Song Analysis #51: Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

Title: ‘Just One of the Guys’
Where to find it: ‘The Voyager’ (2014, Warner Brothers)
Performed by: Jenny Lewis
Words by: Jenny Lewis

First, the words:

Verse 1
All our friends, they’re gettin’ on
But the girls are still staying young
If I get caught being rude in a conversation
With a child bride on her summer vacation

Chorus 1
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little voice inside that prevents me

Verse 2
Ooh, how I live, it got me here
Locked in this bathroom full of tears
And I have begged for you and I have borrowed,
but I’ve been the only sister to my own sorrow

Chorus 2
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’

Bridge 1
There’s only one difference between you and me
When I look at myself all I can see
I’m just another lady without a baby

Chorus 3
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me.
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little cop inside that prevents me

Bridge 2
I’m not gonna break for you!
I’m not gonna pray for you!
I’m not gonna pay for you!
That’s not what ladies do!

Oh when you break
When you break
Oh when you break
Oh when you break

Now, the analysis:

After a 6-year hiatus from the recording world, Jenny Lewis released last year her latest solo album, ‘The Voyager’. The title of the album’s first taster ‘Just One of the Guys’ belies its actual content: the struggle of the modern woman to find her place in the world. I’m not a crazy bra-burning feminist, but I do agree this struggle exists and is real, even if some men will fight tooth and nail to disagree.

At first, I thought about taking a general approach that I hope most, if not all, women can relate to. Most of my high school friends are married and have children, and some of the conversations we’ve had over the years focused what and how they’ve been busy…errr…rearing children, while I haven’t. I have also been thinking about a piece I was asked to write for a feminist Web site several years ago that sits on my computer unused because when I submitted it to the editor who asked for it, she had changed her mind. I entitled the article ‘Spoilt for Choice,’ as it was about the many tough choices that young women face in their lives. (If you or anyone you know is interested in publishing such a piece, let me know!)

As much as I’m happy and proud that we have trailblazers like Lilly Ledbetter fighting for equal rights for women, I don’t think there is anyone who can deny this is a man’s world, and we women just live in it. Yes, we’ve made great strides, but there are always going to be people – male or female – who think a woman’s place is in the home and her primary roles in life are to take care of her husband and family, maintain the house, and raise children.

Society is changing now of course: we have lesbian couples, couples of any kind can live together and not have to get married, and couples don’t have to have children anymore, or at least the societal pressure to do so is much less. But certain societal norms die hard in certain cultures, whether they be Eastern or Western, in whatever country. Yes, you don’t have to get married or have children, but ask most young women in their 20s, and I can bet you most of them will tell you they’ve either been pressured by their family and/or their peers about having children before it’s too late.

But then I considered going in a personal direction with this analysis, bringing in my own experiences as a female music editor and writer in a field dominated by men, reporting on music primarily made by men. This approach, I think, makes more sense for what Jenny Lewis is singing about, especially considering before she became a solo artist and hooked up with Johnathan Rice personally and professionally for the Jenny and Johnny project, she co-fronted the band Rilo Kiley and was the only woman in the band.

Being the only woman among a group of men has its perks, if you’re around gentlemanly, respectful men who are willing to treat you like a woman and an equal. However, it can also pose a number of challenges as well. (A musician friend of mine (male) has written an excellent blog post about touring with musicians friends of ours (female), a tour I was lucky enough to catch in Dublin.) In the first chorus, the lyrics suggests as hard as Lewis tries to be loose and relaxed about things when she’s around her male counterparts, acting and ‘being’ one of the guys as she was in Rilo Kiley, she faces an internal battle in her head every day, knowing she isn’t like the rest of them:

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little voice inside that prevents me

In the second chorus, the last line is replaced with the words “There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’,” speaking directly to her own biological clock. If she wants to have children, she’s going to have to revert back to being a woman, and in a group of her male peers, that’s a huge risk. Is she going to be treated the same way if she admits to wanting one of the very things in life that makes her female? This conflict in her is clear in the heartbreaking bridge: “There’s only one difference between you and me /When I look at myself all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby.” Depending on as a woman how you view motherhood – and indeed, depending on the culture you were born into and how your parents and family view it with respect to you – you can receive some pretty disparaging comments if you aren’t married or don’t have children by a certain age, if not damning looks. These hurt.

It all comes to a head near the end of the song, when Lewis begins shouting reasons why and ways how giving into motherhood is wrong in her mind, concluding, “That’s not what ladies do!” “I’m not gonna break for you!”: I’m not going to settle for being with just any man so I can have a baby. “I’m not gonna pray for you!”: all of us women, at one time or another, some more often than others, have prayed for Mr. Right to come along, for he can solve the problems we need solving. “I’m not gonna pay for you!”: this is quite funny, I’m assuming she means going to a sperm bank to take care of having a baby herself without requiring a man to love her.

I don’t think Lewis wrote this song to be spiteful towards men. At all. It was her conveying her constant, internal struggle and if anything, she wants to be heard, possibly for just a moment of your sympathy.

Let’s extend this to the everyday working woman. Unless a woman spends her entire life closeted in her house, taking care of her husband, the children and the house and doing nothing else, she has to work as hard as the men in her workplace, so often going against her very nature if she gets emotional. We’re not supposed to cry, because that shows feminine weakness. Yet oddly, if we truly act like a man, going for the things we want, that flies in the face of being submissive as women are supposed to be, and we’re called names. How on earth do we resolve this in our heads?

There are a few things I am certain about in life. One of them staring me right in the face is the reason why women were given the responsibility and the female sex evolved to carry the baby to term and do much of the taking care of the children when they’re young. We women are proud, intelligent, highly capable human beings, no matter what career or path in life we undertake. And we are strong like steel. Contest it all you want, but we can take the physical and emotional pain onboard so much better than men can. Need evidence?

Whether you’re male or female, take a moment today to thank a woman in your life who was strong for you. Who was there when you needed her. I’m sure she will appreciate it. And for God’s sakes, under no circumstances ask a woman why she hasn’t had a child yet!

Lastly, the song, in two forms on video. When I had started writing this analysis last summer, the song had just premiered on radio and the only video version available was the lyric video, which is embedded below first. I had such high hopes for the official promo video, all of which were dashed when Jenny Lewis posted it and I saw it featured some of her famous female friends dressing up like guys (boring and clickbait).

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