I feel bad for Meghan Trainor. Her new video, for "Dear Future Husband," came out last week and people have been tearing it, and the song, apart. That's got to be disappointing for her.
But I don't feel bad enough to not add my own voice to the critical mix, because I think it's a problematic song that, like so many pieces of entertainment, is a symptom of our screwy broader culture.
Before I go on, I want to note that I'm referring to relationships as a monogamous, heterosexual dynamic in this post, because that's what's presented in the song, and because I'm criticizing how that dynamic is often portrayed in pop culture. I in no way mean to erase or exclude gay, trans, or polyamorous relationships. Maybe some of what I'm describing applies to them as well, but for the purposes of clarity, I'm referring to the type of relationship Trainor describes.
A lot of people have criticized "Dear Future Husband" for being anti-feminist. But I'm not going to focus on whether or not Meghan Trainor writes feminist anthems here. My problem with the song is that the relationship principles underlying it are mind-numbingly outdated, boring, and unhealthy.
"Dear Future Husband" is boring in the same way that formulaic network TV sitcoms are boring. It relies on cheap stereotypes about what women want and what makes for a "happy" relationship.
"Dear Future Husband" is hardly the worst example of stale guy-girl dynamics being recycled to make a buck, but it's one that's got people worked up at the moment, so I'll use it to fuel my cultural ranting for the day.
Let's break down a few of the points in Trainor's lyrics.
"You gotta know how to treat me like a lady
Even when I'm acting crazy
Tell me everything's alright"
Um, no. No, he doesn't have to tell you that, and neither does anyone else. Sure, when you're having an emotional breakdown, you want your partner to reassure you that you'll work through it together. But there's an implicit message here that I think is worth addressing.
There's this idea that gets repeated in a lot of low-grade creative work that the woman is always right, and the man should kiss the ground she walks on at all times. No matter what she says or does, she deserves forgiveness and kisses and he should just bite his tongue or go sleep on the couch. Comedies often rely on this ridiculous notion, and everyone laughs like it's this joke we're all in on. Women are crazy bitches, and if you love them, you just let them be.
Trainor also sings,
"After every fight
And maybe then I'll let you try and rock my body right
Even if I was wrong
You know I'm never wrong
Why disagree? Why, why disagree?
There are a few problems with this sentiment. One is that it's disrespectful to women. To act like women are too emotionally unstable or irrational to be held accountable for their behavior is sexist. And it's a cop-out. Suggesting that women deserve a pass for bad behavior is as insulting and damaging as saying that men don't have feelings, so we should leave them to their case of Bud Light and ESPN marathon.
The second problem with the "women are crazy bitches and the men who love them should just take their insults and irrationality lying down" mentality is that it's an absurd double standard. If a guy tells his girlfriend, "I don't have to apologize because I'm the man. I'm an irrational jerk sometimes, and there's no point trying to change my mind, even if I know I'm in the wrong," he gets called an asshole, and rightly so. Why should the standard for women be any different? Shitty behavior is shitty behavior, no matter what sex you are.
If you're in a healthy relationship, you'll be on the same team in a conflict, working through whatever issues or emotions caused the fight in the first place. You'll probably even become closer for working through it together. But if you're not interested in mutually processing the situation, and you just want to avoid or pass on the blame, buckle up for a lifetime of passive aggression and misery that spreads to every cell of your being and kills your will to live.
"Dear Future Husband" also alludes to a transactional sexual relationship, in which the husband is rewarded with sex if he tells his woman she's beautiful ("Dear future husband, if you wanna get that special lovin', tell me I'm beautiful each and every night"). Obviously we all want to be with someone who makes us feel attractive, but that underlying implication that the dude has to work or beg for sex is another trope we need to do away with.
Either you want to sleep with one another or you don't. Holding sex over a man or woman's head as a means of demanding respect or controlling their behavior is manipulative. If you do that, you deserve to be alone until you figure out why you treat someone you claim to love like shit.
(Also "try and rock my body right" adds another layer of manipulation and degradation: "If you forfeit your dignity, emotions, and opinions, I might let you try to get me off. I'm not saying you'll succeed. In fact, I'm pretty sure you'll fail. But go ahead and try while I lay back and do nothing for you, emotionally or sexually.")
The whole "Let me win and maybe we'll have sex tonight" idea relies on the tired assumption that all men really care about is fucking. You can be mean to them, scream at them, call them the worst names you can think of, but they'll give you a pass on all of that horrible behavior if there's a chance of having sex. Nevermind that there are problems to work out in your relationship. Nevermind that your partner might be having an emotional breakdown that's making her act unreasonable. Nevermind that you might have just damaged your boyfriend's self-esteem with a particularly cutting remark. As long as the woman gets to be right and the man gets off, that's all anyone cares about.
Even my 16-year-old sister saw the problem with this. When I told her I was writing a post about the song, she texted me and said, "I don't like the part about when they fight, he just apologizes and she'll fuck him. That's not a healthy relationship." No, it's not. So glad she's clear on that from a young age.
Here are some more aggravation-inducing lyrics:
I'll be sleeping on the left side of the bed (hey)
Open doors for me and you might get some kisses
Don't have a dirty mind
Just be a classy guy
Buy me a ring
Buy-buy me a ring, babe
It's not obvious if you just read the lyrics, but if you listen to this part of the song, you'll notice that Trainor is alluding to giving head, but replaces "head" with "kisses."
Let's unpack this just a bit. Again, we have the transactional sexual relationship. If you open doors for me and treat me like a "lady," you might get a blow job. There's no mutual enjoyment of oral sex here, or a "I'll go down on you because I love you and want you to enjoy." It's just, "You treat me like a queen because I say so and I might reward you with oral sex."
The fact that she changes head to kisses implies that ladies don't do oral sex. At least, they certainly don't acknowledge it publicly. She can't come right out and say she'll give her future husband oral sex, because that would be slutty. The implication? Good girls give kisses, bad girls give head. Just another example of the slut-shaming that pervades our society.
"Don't have a dirty mind" — can we please stop shaming people for desiring sex once and for all? Thinking about having sex or getting head isn't "dirty." It's completely natural, and it's only thanks to our puritanical society that we believe otherwise. Obviously, you can't act on every sexual thought you have. But wanting oral sex from your girlfriend doesn't mean you have a "dirty" or perverted mind.
As for the "buy me a ring" line. We might interpret that as meaning that the only respectable sex is had within the confines of marriage, or at least with a guarantee of marriage, a notion we all know is nonsense. Some couples never get married, but have beautiful, fantastic, deep sexual relationships. Others get married and cheat on each other. Putting a ring on it doesn't guarantee fidelity or a deep sexual experience. It can, of course. But it's not a given, especially if the people getting married can't say "you're beautiful" or pleasure one another without getting something in return.
There's also an implication in these lyrics that guys don't deserve sex or head unless they're willing to commit to marriage. She wants a ring; he wants sex. He's not getting his until she gets hers. There's an inherent lack of trust and respect in this kind of relationship, where acts of love and sex are bargained for. Where is the give and take, the trust that your lover values you and will let you know that without keeping score?
And one more shitty lyric to dissect before I wrap this up:
Know we'll never see your family more than mine
Maybe someday we can stop framing relationships as a win-lose dynamic, in which one person runs the show, while the other suppresses their preferences for the sake of supposed romantic harmony.
Laying down a law like, "time with my family is more important than time with yours" reinforces the idea that relationships are on one person's terms, not a team effort. Why should decisions about family time, home purchases, and a host of other issues that impact both partners be made by only one of them? Why do one person's priorities automatically matter more than the other's? Try having a civil conversation once in awhile.
"Dear Future Husband" is just a pop song, probably meant to be fun and light-hearted. But it matters that a hugely popular artist is putting out work that unironically paints relationships as flat, win-lose situations, and that repeats false ideas about what women and men want from romantic partners.
The thing I hate about "Dear Future Husband" is basically the same thing I ranted about in my post about "The Bachelor". Our culture is weird and messed up about relationships and sex. We need to stop mindlessly repeating emotionally harmful stereotypes and start having a little more respect for women and men alike.
So while "Dear Future Husband" is a really catchy song, I'll get my sugary pop fix from Carly Rae Jepsen's new jam instead. Because I don't have any moral qualms about that one, and watching Tom Hanks lip sync through the video is more delightful than it should be.