Women: according to thousands of beloved songs, we’re shallow or manipulative or cruel or stupid or some unholy combination of the above. Sexism in pop music is so common that pointing out individual instances can begin to feel obvious or redundant. But there’s a certain brand of sexist speech that has fascinated the Internet — and that includes your humble correspondent — over the past few years: the mansplanation. Well, it’s not just for think-pieces and bad cocktail-party chatter. In pop music, the mansplanation manifests itself as a song that finds a male singer directly addressing a woman, bestowing upon her some deeply felt yet condescending pearls of wisdom — generally about the “girl” (as he invariably calls her) herself. Done right, the mansplanation-in-song is as amusing as it is revolting. And nowhere is it more common than in classic rock. Here are ten egregious examples.
Cat Stevens — “Wild World”
You know you’re in trouble when a singer tells a woman he’s ostensibly slept with, “I’ll always remember you just like a child, girl.” The critic Ellen Willis dissected this mansplanation-in-song’s condescending tone in a famous passage that appeared in her 1971 essay “But Now I’m Gonna Move” and has come to be known as “The Willis Test”:
A crude but often revealing method of assessing male bias in lyrics is to take a song written by a man about a woman and reverse the sexes. By this test, a diatribe like “Under My Thumb” is not nearly so sexist in its implications as, for example, Cat Stevens’s gentle, sympathetic “Wild World”; Jagger’s fantasy of sweet revenge could easily be female — in fact, it has a female counterpart, Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots” — but it’s hard to imagine a woman sadly warning her ex-lover that he’s too innocent for the big bad world out there.