Two summers ago I was preparing for my prelim exams by taking an independent study on sexual citizenship with one of my committee members. Two important things happened at the same time that continue to stick with me. First, the band MAGIC! debuted their song “Rude.” Second, I read Carole Pateman’s book The Sexual Contract.
If you haven’t read The Sexual Contract then you should. It is absolutely excellent. In it Pateman discusses the ways in which women’s subordination is used to create men’s power through the evolutions of patriarchy. Pateman argues that the subordination of women is ingrained in the thought of philosophers of the social contract and democracy and, thus, contract theory can never be finally effective for progressive goals because it is based on the dehumanization of women.
So, where does MAGIC! fit in all this? For the first half of that summer I happily sang and hummed along to “Rude” when it was on the radio. The song is catchy and the video is kinda cute. Then I got to Pateman’s discussion of the fraternal patriarchy in which men are, more or less, equal as brothers and women are exchanged for power among them.
While the video for “Rude” shows the young woman that the singer “can’t live without” actively participating in their quest to get married the lyrics say no such thing. The song is, in its entirety, a conversation between two men about who can have the woman. The men, the absent girl’s father and lover, are presumed equals. One has her and the other wants her. The most that her will is represented in the song are the lines
Or we will run away
To another galaxy you know
You know she’s in love with me
She will go anywhere I go
That really sounds more like a pet than a person, tbh.
At this point, some of you are definitely asking if I’m over thinking a catchy pop song. I mean, maybe. I don’t think that MAGIC! wrote the song to dehumanize women. I think they wrote a catchy song that got very popular.
The real point is that if U.S. culture were less patriarchal as a whole the song wouldn’t have been so popular. Even in 2016 it is still not weird for a hit song to be a discussion between men about a woman’s future.