By Robert Weiner and Abby Paras for the Northwest Florida Daily News
"Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean." The opening line to the Beatles' song "I Saw Her Standing There" is now infamous. Such songs created the climate for Matt Gaetz and others. A twenty-or thirty-something making sexual remarks about an underage girl was a norm for decades that is no longer acceptable.
The Rolling Stones are notorious for the way they wrote about young women. In their song "Stray Cat Blues", Mick Jagger sings, "I can see that you're fifteen years old, no I don't want your I.D". In live concerts, the age has been lowered to thirteen.
Lyrics like "You're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine" from Johnny Burnette or "All the cats wanna dance with Sweet Little Sixteen" from Chuck Berry were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s, but in the present day, they are viewed as disturbing. These songs had impact on real life.
Yet even these song seems tame in comparison to the Mothers of Invention lyrics in 1967 in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It:" They sang, "Only thirteen and knows how to nasty," describing "the dream of a girl about thirteen, off with her clothes and into a bed." The song includes a link to politics: "She's a teenage baby... on the White House lawn."
With the recent allegations against Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) regarding a teen, these songs become even more disturbing. Gaetz has repeatedly claimed that the allegations are untrue, even going so far as to say that he is part of an extortion scheme "based on lies".
CNN has reported that Gaetz "displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them" on the House Floor. Though the women in the photos may not have been the underage girl that Gaetz is currently being linked to, Gaetz felt comfortable enough bragging about his sex life with his colleagues.
People like Chuck Berry and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are still revered by many, and of course, their contributions to music are part of their legacies. As an unfortunate side effect, the less acceptable aspects of their lives and music are glossed over. Though Gaetz's scandal is currently the most well-known, there is no guarantee that this will hinder his career. Chuck Berry, who had a relationship with a fourteen-year-old, was able to bounce back from his scandal.
In fact, coverage of Gaetz's scandal is already waning. While most of the media focuses on the recent interactions on national television between General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gaetz over critical race theory in the military, fewer and fewer articles are focusing on the allegations against him.
The argument can be made that it's just music and that songs aren't necessarily meant to be taken literally. Obviously, songs are not totally to blame for the actions of those like Gaetz, but they do foster a culture supporting some people preying on underage girls. Behavior like Gaetz's is sometimes dismissed as "locker room talk", implying that inappropriate sexual remarks should be allowed, even considered normal.
Studies have shown that metaphors that dehumanize women and encourage a predator-prey relationship between a man and a woman can encourage rape culture. Psychologist Melissa Burkley Ph.D. examined the difference in reactions to rape between men who were exposed to the types of media that used metaphors of women as prey and those who read media with neutral language. According to the results of the study, "Men who read the metaphor version were [...] more likely to indicate they would engage .... if given the chance". The study concluded that the media men consume affects their behavior regarding relationships with women.
The Gaetz issue points to a need for society to take corrective action. There is no way to go back in time to the 1950s or 1960s and stop artists like the Rolling Stones from writing songs about underage girls. The songs already exist, and they've already had their impact on culture. Going forward, it is crucial that we, as a society, acknowledge that the actions in songs like these should be condemned and that the words should make us very uncomfortable.
No one should have to stop listening to songs. But while listening, understand that "she was just seventeen" should now ward people off. The words must not be an invitation to initiate a relationship, nor encourage the cultural climate for anyone in or aspiring to national leadership like Congress.
Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the House Government Operations and Oversight Committee. He was committee Chief of Staff for Florida Cong. Caude Pepper and senior datff for 4-Star Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Cong. John Conyers and Charles rangel, and Sen. Ted Kennedy. He worked at the Watergate in the Youn Democrats' office in the 1970s as Youth Voter Registration Director after 18-year-olds obtained the vote by Constitutional amendment. Abby Paras is policy and culture analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.