The 1963 hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels is one of my favorite songs. Obviously, it’s not the first track that comes to mind when we think of feminist pop, but as I’m obsessing over girl groups at the mo’, I’d like to briefly defend the “Masculine Prowess” genre.
A staple in the girl group cannon is the smug championing of one’s boyfriend’s abilities. While, yes, if we’re going to bludgeon all forms of expression into the single most digestible incarnation of our politics, the Angels would have ideally not waited for the boyfriend’s return and karate-chopped this gossiping asshole themselves; but I’d argue the subject position they’ve chosen to assume here isn’t passive in the least. In essence the girl speaking is sicking her boyfriend on the offender, reveling in the violence she’s instigating while her snotty girlfriends cheer her on. While her tactics aren’t of the sort we typically brand with the feminist stamp of approval, I think we can forgo the vigor of self-sufficiency now and again for the thrill of manipulation and the delightful spectacle of masculine prowess.
My slogan contains the phrase “where gender is a celebration of possibility”, and I really do mean that. Gender– as the condition of men, women, and all other sex-identities– can be expressed in innumerable ways, some that we support and some, which we might consider “anti-woman”. There isn’t anything intrinsically anti-woman in recognizing and delighting in the gender expression of some men who are big, strong and tough. Just as I’d celebrate these qualities in a woman who possessed them, so too, do I admire it in a man and “My Boyfriend’s Back” is imbued with the sultry thrill of its display.
The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”, and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack”, are other stellar examples of the Masculine Prowess genre, the speaker taking pride in her ability to nab and keep a bad-ass—for a while at least. As I argue in Rebels by Proxy, there is an associative rebellion that comes with being the rebels’ “girl” which is a valid access point to personal transcendence.
Finally, the complex interpretative process that takes place when we listen to music or consume popular culture should be contended with. A good friend of mine who shares my enthusiasm for “My Boyfriend’s Back” told me recently that when she listens to it, she thinks of the abstract “boyfriend” as herself. That wonderful inner transition between the feeling of defeat and insecurity to the sudden resolve to take control and conquer – that’s when your “boyfriend” is back. Since she told me this, I’ve been unable to hear the song without also thinking of myself as the both the speaker and the boyfriend—completely changing the feel of the track.
So, that’s my defense of “My Boyfriend’s Back”. Take it of the feminist blacklist. Please advise.