I want to begin by owning my white male privilege and apologizing to the American public, in particular to the woman who formerly dated my friend Jessie. I’m sorry that I still don’t know your name. I struggled with how to address you and decided on “Woman Who Formerly Dated My Friend Jessie” because it highlights your identity as a woman rather than your previous romantic partnership with my friend Jessie. I now understand that you are a woman (or transman, or nonbinary human) in your own right, not simply a possession of Jessie’s. That said, if you’re not currently in a monogamous romantic partnership and would like to meet for drinks, I would totally be down for that.
I now identify as a male feminist and an Ally, and to say I’m embarrassed by the lyrics in my 1981 mega-hit is an understatement. Those lyrics make me sound like one of those cisgender heteronormative dudes who just doesn’t get it. I mean, “She’s watching him with those eyes, and she’s loving him with that body,” followed immediately by, “Where can I find a woman like that”? What did that even mean? Where can I find a woman with eyes and a body? Those women are everywhere. Just realized that sounded a bit ableist, but you know what I mean.
But speaking of ableism and embodied existences, do you work out? It doesn’t matter to me aesthetically, as I no longer conflate a woman’s physical appearance with her worth, so I’m only asking in a health-related sense. I cannot imagine the toll existing solely through the male gaze since 1981 must have taken on you. I really regret my complicity with the structures of toxic masculinity, and I can see now how my previous fixation on your looks was super reductive and elided all the richer and more complex facets of who you are. But if you do work out, are you more into cardio or resistance training? A lot of chicks, I mean women and nonbinary folks, think that cardio is the key to staying skinny, but it’s actually resistance training. I could show you some moves if you want.
I also shudder when I think about the proprietary nature of the discourse in those lyrics. To say that “Jessie’s got himself a girl, and I want to make her mine” sounds like I only wanted you because he had you and not because of all the other amazing things about you, whatever those things might be. I realize now that wanting to possess something purely for the sake of possession is wrong, but it’s also a systemic side effect of living in a corporate capitalist society and, therefore, not really my fault. You see, before I learned to interrogate the implicit power dynamics embedded in a patriarchal society, I took a caveman-like “Me Tarzan, You Jane” approach to seeking partners. Fortunately, two solid years of reading feminist and gender theories have taught me to be a nuanced and complex thinker and opened my eyes to the evils of capitalism, and I have completely turned against it. I’m a libertarian now.
Another problematic element of the song I should probably address: You may recall that in those days I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and “wonderin’ what she don’t see in me / I’ve been funny, I’ve been cool with the lines / Ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be?” One of my female-identifying grad school colleagues pointed out that those lines make the whole thing about me and result in a total erasure of you as a human being, relegating you to the positionality of a mere object secondary to me, the superior male subject. Fortunately, I’m now finally capable of de-centering myself.
I do still wonder, though: What didn’t you see in me? Are you gay?