Girls’ Studies: I Am Sixteen Going on Seventeen

This week’s girls’ studies post is a critical analysis of the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music.   While my first reaction to watching this scene on YouTube was to sing along and dance a little, I quickly realized the messages that the song sends are somewhat outdated and a little bit shocking.

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The song begins by claiming that girls who are sixteen, going on seventeen, are waiting for life to start.  This is absolutely true.  I remember being sixteen and wishing that I could wake up one day middle-aged, in a home with a husband and children and a routine that I could call my own.  I did not imagine any sort of career plans in this wish, but at that time I did want to be either an architect or a hair stylist.  This was as far as I could see.

The song suggests that a girl’s life will begin when a man comes along and makes her his wife.  It says, “You belong to him.”  While I am not against marriage, I am against the idea that women are property.  Not long ago, this was a reality, the complications of which we see playing out on Downton Abbey each Sunday night.  When women are property, they cannot own property or inherit or be considered capable of running an estate.  (And that’s only if they were “lucky” enough to have an estate to run.)  So while growing up and getting married does seem as if life will then begin, the messages about that “adventure” in the song tend to promote the idea that women are objects.

The implication of this message is that women will discount their own strengths and see themselves as valuable only when they belong to another person, instead of belonging to themselves and being confident in their own abilities and in their own right.  It also suggests that women cannot care for themselves and that they must be married to be secure economically.  This is an idea that I have seen play out culturally, and I’m sure many women still feel this way.  Yet I have also seen countless divorces in which the woman must fend for herself.  It breaks my heart, but getting an education first and being able to provide for one’s self, rather than planning on a husband, is needed.  As my one of my favorite sayings goes, “A man is not a financial plan.”

I also disliked the song’s line about old ideas being gone once you meet that man.  It suggests that young women should give up their ambitions and dreams as soon as they belong to somebody.  I view marriage differently.  I see women and men as equals who work together to make both of their dreams come true.  I’ll never forget when my husband said to me, “It’s my turn to support you,” when I began working on a Ph.D.   We knew that my return to school would be stressful and time-consuming and difficult, but he was willing to make that happen.  Additionally, we have always shared household chores and bedtimes and homework with the children.  We are a partnership.  I’m not his property, and he’s not mine.  Based on the lyrics of the song, this is a relatively new way to enact marriage, but I see most people doing it now, which is why the song may be so disturbing.  Its ideas are foreign to us now.

I would like to point out one of the nice things about the song.  The first few lines mention that this man, who is destined to come along, will be “kind.”  I do appreciate this sentiment, for men should be kind to women and vice versa.  A marriage should have a measure of kindness, respect, and esteem for both involved.  This is certainly a universal idea that can be applied to marriage, and I see it as relevant today.  Young women should marry a kind man, especially given the advice in the book Zenzele that I reviewed a few weeks ago.  The mother in that book suggested that the first love of your life will make your hands tremble but perhaps not make the best husband.  She went on to explain that the second love will make your hands steady and will be reliable.  She advised that this was the marrying kind of man.

Lastly, the song ends with the positive message that this marriage shouldn’t occur for at least another “year or two.”  While that would only make the sixteen-year-old around eighteen, it is still a lovely idea to wait.  Nowadays, the young women I know get married later than what I saw when I was dating.  I do think it is important to date the person you plan to marry for a while and to wait until you are ready for that commitment.  I remember my mom talking to us about waiting to get married and about dating somebody for a while before doing so.  I think this is an idea that most parents would be comfortable with.

Overall, the song disturbed me in a way that it wouldn’t have a few years ago, but I still love the music from The Sound of Music.  We watched the film with my daughter a few months ago as one of her assignments for piano lessons.  She enjoyed it, and I enjoyed revisiting it.

I did not watch the Carrie Underwood version of The Sound of Music that aired live on NBC a few weeks ago.  Did any of you?  Was it any good?

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