maybe”).
Now I know that if you wanted to take a look at pop music as a whole from a feminist perspective, there would be plenty of fodder.
There’s hip hop music, which routinely paints a picture of women as property. There are songs that masquerade as “girl empowerment” ballads (think may of Beyonce’s power pop numbers) while still reinforcing a certain stereotypical view of male-female relationships and co-dependency. And don’t even get me started on the whole messed up abusive S&M situation that Rhianna and Chris Brown have been involved with over the past few years. Even country music isn’t immune: I can’t count the number of songs I’ve listened to that suggest that a woman’s role is to “shake it” for some man (and they use more strange slang words to describe a woman’s “it” than I have ever before heard: Honkey Tonk Bedonkadonk, anyone?).
So really, in comparison to many of these more overtly offensive songs, Call Me (Maybe) is quite innocent right? Crazy catchy and perhaps annoying: yes. But harmful? Probs not.
However, my perspective on this song changed a bit a few days ago when I was riding in the car with my sister and this song came on the radio. I quickly started singing along, to Maya’s horror. She quickly said, “No Way,” and changed the station. I was a little annoyed. I was enjoying being set adrift on these corny pop melodies. But Maya said, “Hannah, this song is the perfect stereotypical example of a passive female with no self-confidence.”
As I thought more about it, she’s right. You could say the protagonist in this song is brave. I mean, she’s giving a guy her phone number, right? Wrong. This chick is not even confident enough to hand over her phone number and just say “Call Me.” She has to qualify it with the “maybe.” And, to make things worse, she makes it clear that offering someone her number is not something that she ever does. Really, as she sings later on, “All the other boys, they try to chase me.”
Why couldn’t this song have instead said, “Give me your number. I’ll call you, maybe” or simply “Call me”?
Although I’ve been out of the “dating field” for awhile now, I still remember the strange courtship dance that often would take place. I remember strongly the desire to be the pursued, and not the pursuer. Even if I was interested in someone, it seemed socially inappropriate, and, at the very least, highly intimidating, to think about making the first move. Instead, I played passive aggressive games like the ones that Miss Carly Rae sings about. You try to find ways to be noticed, to attract attention (but not too overtly), and to peak someone’s interest just enough so they’ll approach you. You talk with mutual friends to try to gauge the other person’s interest in you. It’s a strange chess game that takes place.
So maybe Maya is right. What the world needs is not another catchy pop anthem that reinforces passive aggressive behavior, but rather songs that celebrate the mutual role that women and men can play in dating, and offer a view of a more confident female, who doesn’t need to qualify her propositions with a “maybe.”