Jenny Lewis’s latest album, The Voyager, dropped this week, but the video for the single “Just One of the Guys” was already making internet waves due to the inclusion–in drag, no less–of actresses Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and Brie Larson. I walked away from my four minutes at the screen feeling that Lewis had tapped into something pivotal and subversive about how we see gender.
Fresh off my post last week, I already felt hyper-aware of this subject matter. Then I was relegated to the couch with preterm contractions, and my Recorded TV list stared at me accusatorially, as if even it was embarrassed that I had seen fit to record What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But I had, and after watching one hundred minutes of cliches, I at least came away with one scene that bears relevance to the topic at hand. In said scene, Anna Kendrick’s character is telling Chace Crawford’s character that she’s pregnant from their one-night stand. He asks her what she wants to do, and she replies that she doesn’t know. He responds that he doesn’t either, and that this is, after all, supposed to be up to her. Right? Because she’s the girl.
This scene, in turn, reminded me of another, brought to you by that small-screen bastion of feminism, Sex and the City. When Charlotte asks where her White Knight is, Carrie questions whether all women really do just want to be rescued:
After the societal changes brought about by the women’s movement–the increase in our culture’s definition of choice and freedom–shouldn’t we be shocked that Anna Kendrick’s character felt abandoned in reaction to her love interest’s assertion, or that a feminist icon like Carrie Bradshaw would even entertain a fairy-tale notion? That Jenny Lewis would make a video, write a song, that confesses her inability to be just one of the guys because of a ticking biological clock and lack of an open mind? In our culture’s quest for feminine self-actualization, we often get lost in the idea that equality means sameness. But it would appear that, according to Lewis at least, there are biological and psychological mechanisms that keep us different no matter what.
These kinds of questions venture beyond gender and into the notion of freedom: what it looks like, what we do with it, how it’s different from what we expected. I immediately recalled The Avett Brothers’ gem from a few years ago, “Head Full of Doubt”, and the following lines:
There’s a darkness upon me that’s covered in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
…But like a bird in a cage I broke in
And demanded that somebody free it.
That video speaks to the temporal nature of society’s mentality and goals; the idea that “progress” is just one stage in a continuum of activity that ultimately fades into the past with all the others. Melding these ideas of freedom and progress together, I was left wondering whether we (in the case of the Lewis song, “we” being women; but pull up a chair–we can all sit at this table!) are akin to birds pursuing a flight plan that leads us into cages of our own making. Whether the light we think we are pursuing is actually covering a form of darkness that leaves us in a locked bathroom, holding the key but devoid of company.
Do we know enough to know what we really want, or better put, need, at any one moment? Do we know ourselves enough? Could it be that there is a higher wisdom than that represented by the collective knowledge of our culture? Aren’t all these questions just so offensive to our savvy, omniscient minds? Then again–why would a woman in a movie written by women be offended by a man who recognizes her autonomy…and why would a critically praised songwriter confess the sorrow of solitude in this golden age of having it all?
And then, of course, there is grace. When Lewis holds up a positive pregnancy test and sings of being the girl locked in the bathroom, the only sister to her sorrow…some of us will relate. Whether it’s an unwanted test result, or the reality of abandonment, or the poor choices of a broken heart, those who have been alone with consequences will identify. It’s being broken in a bathroom, proverbial or real, that brings a soul to the honesty of true confession. Because whatever feminism, or progress, have accomplished, there is one thing they never will: and that is curing us of our deep-seated insecurities, our secret fears that we are broken beyond repair and simply not enough. Only grace can reach those hidden places.
Lewis’s lyrics–soulful and deeply emotional–are offset by the playful nature of women dressed in drag, but the message is anything but light. Rather than blaming society or men for a line she can’t cross, she admits that the boundaries, for better or worse, ultimately lie within–embodied by that “little cop inside.” It’s a self-aware switch from the blame game that currently dominates our culture, the agenda-pushing voices heard mainly by being the loudest, the angriest, or both. Though there is a difference of opinion in the online world regarding Lewis’s farcical or sincere intentions with “Just One of the Guys” (Lewis herself has stated that she doesn’t like to talk about feminism, in particular the trend she sees of “women criticizing one another for not being feminist enough”), I choose to take the lyrics at face value and hear “Just One of the Guys” as an anthem of humility, vulnerability, and grace that recognizes personal limitations, embraces individual differences, and remains wary of the “virtue” of getting everything we think we want.