Settling For Less
Society seems to have come a long way in the last sixty years, with many people marrying at an older age and women having their own careers. However, women and girls are still taught that they need to work at being appealing to men, which shows that a woman’s worth is still judged on the basis of her relationship status with a man. Kimbra’s song, “Settle Down”, portrays a woman looking to “settle down” and get married to a man and her efforts to ‘keep him by [her] side.” The music video shows the woman as a young girl. The video looks like it takes place in the 1950s, and it is trying to show the idea that girls are taught from a young age that in order to have a fulfilling life, they should aspire to one day get married and “settle down” is still prevalent today. To transcend this way of thinking, gender roles need to be eradicated.
The girl in the video is dressed like a female adult from the 1950’s. She mouths the lyrics to the song, showing that the message of the song is her interest, which is to “settle down” with the man sitting across from her. The man she is trying to pursue looks like a mannequin, and he never looks at her or moves. The girl expects that marrying the man will bring her happiness, and promises to love him while making arguments to persuade him to stay with her. Using a young girl in an adult role shows that young girls are routinely thinking about these adult interests. Gender roles are taught from a young age, and become an intricate part of an individual’s development. The man never shows interest in the girl, but she does not seem to notice or care; society appears to be teaching young girls that their self-worth is based on their relationship status with a man, that any man is better than no man, even if that man is uninterested in her or not good for her. When the man is won, she must still do her best to keep him from leaving.
Later in the video, the man is seen having a picnic with another girl, named Angela Vickers, and the original girl sees them together and watches from the distance. She is seen back in the home putting in extra effort towards cleaning, cooking, and looking pretty as the lyrics say that she is wishing upon a star to “keep him by [her] side”. As the girl watches the man with Angela Vickers, her facial expression is intense, and the lyrics are warning the man to beware of her: “Run from Angela Vickers/ I saw her with you/ Monday morning small talking on the avenue/ She’s got a fancy car/ She wants to take you far/ From the city lights and sounds deep into the dark”. The original girl shows contempt for Angela Vickers, and shows the aggression women and girls have towards each other when in competition over a man. Gender roles are systematically enforced by expecting girls to police and judge other girls in all aspects of life. Angela Vickers can also represent another lifestyle that is different from the original girl. The original girl was taught that by following a specific path, she would find a man to “settle down” with and that would lead her to a fulfilling life. Angela Vickers does not follow this path, so she is seen as a roadblock on the original girl’s path. Those who stray from gender roles, or the specified path, experience stigma for not following society’s social constructs.
The girl works on her appearance, cooking, and cleaning to be a better housewife.
The video switches scenes a few times back to Kimbra as she sings while standing in front of a shelf of porcelain dolls. Dolls are objects that little girls play with, and how dolls are presented can teach a girl how she is supposed to portray herself. Dolls are generally attractive and can be manipulated however the owner wants, which is how society wants girls to be. The dolls also show economic interest: porcelain dolls look like they are valuable, and a girl is taught that she must preserve her value and look for economic fortune and stability. During the 1950s, girls in the upper and middle classes were expected to be housewives and not work, so they needed to find a man who would be able to sustain that lifestyle. The man in the video looks like a mannequin, which is essentially a doll, and he becomes the girl’s new doll to use. “It’s time to bring you down/ On just one knee for now/ Let’s make our vows”. She tries to manipulate him, both physically, by telling him to go down on one knee to propose, and figuratively, because she will transfer her expectations for her life onto him. At the end of the video, the dolls are lit on fire, symbolizing the destruction of these ideals and roles placed on women.
These are the dolls that are on the shelf behind Kimbra in the video. By the end of the video, they are set on fire.
This music video decided to use a very specific demographic of people: white, middle class, and heterosexual. Poor women and women of color did not have the luxury to be housewives, as they had to work to survive. Although many girls are taught from multiple backgrounds and demographics that they must get married by a certain age, this video looks at a very small and privileged group that does not represent most women. One could also interpret the video to be criticizing the idea of choosing money over love in a marriage. Some people want to know they will be financially stable and do not care if they are in love with their partner, which is their right to pursue if that is what they want. Some girls do dream of marriage, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s only bad if the girl thinks she isn’t worth anything unless married. The girl in this video felt she had to get married to be happy, and the man she pursued had different interests from her, so in the context of this video, their relationship was not healthy.
To believe that society has transcended the notion that a girl’s worth is not based on her relationship status is false. Gender roles are still apparent, and I have seen girls value their relationships with their boyfriends more than their friendships, and have their parents validate this valuing system. Even though many girls today will be more critical of a girl who chooses to get married right out of high school or at an early age, many of those girls still wish they could find someone to “settle down” with early, too. Marriage is made up of consenting individuals, not a man and his companion. It is damaging to women and girls for their identity to be considered valid if attached to a man, because it means they are not seen as a complete person. Gender roles do more than limit one’s potential; they also suppresses individuality and personhood. Eradicating gender roles will allow people to truly be themselves, and the ideas around marriage will change so that it will be seen as an individual choice and not an individual’s purpose.
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