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A Cauldron of Hate

Misogyny in Waters' lyrics

It is easy to accuse ex-Pink Floyd lyricist Roger Waters of misogyny. Take, for example, his characterization of women in The Wall. The protagonist's mother is portrayed as overbearing and smothering:

Mama's gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won't let you fly, but she might let you sing
Mama's gonna keep baby cozy and warm
The Wall's Pink views his wife as a demonic, fiery-tongued harpy.

The protagonist neglects his wife in favor of the groupies he lusts after, saying "I need a dirty woman." An animated sequence used both in concert and on the feature film shows the sex act as an antagonistic, combative act of aggression, with the female eventually devouring the male and then transforming herself into a menacing bird of prey. Later, during the climactic trial, the wife is portrayed as hostile and spiteful, and vicious scorpion-like creature hardly human at all.

The teachers are described as being tormented by "fat and psychopathic wives" who "thrash them within inches of their lives". And the protagonist's relationship with both his wife and his groupie girlfriend are marked by abuse and violence, mockingly described as such:

I need you, babe
To put through the shredder
In front of my friends
Oh Babe
Don't leave me now
How could you go?
When you know how I need you
To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night

The real questions, however, are whether these lyrics truly express misogyny, and whether such lyrics expressions of Waters' own deep-seated attitudes toward women, or are the merely the tools of a master artist, designed to convey some less hostile message?

• • •

"Misogyny" is defined as the hatred of women, and "hatred" is, in turn, defined as prejudiced hostility or animosity. Accusing someone of misogyny is a serious allegation. It is important not to confuse fear or misunderstanding of women with hatred of them.

The Wall's imposing mother.

Pink Floyd's The Wall album, film, and stage show are works that contain Waters' most negative images of women: a stifling, over-protective mother; a monstrous wife; wives who control their brow-beaten husbands; and a groupie who uses sex to achieve a brush with fame. None of the women in The Wall are supportive of its anti-hero, Pink, at least not in his perception of the way he is treated.

Similarly, Waters' first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, further elaborates on these negative images of women and chauvinistic attitudes toward sexual relationships by exploring, through a series of dreams, a husband's inability to trust and connect with his wife.

Yet despite the preponderance of negative presentations of women in these albums, there are indications that the male protagonists of these albums (and Roger Waters as writer) recognise that their misogynistic feelings represent insecurity and self-loathing rather than a reaction to the reality of women.

The misogyny evinced in Waters' lyrics is not based on a hatred of women but rather a profound insecurity manifesting itself as blame. In both The Wall and Pros and Cons an insecure male is either afraid of rejection or has been rejected by a woman, and he projects this fear and anger as blame and violence. Hostility towards women is a reaction to anger and hurt. The protagonists of Waters' work do have misogynist feelings, but Waters' himself is not a misogynist per se because he ultimately shows that the characters reactions to women are based on their own psychological traumas and not on any real action on the part of women. And his lyrics also show the importance of heterosexual love in helping to navigate through life.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking was written in 1978, at the same time as The Wall.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking is about a man's insecurities in his marriage, and his wish to be sexually free from the marriage. Women are portrayed in this album as either sexual objects or treacherous wives. Women as sexual objects are not threatening, but wives are. The dreamer's wife is portrayed as aggressive because she represents his guilt. In the dream, the dreamer has an affair with a hitchhiker and his feelings of guilt manifest as knife-wielding Arabs stationed at the foot of his bed. When the dreamer wonders how they got in his room, a female voice drives this guilt home, saying, "Come on now kid, it was wrong what you did/ You've got to admit it was wrong."

The nightmare, however, continues, and when this part of the dream is revealed as a dream-within-a-dream, the man "wakes up" to find his wife saying:

'You've been having a nightmare
And it's not over yet'
Then she picked up the doggy in the window
(The one with the waggly tail)
And she put him to bed between two bits of bread.

(This image of wife as devourer is also used in The Wall film and stage show through the use of a puppet and cartoons representing Pink's wife as a large vagina. In one scene, a shadow of the wife turns into the huge vagina looming just over Pink's chair, ready to pounce.)

The Wall's imagery leaves little doubt that Pink feels dominated and threatened by women.

In the title song on the Hitch Hiking album, the lyrics run:

'Jump' says Yoko Ono
'I'm too scared and too good looking' I cried
'Go on', she says
'Why don't you give it a try?
Why prolong the agony all men must die.'

Again, a woman is shown as wanting to destroy men. It is interesting that the negative portrayal of women, which can be seen as misogynist, actually shows women as man-haters.

However, as the album proceeds, we find that in the dream--and possibly in real life for the dreamer as well--the wife has had an affair. Could this be why the dreamer expresses such anger towards his wife? In "Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin" the dreamer laments to a sympathetic truckdriver:

Next thing she's going crazy
Women are like that kid
What the hell can you do?
She waits for the real Mr. Right to come
Gently removing her heart
With his promises of real communication
I saw a program about that on TV...
Who's always picking up the tab
Who built a bungalow for his mum and dad
Who took you out to all the shows
Who worked his fingers to the bone
While you were asleep
It was me...I did
I kept you in buttons and bows
Christ all those clothes
So you could encourage this creep
With his neat feet
And his clean fingernails
With his wise but twinkling eyes

These lyrics depict the dreamer's desire to blame his wife for her rejection by attributing her unfaithfulness to her gender and not to his faults as a husband. He sees himself as the husband/father figure who kept her in luxury, undeserving of her betrayal. However, the allusion to lack of communication between the husband and wife ("promises of real communication") may be a hint that the dreamer knows that his wife's affair was at least partly due to his own shortcomings as a husband, rather than entirely due to her being a woman.

The context of the negative images of women in Pros and Cons undermines any real misogyny. First, the fact that the songs are dreams allows for everything in the dreams to carry a symbolic, rather than a literal, meaning. The woman-as-devourer or woman-as-sexual-object is not meant to be a real portrayal of women, but only an aspect of the dreamer's psyche. As such, these women are really merely representations of guilt feelings, sexual drives, anger, and insecurity. Furthermore, as characters in a drama about marital discord and infidelity, any negativity towards women can only be seen as a reaction to marital betrayal.

Waters' characters work do have misogynist feelings, but Waters' himself is not a misogynist per se.

Because the dreamer gains insight into his own psyche through the dream process, women are not merely portrayed as devourers, sexual objects, or betrayers, but as people who care and love, and the lyrics demonstrate that the dreamer understands his negative feelings towards his wife are a result of guilt feelings. At the point in the dream in which the wife eats the dog, the wife says, "Come on over here you silly boy/Before you catch your death of cold/I was only joking" and the dreamer and his wife move to the country to rekindle their love. As soon as the dreamer depicts his wife as a monster, he backs away from that image by turning it into a joke.

Her suggestion to go to the country indicates that the dreamer understands that his fear of her is based on the dynamics of their relationship. At the end of the album, the dreamer has realised that his wife is human like him, similarly full of fear and need, and that the love between him and his wife is important, good, and worthy. When the dreamer makes this realisation, his wife is no longer depicted as a monster or betrayer. Instead the wife next to him in bed is awake at his moment of reaching out in need.

And even as Waters portrays women as devourers and objects of lust, he also makes clear that men need women to help them get through life's struggles, and that in the end love does save the day. Though relationships are potentially psychologically damaging, they can also be redemptive.

Rachel Funari is a guest contributor to Spare Bricks.