Jessie’s Girl – An Example of the Masculine Dating Dilemma

9/28

One of the best things about blogging, probably the best thing, is that you can be inspired by the smallest thing and are free to write a few paragraphs without needing something big enough to write a full article or book on, and you don’t have to get others’ approval to do so. Just this morning I was driving and the song ‘Jessie’s Girl’ by Rick Springfield (1981) came on the radio, a song I have heard more often since moving to the States (they love the 80’s soft rock classics over here) and have often pondered on the meaning of the lyrics and how my interpretation of them has changed since studying masculinities. So I thought I’d write something about it whilst fresh in my mind.

The lyrics are (without any repetition):

“Jessie is a friend, yeah
I know he’s been a good friend of mine
But lately something’s changed that ain’t hard to define
Jessie’s got himself a girl and I want to make her mine

And she’s watching him with those eyes
And she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it
Yeah ‘n’ he’s holding her in his arms
Late, late at night

You know, I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find a woman like that

I play along with the charade
There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot

And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wondering what she don’t see in me, I’ve been funny
I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love supposed to be

Tell me, where can I find a woman like that”

What is interesting is how he (let’s call him Rick) writes from different subject positions throughout the song. First off, he positions himself firmly as Jessie’s friend, and sees the woman (who remains nameless throughout) largely in terms of her association to Jessie, as some feminists would argue, solely in terms of Jessie’s ownership of her. This touches on a very established part of masculinity theory, that of ‘homosociality’, that is, how men primarily organise themselves around men’s own social network, in which women are seen as peripheral “I know he’s been a good friend of mine” and according to some old theorists such as Gayle Rubin, as currency “and I want to make her mine”. But I think men are more complex than that, as this song highlights.

Then Rick speaks from his own position of desire, as a man who is enjoying a woman’s beauty, yet importantly, it is a frustrated position where he has to superimpose his desire onto his friend Jessie, because Jessie is the girl’s object of desire, not Rick. It’s her eyes that are watching Jessie; she has the power to choose who she dates. “And she’s watching him with those eyes. And she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it” (There is also room for a reading of the lyrics that sees Rick as engaging in a vicarious homosexual experience too, a blur of his sexuality; is he mostly interested in what she sees?)

Then it flips momentarily back to Jessie’s point of view: “Yeah ‘n’ he’s holding her in his arms”, a more straightforward position of jealousy for Rick. Before the chorus returns to, arguably, seeing the girl as an object to obtain “I wish that I had Jessie’s girl. Where can I find a woman like that?” Here, yes the woman is object, but we also should remember that he fundamentally sees himself as being without a woman that will change his own opinion of himself from a “Have Not” to a “Have”, too.

The third verse speaks of Rick’s position as outsider to the relationship, and yet simultaneously he sees himself as part of it (one wonders if they do?) “I play along with the charade”. There seems to be a blurring of the boundaries between the three of them, especially Rick and Jessie, caused perhaps by Rick’s private fantasising about the girl “You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute”.

Then, a song that is ostensibly all about male power – either Rick’s or Jessie’s sexual power, or their shared homosocial power – reveals what is often ignored in interpretations of male dating behaviour (and something my research set to rectify) that of how men respond to female power:

“And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wondering what she don’t see in me, I’ve been funny
I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love supposed to be.”

He is aware of his position, mostly through her eyes, both literally in how she sees his appearance, “And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time. Wondering what she don’t see in me” (something reflected in the self-consciously sexual photo of the artist on the front cover too); or through the questioning of his whole dating performance: “I’ve been funny, I’ve been cool with the lines. Ain’t that the way love supposed to be.”

A younger me would have only heard the bits about men wanting to ‘get’ a girl and I would have been angered by it but I now know that men are much more multifaceted than we understand them to be. They (heterosexual men) can be just as self reflective about the opposite sex and definitely in part, know themselves through women’s reflections of them, something feminism very rarely acknowledges.

And that is why studying and talking to men is the next important step in understanding gender, we cannot move on with a focus on one gender, women, only, it leaves a huge blind spot (nearly half the world’s population, men). Men are not encouraged to express themselves, and often do not even know themselves, fully because they live in a culture that demands a certain type of masculine performance which is supposed to be impervious to women’s power. But nevertheless, women in many ways do affect them deeply in ways that are often not at first apparent, unless one takes the time to read between their lines.

About annaarrowsmith

I am Britain's first and most acclaimed female adult film director, with lots of scenes written, directed and produced by myself and several awards under my belt. After 2 decades of production and distribution experience, I recently completed a PhD in Gender Studies that focuses on men's experiences of women's power in dating relationships. I know an awful lot about film-making and about gender. You might have seen me in the British media...
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