Pete's Blog

An Army of Girls

When I was in seventh grade I performed Tom Lehrer's "Irish Ballad" at my Junior High School talent show. It was in the spring of 1964, so naturally there was a Beatles act, four eighth-graders lip-synching with brooms and tennis racquets to "All My Loving." As soon as the record started the whole auditorium erupted with screaming, so loud that several of the baby brothers and sisters in the audience began to cry. Everybody knew it wasn't the guys with brooms and tennis racquets these girls were screaming for. They were the same bra-snapping pests they had always been and would always be. On the surface, these girls were screaming at a record. But, more than that, these girls were screaming through the record at something bigger. They were flexing a new kind of public muscle, showing a new, uniquely female power, and you could tell it felt good. They had become a new kind of army, seizing cultural leadership through sheer lung-power and announcing this leadership in no uncertain terms. And that night at Westminster Junior High cultural leadership was only the first item on their agenda. After all, stars of European music have been acclaimed with screaming hysteria for hundreds of years - since the days of the castrati, at least - but it could be argued that in the 20th Century, as women won the vote and other rights, these demonstrations took on a new meaning. In fact, if you accept that two World Wars and the failure of Communism begat a thorough disillusionment with all the institutions of Western society, then this group action by a sector of society that had been completely disenfranchised to that point takes on a lot of significance. And who were the screamers screaming for? Who were they boosting into the spotlight? Effeminate men: the skinny, vulnerable Sinatra; the racially indeterminate Elvis Presley; the Beatles with their long hair and their gay manager. This was a real - if, for most girls, unconscious - statement about the manly, warlike men who had run the world for as long as anyone could remember, and seemed to be doing such a poor job of it lately. A few years after that talent show pop groups were making public statements on a range of social and political questions. Joan Baez was saying that no girl should sleep with any boy who still carried his draft card. As our presidents have come increasingly from the ranks of the noncombatants and our culture increasingly reflects a new emphasis on the secular and the ironic, you can hear the screams in the background. And if you listen closely to the screams you can hear the thoughts behind them. A new kind of man will soon be in charge and, after him, a new kind of woman.

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