I find country music fascinating. I hadn’t heard any before Spring Break last year, when we went on a road trip through the Deep South. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t really called Country and Western music. I was uninformed.
(At least, I’d assumed I was. However, I was able to sing along with Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler and Dolly Parton’s Jolene, which suggests that one or other of my parents sang those songs when I was exceedingly small, and I buried the information deep in my subconscious.)
Anyway, what I find fascinating about country music is that the songs provide a collective thesis on how to live; more so than any other genre of music I’ve heard. And since country music is the most popular genre of music in America, a lot of people are hearing that manifesto.
As far as I can tell from my limited experience of the music, this is the way country folk are supposed to be: they should live simply, off the land (“What most people call a redneck / Ain’t nothin’ but a workin’ man / And he makes his livin’ / By the sweat of his brow / And the callouses on his hands”, from The Charlie Daniels Band’s What This World Needs Is A Few More Rednecks) and eschew city materialism. They should
be God-fearing church-goers and flag-waving patriots (“I’m full of American pride / I keep a bible on my table / I got a flag out on my lawn”, from The Charlie Daniels band again, “We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse”, from Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee, and “Well, Cassie O’Grady was no Southern lady, despite all the media hype / They all loved to make her out like a sweet little devout / All American cheerleader type”, from Carrie Underwood’s Choctaw County Affair).
Oh, and they should drive pickup trucks and wear boots and hats too (“Trickin’ my truck like a Cadillac / Crankin’ it up in my cowboy hat”, from Chris Cagle’s Got My Country On, and “Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear”, from Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee).
The men seem to have a specific expectation of their women too. They want a lady, but the lady should also be happy to get her hands dirty on the farm (“All it’s missing is a pretty thing / Let there be cowgirls for every cowboy / Make them strong as any man” from Chris Cagle’s, Let There Be Cowgirls. And, “A southern girl’s mama probably taught her how a lady should act / But a southern girl’s probably got a barn somewhere reared out back / She’ll get a little hay in her hair, her tires in the mud / She’s been caught in the rain, and washed in the blood” from Tim McGraw’s Southern Girl).
However, while the menfolk rest at the end of the working day, the women don’t get a break. When she’s not working in the fields, a country girl provides the entertainment for the men. She should look pretty sitting on the back of a truck, shake her money-maker regularly (“Yeah, the girls ‘round here, they all deserve a whistle / Shakin’ that sugar, sweet as Dixie crystal”, from Blake Shelton’s Boys ‘Round Here, and “Shake it for the young bucks sittin’ in the honky-tonks / For the rednecks rockin’ ‘til the break of dawn / For the DJ spinnin’ that country song / Come on, come on, come on”, from Luke Bryan’s Country Girl (Shake It For Me)), and pass out beers.
To clarify, this isn’t the sung view of a singer’s idea for himself, but the singer’s idea of the general requirements of a country girl. I’m talking about the songs that say “a country girl should be…”, not the songs that say “I’d like a girl who’s…”. It’s not exactly a feminist’s ideal image.
The women seem to be quiet when it comes to the subject of what they want from a man, but there is one fabulous song that complains about men’s expectations of the women. Maddie and Tae have written a blinder of a ditty about the objectification of women in country songs (“Bein’ the girl in a country song / How in the world did it go so wrong? / Like all we’re good for / Is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend (nothing more) / We used to get a little respect / Now we’re lucky if we even get / To climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along / And be the girl in a country song”, from Maddie and Tae’s Girl in a Country Song). The video’s pretty darn brilliant too.
I like the ideals of a simple life, but I’m not a fan of the chauvinism. That being the case, and given my feminist leanings, I find it disconcerting that I can’t help but sing along when I hear a country song now. For some inexplicable reason, I’m hooked. I suppose I’d better shake my moneymaker and fetch my man a beer.
If you’d like to hear the songs referenced, click here to access a Spotify playlist. And watch Maddie and Tae’s fabulous, sterotype-reversing video.