Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pete Seeger at 90

In light of our Herstory project in class, consider the song "I'm Gonna to be an Engineer," sung by Pete Seeger, one of my personal heroes. The song appears in the "virtual i-pod" on the bottom right of the homepage or below on a groovy you tube clip from the 1970's. Listen carefully to the lyrics and see if you can relate them to any of the presentations you've heard in class.

I first heard this song when my wife -- then my college girlfriend -- and I went on our first date to a Pete Seeger concert. But Pete's not just a folk music hero to me; he's also a man of tremendous principle. Like Howard Zinn, he has lived his convictions. He married a Japanese woman in the 1940's when our country was throwing thousands of Japanese-Americans in prison camps. He fought for civil rights, singing with the great African-American baritone, Paul Robeson, when it nearly cost him his life. He inspired many famous civil rights leaders, including Julian Bond, who credits Seeger for opposing Jim Crow laws before the Movement really got underway. Pete even wrote some of the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." He fought for unions and common working men (and women since he also advocated equality among the sexes). He traveled the world and recording world music like no one had ever done before.

For all this he was branded a Communist and banned from appearing on TV for 17 years just when he had reached the height of his popularity. When the ban was finally lifted he shocked everyone by singing an anti-Vietnam War song called "The Big Muddy." Since then he has sung to end apartheid in South Africa and almost single-handedly galvanized efforts to clean-up the Hudson River. He's 90 now and just last year was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of folk music.


Lizzy said...

When he says, "We pay you as a lady/You only got the job because I can't afford a man/With you I keep the profits high as may be/You're just a cheaper pair of hands."
This sounded a lot like an equal rights in the workplace problem. Equal pay is still a huge problem even in today's "future" America.

I also am very curious about something that Seeger said at the beginning of his video. Did his sister actually write this song? If so, I think this says something about the gender roles of his family.

MMarin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sophie M said...

This song in it's entirety relates perfectly to what we've been talking about recently in class. After listening to this song, there was one part in particular that stuck out to me: "She's smart - for a woman/ I wonder how she got that way?/ You get no choice, you get no voice/ Just stay mum, pretend you're dumb/ That's how you come to be a lady, today." This explicitly demonstrates the different standards held for women and men in American society when this song was written- and arguably that still remain in society today. The first line, "She's smart- for a woman" presents the idea that women are not supposed to be as smart as men. This is similar to how Huck sees Jim (in Huckleberry Finn) in comparison to white men. Huck thinks Jim has "an uncommon level head, for a nigger" (65), holding Jim at a lower standard than white men in the society. The idea that he is smart defies a standard for Huck, just like women being smart defies a standard for the man in this song.

Caroline C said...

I thought this line was very interesting,"Mamma said, 'Why can't you be a lady? / Your duty is to make me the mother of a pearl'". The word 'duty' really stuck out to me because I thought this related well to the Charlotte Perkins document that was presented earlier this week. In the document, she talks about roles of the women, while the lyrics say that there are 'duties' for girls to become caretakers and homemakers.

Maeli G. said...

"An engineer could never have a baby."

Wow! This is an extremely powerful piece of music. The idea of women's place in society as a "construction" of the messages produced by the men of the community is one that we've studied a great deal throughout all of our presentations. For years, women were bombarded with a constant string of "you can't do this, it isn't ladylike" or "you can't do that, it'll interfere with your duties as the wife or the daughter or the mother." Some of them came to believe it, and they never followed their dreams of becoming engineers or lawyers or doctors etc. I'm glad there are men out there who are willing to call attention to the issue. Huzzah, Pete Seeger!

Bob P said...

I found it very interesting that Pete Seeger did not sing the full song written by his sister. He did not sing "You got one fault, you're a woman/ You're not worth the equal pay/ A bitch or a tart, you're nothing but heart/ Shallow and vain, you've got no brain" To me this is the most important set of lines in the whole song. Women are degrade to the "third class citizen" Seegar sings in the song, and this description echoes that of slaves. A slaves one fault was their skin color, and here Petty Seegar parallels that to being a women. I wonder why Pete decided not to sing this part, if it was that he simply forgot or did not want to sing this in front of such a big audience.

Anonymous said...

"But I'll fight them as a woman, not a lady/ I'll fight them as an engineer"

I found this line to be very interesting because she differentiates between a woman and a lady. She implies that a lady is what society expects women to be, dainty, faithful, and motherly. But a woman is female with power and self confidence. I think the difference between them is important to understanding sexist issues. Women didn't necessarily want to be men, but they wanted to be something other than the stereotypical lady.

I also think that Pete Seeger’s story is really neat. I've heard of him, and some of his music before but I had no idea how involved he was in solving such pressing injustices. I wonder what it would be like if more celebrities focused on global issues as passionately as he.