Blake Shelton’s Gender Stereotyping In ‘I’ll Name The Dogs’
It’s boilerplate country — in a good way.
I heard Blake Shelton’s “I’ll name the dogs” on the drive home last night and liked it right away, though I’m not usually one for country.
When it was over, I pulled it up on my phone and listened again, this time hearing the whole tune, getting more of the words and the rhymes.
“Huh, that’s interesting,” I thought. “I bet Katie will like this.”
When my wife got home from work, I played it to her as we looked at the finished Christmas tree in our living room. We listened quietly and she beamed at the cute lyrics and gave me cheek kisses, showing her approval. She liked it too.
What’s weird is that she shouldn’t. Or rather, the current cultural narrative – and even some of her own friends – would tell her she shouldn’t. Judging by the lyrics, the Shelton song is after all, sexist to its core: the musings of a chauvinist with a guitar.
Or is it?
Have a listen, and a read (select lyrics in italics):
“I’m talkin’ you and me with the same street name
Same last name, same everything.”
Same last name? I recently met a young professional woman who was newly married. “I’m not taking his last name,” she snorted, raising her mimosa. “I mean, what is this, the 1950s?”
“You find the spot and I’ll find the money”
Translation: girl keeps house, guy goes to work and pays for it. Something tells me this isn’t how it works in Sheryl Sandberg’s marriage.
“You be the pretty and I’ll be the funny,”
Lena Dunham must hate this song.
“You plant the flowers, I’ll plant the kisses,
Baby, let’s get right down to business”
Apparently Blake expects the woman to work in the garden.
“I’ll hang the pictures, you hang the stars
You pick the paint, I’ll pick a guitar”
Because only the man can swing a hammer, right?
“Sing you a song out there with the crickets and the frogs,
You name the babies and I’ll name the dogs.”
You name the babies and I’ll name the dogs.
Somewhere in the East Village of Manhattan, a feminist is wailing.
And yet – Shelton’s hit is clocking national radio time, has over 10 million YouTube views, and hit number #5 on the Billboard charts.
Clearly, everyone hates it.
But they should, right? I mean, if anyone else wrote this – if this was a poem published by a random white guy in a New England college paper – he’d be absolutely crucified for it.
So why does Shelton get away with it?
Maybe because it’s true. Maybe because no secure human being in their right mind would pick it apart like I just did. The problem is: People do.
When my wife was listening, she looked at me and said cutely, “But I want to name the dogs too!” She was playing. Of course we’re not going to divvy up our marriage. We’ll both name the kids. We’ll both name the dogs. (I probably will hang most of the pictures.) My wife is a badass. She’s a medical professional who keeps open heart patients alive. She used to lead wilderness canoe trips up in the remote Boundary Waters. She’s all girl, and we both like it that way.
The reason the song makes her smile is because it’s true. Like every song, it’s hyperbole, it’s metaphoric. It’s generalizing – but it works. It works because even though my wife and I aren’t going to literally divvy up child and dog naming duties, we get it: we’re each wired differently. That’s why we’re married. That’s why we’re a team. The Navy SEALs have swim buddies – sometimes one guy leads, sometimes another. Sometimes one guy follows, sometimes another. The two-man teams then breed bigger teams. Somebody’s got to be the breacher. Someone else the map man. Another, the sniper.
All this bullshit about gender roles is basically a denial of the way humans were supposed to work. It’s a denial of great teamwork. It elevates the selfish supremacy of the individual.
The gender screamers would have you believe the supremacy of the individual is paramount. If you want to be a point guard, be a point guard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 6’10 five-hundred pound paralyzed lineman, they say. Whatever YOU want to be. But that’s not how teams work. It’s how civilization exists. It’s not an opinion: it’s how things work.
“E pluribus unum.” Out of the many, one. This stuff is etched all across our national and human consciousness.
That is the beauty. And it’s why a song like Shelton’s – exaggerating the gorgeous differences between men and women – works. It works because it’s true. And when you hear it, you know.
Ben Liebing is a freelance writer from Cincinnati who graduated from Hillsdale College. You can find him on Twitter @benventures.