“It’s sad but it’s true how society says
Her life is already over
There’s nothing to do and there’s nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up
and puts her over his shoulder.”
“22”, Lily Allen
While out shopping the other day, I made out this lyric among the clamour of piped muzak in a fashion store. The song gives a snapshot of the life of a girl who, at nearly 30 and without a boyfriend, is wondering where it all went wrong. At 22 she had such high hopes, but now her life seems meaningless.
The above is the chorus, the final line of which goes: “It seems so unlikely in this day and age”. I’m struck by the ambiguity of that line. At first glance it seemed to mean that it seems unlikely that the man of her dreams will come and sweep ‘her’ off her feet, but as I looked again, I wondered. Perhaps what Lily Allen means is it seems so unlikely that in these modern times when women are, supposedly, more free than they have ever been, with enormous independence, access to almost any career, ability to travel anywhere and do anything with no expectation on them to get married and raise children…in such times, it seems so unlikely that a woman in her late twenties would feel life is over because she hasn’t got a boyfriend.
This is one of those issues on which ‘society’ is completely double-minded. People are able to utterly believe that it is good and right that women are free – liberated from the bonds of marriage and family – and at the same time utterly believe that it’s ‘so sad she hasn’t found anyone yet’. We say on the one hand that women are validated by having successful careers, while on the other hand that they are validated by being popular, and in particular by being chosen by one man.
I’m sure if you asked the ‘she’ of the song whether she thinks it is better to be successful or to be loved, she would have great difficulty in answering. She would likely feel that it was feeble to express a desire for a stable, loving relationship, thinking that to say that is to ‘sell out’ to what she really ought to think and feel.
The women’s libbers have done women a great disservice in making them ashamed of their emotions and their desire for love. The few good results of their fight are in constant danger of being outweighed by the devastation caused to generations of women and their families by the narrative that the opposite of subjugation is independence. It’s not. It is interdependence. Humans are made for relationship.
Your life isn’t over if you’re 29 and have not got a boyfriend. Neither is it over if you’re 29 and a stay-at-home mum. We need to adjust our value system so that people neither expect to find their worth in relationships, nor feel ashamed of wanting someone to love and cherish. Otherwise the twenty-somethings are going to go on having a series of one-night stands (as the second verse of the song says ‘she’ does) and perpetuating the cycle of despair that they feel. It’s sad, but it’s true.