Go Back to Your Wife
In the era of Me Too, a little female empowerment goes a long way.
Posted May 22, 2018
There's a new song out there by Jane Getz called Go Back To Your Wife. It's all about female empowerment and, these days, that’s no small thing. Women will be drawn to these lyrics in droves. Men, probably not so much.
Why is that? Why will the words to this song strike such a resonant chord in so many women? Lots of reasons, although it’s easier to understand why a lot of men won’t want anything to do with these lyrics and will probably wish that Ms. Getz had kept her fertile imagination and songwriting talent to herself.
Let’s start by putting all of this into some historical context. The term “women’s liberation” was first used by Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 book “The Second Sex.” However, 1966 marked the first appearance of the term in a mainstream political-academic journal [Footnote 1]. 1966 was also the year of Loretta Lynn’s groundbreaking hit record "You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.” Flash forward half a century (52 years, actually) and we see the birth of the “me too” movement as well as the appearance of Jane Getz’s empowering song Go Back to Your Wife.
Both Loretta Lynn and Jane Getz are part of the grand tradition of “Cheating Songs” [Footnote # 2], although their songs approach the topic in vastly different ways. Loretta sang her song as a wife defending her marriage against attack by another woman. Millions responded to her message and bought her records [Footnote # 3]. Ms. Getz goes about it differently; her words are actually sung by the so-called “home-wrecker” rather than the victim. And, guess what? She’s had enough of it. She doesn’t need a threat from Loretta to make her stop. She’s simply had it with the guy and is sick of the arrangement.
Cheating Songs have been a part of popular culture, from the earliest blues and hillbilly 78s of a hundred years ago, to vintage rock & roll by Chuck Berry and Little Richard [Footnote 4]. You can’t imagine a history of country music that doesn’t include Hank Williams’ Your Cheating Heart. More recently, Amy Winehouse took an unapologetic look at cheating in You Know I’m No Good, and so does John Legend in She Don’t Have to Know.
But nobody, as far as we can tell, has approached the topic like Ms. Getz. Go Back to Your Wife puts an entirely different spin on Cheating Songs. The song begins with a pretty clear sexual metaphor:
I walked you through my garden
You got the lay of the land.
It goes on:
I catered to your whims, satisfied your desires
But now your journey ends
Your visa has expired.
And then the punchline:
Go back to your wife, Go back to your wife.
The song is all about boundaries and the next verse draws even more of them:
I gave you some love, but you ain’t getting my heart.
And the song's chorus contains plenty of confrontation:
How can you turn off your conscience like you turn off a light?
No more jumpin’ through hoops, no more livin’ a lie
No more cheap thrills, no more free rides
Go back to your wife.
The last verse makes it clear the arrangement isn’t working for her anymore:
Tired of playing hide and seek
I don’t want to be your deep dark secret
Go back to your wife.
A lot of women, whether or not they need the empowerment, will be nodding their heads in empathy when they hear the song. Hooking up with a married man is not unusual and may not even be troublesome, provided everybody is on board with the arrangement. The trouble is, of course, that’s rarely the case. Most often it’s the wife who isn’t in agreement, assuming she even knows about it. That creates a dilemma – both practical and moral. The man often gets the greatest benefit from the arrangement, enjoying the company (a rather quaint word) of two women in our generally monogamous society.
But what of the “girlfriend,” the woman who is being encouraged to sing the words to this song? Obviously girlfriends (or “mistresses,” as they used to be called) come in all colors, sizes. shapes, and outlooks. For some, the hookup is just fine. They are not looking for more. They may even be commitment-phobic, in which case “the wife” offers exactly the security they need to function and thrive. But what if they’re in it for real? What if they want more of the man and believe they can change him and get him to leave his wife, once he’s gotten a sample of what he’s missing at home?
It’s possible that such “convertible” men exist. It’s also possible that a search of the woods will reveal a herd of unicorns and a sasquatch. Who’s to say otherwise? But if we’re talking about probabilities, my money lies firmly on the “you won’t find one” side of all three bets. At the least, we can say there are a lot more women who think they can change their man with lots of good lovin’ than there are men who are prepared to walk away from their wives and (perhaps) families.
If you want to be analytical about this, think of it as a threshold issue. Some women (those with the lowest threshold) require one glimpse of a married man and walk away disinterested. The sight of a wedding band during a casual conversation at a party might be sufficient. Jane Getz’s song will have no impact on them. They don’t need this kind of empowerment.
At the other extreme, some women (those with the highest threshold) find married guys desirable for a number of reasons. We don’t need to go through these motives here; the important thing is the lyrics to Go Back to Your Wife are not going to propel them into action to dump this exploitive, uncommitted guy. Everybody’s happy; there’s no need to change.
The song’s target audience is the middle category – the women who hold out some hope, dwindling as it may be – that this married man will someday become theirs. They are the women who are most likely to visit amazon for a copy of Jane Getz’s CD or download Go Back to Your Wife on Youtube for repeated viewing. They’ll spend time with it each day until they finally reach threshold and the empowerment kicks in. At that point they might give their heads a shake and start acting accordingly. They may be in for a bit of a battle, but hopefully they will seek and find the support – either peer or professional – that they need in order to move forward.
Footnote 1: Mitchell, Juliet. (1966). Women: the longest revolution. New Left Review, pp 11 – 37.
Footnote 2: An exhaustive list of Cheating Songs, whether in country, blues or pop music is unimaginable. Even narrowing the titles to a particular genre or decade would be daunting. Just a few memorable examples will have to suffice: Floyd Tillman’s Slipping Around (1949) is often recognized as a landmark record in vintage country music (along with the aforementioned Your Cheating Heart). The theme is repeated in ‘70s country music like the Kendall’s Heaven’s Just a Sin Away and Kenny Rogers’ Daytime Friends and Nighttime Lovers. Cheating is also the bedrock of the soul music classic The Dark End of the Street. Oft-recorded revenge songs such as Miller’s Cave reveal that most men, at least ones in songs, don’t take kindly to being cheated on. Country superstar Charley Pride’s record Snakes Crawl at Midnight covers similar territory. The temptation to cheat often leads to shame and prayers for strength, as witnessed in Hank Locklin’s Please Help Me I’m Falling, and Carl and Pearl Butler’s Don’t Let Me Cross Over. Resisting temptation can be cause for celebration, as in David Houston’s Almost Persuaded. The Cheating Triangle can also be played for laughs, as in a two-song melodrama called Yes Mr. Peters and Hurry Mr. Peters (1965). More recently, Rihanna’s Unfaithful; Carrie Underwood’s Before He Cheats; and Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me are worth a listen. The latter is a teaching tool for men trying to avoid accountability.
And let us not forget, in its original (pre-Elvis) form, Hound Dog was a woman’s (Big Mama Thornton) complaint about her cheating man. Just why Elvis recorded it is anybody’s guess.
Footnote 3: Actually, Loretta Lynn didn’t stop there. The following year she stood up to her husband with Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), and the next year (1968) she elevated her response to would-be home-wreckers by promising them a knuckle sandwich in “Fist City.”
Footnote 4. The chorus of Chuck Berry’s first record Maybellene (1955) is “Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true (repeat) / You done started back doin’ the things you used to do.” Unsuspecting teens also danced to Little Richard’s (1956) Long Tall Sally, which tells the tale of Uncle John cheating on Aunt Mary (with Long Tall Sally). The record’s flipside featured more of the same with Slippin’ and Slidin’, a look at the fine art of Cheatin’ (which “been told a long time ago.”)