Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dear Meghan Trainor

Like most parents, I try to monitor what music my kids listen to, and, also like most parents, I fail at it pretty miserably. It's not like back when I was a kid, and you needed your parents to buy you a tape or something. My kids can literally listen to whatever they want on YouTube or SoundCloud, for free, and I could never really monitor it all. Plus they can watch the videos - on their laptops or phones, at school or at home, without my supervision, no matter how vigilant I am. But, then again, even in my golden years of cassette tapes, I got whatever music I wanted anyway, and my parents didn't know about most of it. We dubbed each others tapes and recorded mixes from underground hip-hop radio stations, so I got hold of some things that I probably shouldn't have had, and some things that my parents definitely would not have approved. And Look How Good I Turned Out!*

So the key, I guess, is to continue to monitor the music they download into their brains, as well as you can, but to also make yourself aware of the landscape of music that your children live in, and to keep discussing their choices of music, letting them always know how you think about what you hear, and inculcate them with the real critical and analytical skills to really listen to music and think about what the lyrics are not only saying to them, but about them as well.

So this post would be too easy if I were ranting about some misogynistic rapper spewing obscenities and retrogression. My kids already react to that with repulsion, for the most part, and as a lover of hip-hop, I've introduced them to new and old artists that I support and admire, for their beats, lyrical ability, and worldview. I'm actually not half as concerned about the artists with huge targets on their forehead that are obviously shouting dangerous ideas. I'm more concerned with the ones that fly under the radar, the pop stars that pass for cute and cuddly, or even uplifting and positive, but under closer scrutiny have us chanting anthems that are backwards and destructive.

So, on that note, what is up with this "Dear Future Husband" song by Meghan Trainor? I know she's had some positive lyrics in some other songs, and it's interesting that she presents an image that in some ways goes against the traditional standard of beauty in the music business, if you dismiss the fact that she's fair, blond, and curvy. I do like her sense of fashion, especially that it presents my daughters with a choice of style that seems more modest to me than others. But when did it become okay to be a Bridezilla? When was the demanding task-master of a wife considered the norm and not the joke?

First, if I could give my daughters advice, from a male perspective, about how to approach marriage and their role in it, one of the first thing I would tell them is to forget the idea that women are allowed to be "crazy" or act "crazy" and should not be made accountable for their attitudes and behavior when they do. Everyone has bad days, when work isn't going right, when the threshold for foolishness is particularly low, when concerns and outrages have built up nearly to capacity. But nobody gets a crazy day. Nobody gets to treat others, especially significant others, with anything less than respect and love, and just get away with it. Yes, it happens, because people are imperfect and therefore control their emotions imperfectly at times. I do it myself sometimes, and I flatter myself by thinking I'm extremely patient. However, when I do, I can't just expect my wife to take my abuse and craziness, shrug her shoulders, and dismiss it as part of being married to me. I have to apologize, make it up to her, and show her that the behavior does not reflect the man I want to be. The idea that men should accommodate their wives' craziness is must another backwards-thinking way of saying that women are somehow defective, unfixable, emotion-driven basket cases that have to be handled with care. That womanhood is a type of mental illness, and that it's sufferers may have good days, but can't be held responsible for their actions when the illness becomes too difficult to manage.

Secondly, I would tell my daughters that they are not always right, that nobody is always right, and that sometimes being right isn't even the right concept. When my wife and I differ about where to eat dinner, neither one of us is right. When we argue about how to keep house, neither one of us is right. Sometimes we simply have to argue our preferences and compromise. Sometimes that means that I have to defer to my wife's desires, out of love and a desire for peace, but not out of obligation. Sometimes, however, she's just dead wrong, and sometimes I'm dead wrong. This is why God gave us minds capable of reason, logic, and rhetoric. The way real life works, or should work, is that each side makes their best case, and when you are proven wrong on some point, you concede the point to your partner, willingly, gladly, thankful to be corrected out of wrong thinking. What you don't do is insist, without reason, or even flying in the face of it, that you are "right" just because you have a different number of x-chromosomes as your partner. That kind of thinking gets a marriage and a family nowhere. Literally. No progress can be made in a home like that - not financially, not sexually, not parentally. So don't play the "I'm always right" card, or the "If Mama's not happy, nobody's happy" card. You are a human, not a time-lord; you cannot bend reality to your will.

Lastly, I would tell my daughters that withholding sex as a means of getting your way is always a bad idea. Actually, I would probably tell their mom or stepmom to tell them that. But I would believe it, and think it! And I would fumble through an reasoned explanation if they forced me to! As much as I would hate having that conversation with my girls, it is important for them to know that sex is not marriage currency; it is not the reward for bowing and scraping and bending to your tyranny. In actuality, sex is one of the primary means of building emotional intimacy and bonding with your husband or wife. It is intrinsically tied to a man's self-worth and self-perception, and the idea that it can be used as a big stick to control the brute is one that can backfire in a million terrible ways. Your love ought to be the one thing in the entire world that your man can count on, and vice versa. Your kisses are not to be meted out for opening doors, like a dog trainer tossing bacon treats to a Spaniel for sitting on command. Now, there may be times when your husband's behavior is genuinely poor, so much so that he has offended you and broken the intimacy between you, and sex may just be unthinkable for you in that moment. He may need to apologize for his offense and find a way to restore the harmony in order for real sex and intimacy to take place, but that's not the same as holding out on your husband until he caves in to your whims, or threatening him with a drought in order to force him into submission.

I know, I know. It's just a stupid pop song; it's not supposed to stand up under harsh social scrutiny. But the thing is, these songs are one of the primary and most authoritative constructors of my children's worldview and self-image. In the same way that I don't want my daughter's to believe about themselves what Chief Keef says or suggests about women, I also don't want them to take these ridiculous and destructive ideas into their marriages. And if the kids complain that they can't even listen to the radio any more without hearing my voice in their heads, analyzing every verse and parsing every word, I'll know that I have accomplished my mission.

*One day I'll have to write about my fascination with this phrase. I notice that it is generally used to dismiss a criticism of some aspect of one's childhood that has clearly had a negative effect on the speaker.

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