Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, and feminism

The Camille Paglia interview in which she recalls being denounced by feminists for taking too soft a line on the Rolling Stones song “Under My Thumb,” coupled with Steve’s reporting on “sexual paranoia in academe,” reminded me of an article by the feminist rock music critic Ellen Willis that appeared in the New Yorker more than 40 years ago. The late Ms. Willis, whose voice I miss, argued that “Under My Thumb” was less offensive to her as a feminist than “Wild World” by Cat Stevens.

Sure, the Jagger song is overtly sexist, with sadistic overtones. But “Wild World,” Willis thought, was worse because of its paternalistic insistence that, without the protection of a male, it would be “hard” for a young woman to “survive” in the “wild world.”

Jagger was singing about a particular relationship; Stevens was singing about the universal helplessness of young women.

I wonder how these songs might fare now, in the wild world of modern academe. Stevens’ hit should still fare well enough. After all, colleges now subscribe to, and maybe even insist upon, his view that women are fragile.

Also working in Stevens’ favor, perhaps, is the fact that he converted to Islam, became pro-Hamas, and referred to Judaism as a “so-called” religion.

But “Wild World” might nonetheless be problematic. Is it okay to warn women that “it’s a wild world” out there, a world where “a lot of nice things turn bad” and “it’s hard to get by just upon a smile”?

Someone prepare the cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, pillows, blankets, and video of frolicking puppies. I sense triggering.

“Under My Thumb” presumably would generate the same dismay on campus as in 1970, but without the likes of Paglia and Willis to offer a limited defense. Cookies, coloring books, bubbles, etc. are surely an insufficient antidote to Jagger’s hurtful words.

Not only does the song seem to glorify micro-aggressions (at a minimum), it is associated with real life macro-aggression. While the Stones played it during their infamous free concert at Altamont speedway, a fan who had been roughed up by members of Hells’ Angels (they were providing “security”) pulled a gun and was stabbed to death.

But wait! Sadomasochism apparently features as part of “sex week” at some certain colleges and universities. The “squirming dog” of a woman in Jagger’s song — the one who “does just what she’s told” and “talks [only] when she’s spoken to” — is, from all that appears, a consenting adult. If sadists and masochists haven’t yet emerged on campus as minorities whose lifestyles must be respected and even celebrated, it’s only a matter of time.

This won’t be enough to save “Under My Thumb,” though. Perhaps if Jagger had flipped the genders….

Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.