The Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb (1966)
from the album “Aftermath”.
Some time ago, a random person left a comment in my guest book on my profile at last.fm, the wonderful community where music nerds get together and get all our music “scrobbled” into lists. I love lists, I wouldn’t be a proper nerd if I didn’t love making lists of things, and lists of music are my favourite kind of lists.
Well, last.fm, among other things, generates a list of your most “scrobbled” tracks, meaning the songs you listen to the most, or at least those that go through the downloadable scrobbler or app via Spotify or whatever medium you use, and on top of my list there is “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones.
This person congratulated me on my great taste in music (thank you, and I agree) but also commented on why this happened to be my most listened to song.
I mean, why not, one would just wonder back.
This person elaborated further that, while being a great song in its own right, he found it odd for me be liking this song so much since the content of the song, lyrically, are so misogynic.
I had to stop and reflect a bit on that, because, honestly, this had never occurred to me.
Was he right? Had I been loving and singing along to male chauvinistic words that were really, for a lack of a better word, oppressing me as woman?
I don’t identify myself as a feminist, maybe I should, but I don’t, to be honest.
I’m all for it, though, and I happen to work in a field (teacher) that is in my country dominated by women and therefore frowned upon slightly and valued less in society because of it, so I see all sorts of injustice because of my gender on an everyday basis. I’ve also always, ever since childhood, had a male circle of friends close to me, so I do know all about the harsh words and the oversexualized jargon. I know because I grew up with it, I’ve been conceived pretty much as “one of the guys” while growing up, so some of the things I heard them telling me about women, those weren’t nice things at all, but I learned pretty quickly it was just talk and nonsense, and not much else.
Another thing that I’ve reflected over is that most of my male friends have, while seeing me as “one of the group” never excluded me in any way – I’ve always felt that they’ve excepted me as I am. Even if I’m “one of the guys”, I’ve always been feminine and I’ve never wanted to BE a guy. I’m still me. I’m still a girl, or a woman nowadays I suppose, it’s just that I’ve always been closer to men than other women and it’s just that I’ve had more in common with them.
So, I suppose this is why I never saw any misogyny in these lyrics.
I just thought of the protagonist of the song as being mistreated by his lover, and for one reason or another, the tables have simply turned.
I didn’t even reflect on it being either male or female. It works both ways you know?
It just happens to be a girl being under a guy’s thumb this time.
“Under my thumb
The girl who once had me down
Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around”
I suppose it comes down to the second and third verse, with the guy “controlling” her outfits and “doing what she’s told” being a slightly dated view on the control of the relationship:
“It’s down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come,
She’s under my thumb
Ain’t it the truth babe?
It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright”
Alright, so let’s just remember this was a different era then. I’m not going to go into great lenghts about it, because I’ve always felt one should write about what one knows about, and I wasn’t born yet. Not for another 20 years. But the way I imagine it, in the mid 60s, feminism was far from as widespread as it is now, it was still just early days, and women were still trying to break free from the predominant role of just being a husband’s accessory and a mother to his children, the stereotype of the 50’s, and more to a person in her own right, choosing her own path.
So, maybe the protagonist didn’t like that? Maybe she was torn between the old ideals and the new? The need for going her own way, not being told what to do, not having a boyfriend for another father, and still just maybe wanting to be all “his”, being in love and all that.
Or maybe it just has nothing to do with it at all, which is the way I felt about the song all along.
Maybe she was, regardless of feminism and what era we’re in, just being cruel to him all along, he decided to leave, she changed her mind and now she’s doing all in her power to get him back, even if it means changing her appearance and doing things he wanted her to do before?
It doesn’t necessarily have to do with gender here, or at least, innocently enough, it was no deal breaker for me.
I liked it for the awesome marimba anyway. Rock music needs more marimba playing.