“I’m a Man” versus “I am Woman” – an interesting distinction on song lyrics

Two songs. Two very different songs. Muddy Waters sang in his wonderfully unusual style about his manhood in “I’m a Man.”  Several years later, Helen Reddy pronounced to the world “I am Woman.” These are two very different songs with different meanings based on the difference in men and women’s psyche and self-esteem. These songs may be one reason why Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” resonates with so many. Here are excerpts from each song, the first being from Waters, the second from Reddy.

Waters sang:  I’m a man

I’m a full-grown man. Man

I’m a natural-born lovers man. Man

I’m a rollin’ stone. Man-child

I’m a hoochie coochie man.

While Reddy sang: I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before

And I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise. But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price. But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong (strong)

I am invincible (invincible). I am woman

I recognize this comparison could be viewed as unfair, as one is singing about sexual prowess and the other is shouting to fellow women that they can do anything, so don’t let people deny you that chance. However, you don’t hear many songs with this kind of title about men which do not speak to sexual prowess. In other words, a man’s self-esteem could be viewed as too tied up in his perception of his sexual prowess. The movie with Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Rita Moreno, Candace Bergen, Art Garfunkel, etc. called “Carnal Knowledge” was about this very point. When you do hear more impactful songs about men, it is usually about becoming a man due to events such as the one about “Patches” who had to grow up quickly after his father died or about men working hard in the fields or mines to feed their families. This is what being a man is about.

However, the reason for Reddy’s anthem is women, unlike men, have not received the opportunities and, in many cases, still don’t today. I am reminded to this day of three female colleagues that became prominent in their professions, who each started out as Administrative Assistants in the early 1970’s. They took the only viable job to get ahead that a man would dare not take at the time. The context of Reddy’s song is important as well, as it was at the very beginning of the women’s movement. Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just getting started when this song burst onto the scene. And, it should not be a surprise that it did become an anthem for the movement.

As a 55-year-old man, I have written about the concerns of many that unless a community, society or country embraces the equal rights for women, their economy will not flourish like it could. I recognize that some may flourish due to an abundance of a natural resource in their borders, but that wealth does not flow to everyone and, in some of these places, women are treated as chattel. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written about this very issue in “Half the Sky.” You can access a post I wrote on this troubling book with the following link:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/

Men don’t need to have songs written about “I am man, hear me roar” as opportunities have abounded. Men also have tended to have higher expectations that women also need to embrace more. That is Sandberg’s point in her book. Lean in as you deserve this chance just as much as a man does. Just today, I read an article by Catherine Rampell, an economics writer in the Washington Post, about women in college that would tend to shy away from a major where they earn their first “B” whereas male students would recover from a “C” with their esteem not as tarnished. Her point is the male student expected to succeed in the major more so than the female student who may have received a better grade.

So, let’s continue to look for opportunities for women, as well as teaching our boys what being a man really is all about. It is the same thing that applies to women – being responsible and being accountable. If we give women an equal opportunity, we are doubling our chance to succeed. These other countries need to know they are competing in a global world with at least one arm tied behind their back. As Reddy sang, the voices of women are “in numbers too big to ignore.”

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12 thoughts on ““I’m a Man” versus “I am Woman” – an interesting distinction on song lyrics

  1. Oh yes, another trip in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. I lived in Orange County CA in the early 70’s, worked in Social Services at what was then the Orange County Medical Center, and was a true believer in the Womens’ Movement. Went to a Helen Reddy concert at the Universal Studios Amphitheater on a warm summer’s evening; you should have heard us roar, because we really did! I appreciate your post, because women everywhere have a ways to go. At least we are still moving forward.

    • Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine? I don’t think I have ever heard that phrase. Where is it from? Thanks for the comments. You are right about the ways to go. It is sad I was watching a documentary on Gloria Steinem and she was on Larry King in the 1970s and a woman called in and told her she needed to rot in hell. So, not only did they have to convince men, she needed to convince some women. Talk about an uphill climb! The three women I mentioned that started as AAs, one became President of a company, one became one of the best consultants to a particular industry, and one became a partner of a global firm. Thanks again, BTG

      • You were probably a little young to watch The Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show, which had a cartoon show about a very accomplished dog named Mr. Peabody who adopted a boy named Sherman. Mr. Peabody invented a machine which actually is called WABAC, but that puzzles some, so I write Wayback…and they travel through time in it. I watched a lot of TV!

      • Not that young. I vaguely remember Mr. Peabody, now that you mention. I was not a huge watcher of Rocky and Bullwinkle. I was probably too busy watching Jonny Quest.

  2. Thanks for writing this, BTG. And it’s an interesting way to frame the issue. A lot of men (and women) think that women have “arrived,” but I challenge that notion when women still have their reproductive freedom threatened. Men are still trying to redefine rape and blame the victim. And men do still seem to define themselves many times by their power and virility, rather than personal qualities that make them a better HUMAN BEING. We still have a ways to go.

    • Amaya, thanks. On the rape issue, I found it interesting that on the day the Senate decided to not use the Kirsten Gillibrand bill to separate the rape investigation from the chain of command in the military, there is a court case where a general is on trial for rape and someone claimed politics were inherent in the decision-making not to accept a plea bargain.

      On the ways to go, I did see this morning that women are still paid 77 cents on the dollar paid to males. This is off topic, but your comment made me think of this; there is a commercial for the new Cadillac CTS that plays up everything we have talked about in this flippant male car owner.

      Thanks for your thoughts. BTG

  3. I agree. Let’s teach the children. It’s amazing that with so many single parent families, run by female heads of house, the idea of inequality still exists. But old habits are hard to break.

    • They are indeed, Linda. What amazes me in some cultures, a mother can raise her son, who will then treat her as a second class citizen when he comes of age. Same woman. This is one reason why I am hoping Hillary will run and win, as she will become a daily example of what women can do and be an inspiration to young girls, even more than she has been. When you add Angela Merkel and Christine LaGarde in the mix, these would be three of the more powerful people on the planet.

  4. I love this post. You’ve covered the issue and the stark differences in the songs well. You know how I feel about this stuff, and I’m glad that you are aware of it. I am surrounded by people in my community who don’t think that women’s opportunities are an issue, because they are more than happy to accept the patriarchal way of life. They tend to think that women don’t need consideration because they belong at home in a specific role. I love conversing with people like you who have context and can add to the conversation. I am fond of the feminist idea that women are at least half of the population and their voices are important. Just think how much our governmental structures and community issues would be improved if that half of the population were included, “allowed” to speak up, and provided input from their point of view. Now you’ve got me rambling on my favorite topic. 🙂

    • Thanks Emily and please ramble away. I keep thinking of all of the “great ideas” or even just “solid, practical ones” that have been lost because the spigot of opportunity was turned off. The world is a lesser place when you only consider half of your thinkers’ ideas. Look even at what a difference Malala has made by surviving her assailant’s attack while all she wanted was an education. Have a great Sunday. We are about to have a wet one here.

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