Jolene: One Man Away From Poverty

-Dolly Parton-

-Dolly Parton-

Dolly Parton’s 1974 release Jolene has been covered, copied, and sung many times since. The song is a passionate plea from one woman begging another to leave her man alone. It is a story that highlights the perils of living in a patriarchal, male-dominated world.

I’m begging of you
Please don’t take my man

Many women are economically dependent on their male partners. These women may have children, and may have a difficult time supporting these children without their husband’s financial help. As former chair of the Women and Poverty Task for the National Organization for Women, Beverley McDonald says most women are still one man away from poverty. If your man leaves, you and your children will be poor. Though Parton does not have any children of her own, she understands the threat of poverty. After all, she was the fourth of twelve children growing up, and described herself as “dirt poor”.

In order to avoid poverty, many women must engage in the taxing and thankless task of keeping their man.

What does keeping a man entail?

For one, it means surrendering to the fact that one’s man is free to decide to leave at any time, that he is not committed to the relationship unless it continues on his terms, that he will never permanently decide to stay, and that you and the kids will forever be financially dependent on him.

Keeping a man means catering to him by being his f’k toy, cooking his favorite meals, cleaning his house, and satisfying him in whatever way he asks—regardless of your desires or needs.

Despite all your efforts to keep a man, you may find him desirous of straying anyway, particularly if a p-compliant woman comes along and pays some attention to him, as Jolene in the song does:

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

Jolene’s beauty and submissiveness (as evidenced by her soft voice) are the only qualities she is using to lure the subject’s man away. Hence, those qualities appear to be the ones most necessary for the subject to keep her man.

Since the subject’s man is desirous of straying, keeping him will require a change in strategy. It does not mean asking him to grow up and stop throwing his life away. In fact, keeping him does not involve holding him responsible for his desire to stray. Instead, the best strategy is to convince the woman he desires to leave him alone. She, and not he, is the only person who will be able to prevent him from leaving the subject and the kids financially destitute. As the song says:

My happiness depends on you
and whatever you decide to do, Jolene

This is what life will offer a woman who depends on a man. This is the story that the song Jolene tells– the horrors of total dependency on a man.

Because keeping her man is the only way for the subject of this song to avoid poverty and survive, she must bargain for her sustenance with another woman. Women often have to compete for men, as Jolene and the subject of this song do. When women’s energy is focused on obtaining men, and competing against one another for the crumbs that men drop, women are unable to relate to one another with true gyn/affection. This is a tragic loss for womankind.

Dolly Parton explains writing this song in this interview:

Parton says she got the story for her song from another redhead in her life at the time, a bank teller who was giving Dolly’s new husband a little more interest than he had coming.

Ms. PARTON: She got this terrible crush on my husband. And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kind of like a running joke between us when I was saying, hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money. So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”

Interestingly, Dolly Parton downplays the threat of the other woman in her own life. She turns it into a joke with her husband that he is being pursued by the bank teller. She places none of the agency of the flirtation on him, and she does not expect him to shun the bank teller’s advances. As she says, “it’s an innocent song all around”.

This song has been covered many times. For example, Jack White of the White Stripes covers the song here.

I experience his cover of this song as completely ignorant of its meaning. If Jack White’s man leaves, he will not be financially destitute. There is no sex-based hierarchy in the song as he sings it. His version is meaningless.

However, I do quite enjoy this version by Ellie Goulding

Colbert Stomps on Witches

Stephen Colbert is an American comedian whose news-like show The Colbert Report parodies conservative pundits such as Bill O’Reilly. The Stephen Colbert viewers see is a fictional character, and does not represent Colbert himself. However, the fact that the Colbert character isn’t real does not mean that we should not hold the real Colbert or the writers of the Colbert Report responsible for the content of the show. With this in mind, onward to the critique!

Last week, The Colbert Report did a series in which Stephen Colbert (the character, unless otherwise stated) attempts to “make his own album” with the help of rocker and producer Jack White. Colbert claims to have been a rock star in the 80s with the song “Charlene (I’m Right Behind You)”

Check out starting at 55 seconds

The lyrics to his song:

Every time I see you I think of you
Every time I’m near you I think of you
I think of you and I dream of you when I’m taking pictures of you
I think of you when I’m in a blimp looking down from up above you
You know I’m missing you
My mind is kissing you
I’m right behind you now Charlene
Waiting, watching
Oh so close
I’m right behind you now Charlene
You’ll never be alone again, no

This stalker ballad is offensive, creepy, and not funny. Colbert (the person), you and your writing staff may think that stalker behavior such as taking surreptitious photos of an unsuspecting woman, or telling her that despite what she wants, she won’t ever have the option to be free from your company *is funny*, but it is not. It is not acceptable. It is not okay. NO.

I understand that the comedic effect of this song is supposed to be that character Colbert is a loser idiot who pines for someone, and no one is actually condoning stalking. The thing is though, stalking is harmful and terrifying. An influential tv show should not make light of this criminal behavior.

This is obvious to me.

But the show continues to be offensive.

In order to make his album, Colbert needs some musicians (since he isn’t one). So Jack White recommends The Black Belles.

The Black Belles use witch imagery in their visual presentation. Upon seeing the band and this presentation, I immediately thought of Mary Daly’s use of witches in her _Gyn/Ecology_ which I’ve just read this spring. Over the centuries, women who were not encumbered by a man (due to spinsterhood, or death of a spouse) were often accused of being witches and were tortured and then killed (Source _Gyn/Ecology_ Daly). Women nowadays can claim the title of witch– it is a women-identified, women-centric word that connotes power. Cherry Blossom Life has a great post on using her own witchy powers in everyday life.

So I was pleased to see these artists owning their witch-dom. Women power! Until Colbert entered the equation.

Instead of joining the group by costuming like them, Colbert dresses the women in his suit-and-tie uniform. Then he proceeds to stand directly in front of them in the album photo shoot. “Stomp stomp stomp,” says Colbert’s foot to the necks of these artists.

Then, he chooses the song to sing with them. Goody– more female hatred ensues as they sing Charlene II together. Some lyrics include “I’ve finished looking through your door, won’t check your mailbox anymore. Bet you’re wondering why, I’m over you Charlene, it’s all over now”. This album has been released, and now you can buy it on iTunes!

Again, the arrogant, neck-stomping behavior of character Colbert is supposed to be funny. “Look at him, taking over the band! Funny funny,” the audience should be saying. But the actions of character Colbert have real consequences (the belittling of female artists and the extortion of their talents being two such consequences).

I recognize that the Black Belles took part in this offensive sh*t because they wanted the publicity that comes with it. As artists on Jack White’s label, he pimped them out for their talent and their identities.

So, a recap for those keeping score. These are the takeaway lessons Colbert wants us to learn:

Women may have an identity of their own (in this case, witches) but it’s okay to take that from them and make them identify as I do

Singing about stalking is funny

When I take a photo with the women I’m exploiting who are wearing the clothes I made them, I’ll stand in front of them and take up the entire picture

Then, I’ll make them sing a creepy song about stalking a woman. 

This is comedy.