"We teach discipline. We teach girls how to sit up straight. How to stay silent. How to obey."
At first glance, this could be a line from a dramatic movie about the repression of women in society. It could be a line from a villain in a book who means to undermine free will.
But instead, it's from 5 Seconds of Summer's new music video, "Good Girls."
The first minute of this video seems like a caricature. The slicked grey curls, preppy classical music and scrunched-up face of the generically-named "Principal" against an awkwardly-placed spotlight and dramatic color contrast makes it seem, well, fake. "A good girl is like sweet lemonade on a hot day," a gel-haired member of 5SOS asserts.
"That's correct," the principal agrees.
Then pipes up the sepia-zebra-haired cellist of the group. "A good girl is like when you touch the fret of your cello and you feel the warm embrace."
"Mm-hmm," comes the sound of agreement from the group. "We're to, uh, you know, make the bad girls good girls."
And with that, the principal -- wiping his already-clean glasses with a stark white handkerchief -- decides to top the discussion off with a resounding statement about feminine nature. "It is our view point that all girls are bad. It's just that the good girls haven't been caught yet."
Forget that women, here, are less of people and more of objects meant for pleasure. Forget that their "goodness" can be turned on like a light switch by the boys -- how did they put it -- ah, soothing them with classical music. The environment seems so fake, with violins and handkerchiefs and a pop/rock band praised for their "classical style of music," that this opinion about women can't possibly be real. They're going to mock it later in the song, obviously. The principal is going to look like the bad guy, because these statements are so ridiculous. They're funny. Right?
I have to say, it came as a shock the number of times that the band belted, "good girls are bad girls that haven't been caught" amidst scenes of disciplinary action and teaching balance with books on girls' heads. But then I remembered that the over-the-top nature of this video was intended, what with girls reading hot pink books titled Girls' Guide to Being Good in prim-and-proper cursive. I realized the overall ridiculousness of the girls' rebellions, the principal's demeanor and the school's strictness must translate to the craziness of the lines.
It's all a big joke.
And then it all starts to make sense -- the posters on the wall saying, "Obey, look pretty, stay quiet, cook and clean, smile, be happy, stand straight, do homework" list generic actions that society considers to be "good" in women -- some even outdated, like the '50s concept of cooking and cleaning to be the perfect housewife. And it makes even more sense that the "bad girls'" rebellion was to X out this poster, to run and jump and dance, to take off the glasses of the ever-pompous principal.
It took me three run-throughs of the video to finally understand: 5SOS doesn't mean to show women as objects in this video -- it's supposed to be empowering. "Good girls" are society's image of what women should be; "bad girls" are free to break this image.
5SOS, I see what you mean. But this, my friends, was not the way to portray that message. The beginning scenes of the girls' delinquent behavior really does make them seem... bad. Not nonconformist, not free. Bad. Your tune is lighthearted and fun, contrasting the ridiculousness of the rest of the video. This makes it seem like you are agreeing, quite literally, that good girls are bad girls who haven't been caught -- that they are objects to be controlled, entities to be controlled, lemonade to be drank. And it takes much too long to piece together the ridiculousness caricatures in the video with the very regular way you sing your song.
With just the song, people will think that you are barraging women and showing them as sex objects, cellos to be caressed, soothed, made to remain silent and obey. Even with the video, it's not obvious that you're saying anything different.
And for the sake of women everywhere, I sure hope you are.