Women in traditional songs
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Women in traditional songs

Dave Ruch 21 Sep 05 - 03:29 PM
sian, west wales 21 Sep 05 - 03:53 PM
Bat Goddess 21 Sep 05 - 05:05 PM
Susanne (skw) 21 Sep 05 - 06:14 PM
Don Firth 21 Sep 05 - 07:56 PM
Big Al Whittle 21 Sep 05 - 10:06 PM
Barry Finn 21 Sep 05 - 10:18 PM
Keith A of Hertford 22 Sep 05 - 11:46 AM
Le Scaramouche 22 Sep 05 - 01:34 PM
Big Al Whittle 22 Sep 05 - 04:56 PM
Brían 22 Sep 05 - 06:06 PM
moongoddess 22 Sep 05 - 06:11 PM
Brían 22 Sep 05 - 06:55 PM
Wolfgang 24 Sep 05 - 06:16 AM
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Subject: Folklore: women in traditional songs
From: Dave Ruch
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 03:29 PM

I'm wondering if an generalities exist regarding the representation of women in the traditional songs of North America & the British Isles? I'm sure we could all name examples of songs where women get the upper hand, women are rotten, etc. I thought it might be interesting to start a discussion on general trends though....

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: sian, west wales
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 03:53 PM

Some years ago a friend of mine did her MA on Welsh song and I think the general category was 'love songs'. However, she did a presentation to the Folk Song Society on the French songs of "La Femme d'Esprit" (if I got the French right) and her counterparts in Welsh song. These were songs about, obviously, spirited women like, for instance, the Maid in 'Maid on the Shore' and like. I guess there must be enough of them in French song to be considered a category all on their own.


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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 05:05 PM

Women dressed as men -- "Jackie Munro", "Handsome Cabin Boy", "Blue Jacket and White Trousers", "Female Drummer".

Songs about occupations and women in them -- "Collier Lass"

Women in unhappy marriages -- "Sandgate Girl's Lament", "Mickey's Warning", etcet etcet.

Situations where men and women who are poor are treated unfairly by the church -- "Fisher Row"

I also like (and sing) "Home, Dearie, Home" with a woman who didn't care if she got pregnant, she'd take the money and go home and "pass as a lady in my own country".

Lots of grand singing!


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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 06:14 PM

I get the impression that quite often attitudes are attributed to women when in fact (or so I suspect) the songs themselves were made up by men and represent what men think (or wish) that women feel. 'Home, Dearie, Home' may be an example of this, or 'The Shearin's No For You', 'Fanny Blair', or the many songs where young girls are eager to get laid by the next best stranger coming their way. Unless women have changed fundamentally in the last hundred years it just doesn't ring true in many instances.

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Don Firth
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 07:56 PM

Hmm. . . .

Other than songs (example: A Lusty Young Smith) in collections such as Thomas D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy (very ably rendered by Ed McCurdy in the series of recordings entitled "When Dalliance was in Flower and Maidens Lost Their Heads"), I can't think of all that many songs in which the female protagonist is hell-bent on getting laid. A few, yes, but certainly balanced by the women in such songs as Blow Away the Morning Dew or Lovely Joan, wherein the man approaches the maiden with rumpy-pumpy on his mind, and milady leads him on, gets him to give her a ride home before agreeing to do the deed, then pops inside and locks the gate, leaving him to howl and paw the ground outside in the cold. As a matter of fact, in Lovely Joan, she cons him into boosting her up on his horse, then rides off laughing, leaving the horny young man to trudge home.

On the one hand, you have women such as Barbara Allen, who at first is a bit bitchy because she feels that Sweet William has wounded her pride eventually dying for the love of Sweet William, who, because of her rebuff, managed to beat her to it. Or the female protagonist of Anachie Gordon who went to extremes to get back at her parents for forcing her forsake a man she loved and marry a man she didn't care for; she hauled off and died on her wedding night. Then, when Anachie Gordon returns a few hours too late and finds that she's dead, he curls up and expires. I think a census would provide a roughly equal number of men and women dying spontaneously for love (or lack thereof).

On the other hand, in ballads such as The Outlandish Knight (Child #4), or its American version, The Willow Tree, when the young lady encounters what we now call a serial killer, she manages to trick him and then tosses him into the drink and leaves him to drown. And then, of course, as is mentioned above, there are the women who dress as men and acquit themselves quite well in battle or on shipboard. If these songs were made up by men, then it seems to me that would reveal a preference for strong, self-reliant women.

I'm not too sure that one can make really meaningful generalizations about women in folk music any more than one can in real life.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 10:06 PM

there are songs where the beauty of the woman is described by the beauty of the melody, a kind of Empsonian ambiguity - Just as the tide was flowing, Verdant Braes of Skreen

bawdy songs
victim songs
physical abuse songs
songs where the woman cheats or attempts to cheat the man
union songs
where the woman murders her children
where the woman is murdered

oh you've been to a folk club, you know them all!

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Barry Finn
Date: 21 Sep 05 - 10:18 PM

Hi Susanne,

I'd tend to agree with you. It's a good example of songs about women & probably not by women like you suggest & the women themselves not even having the equality of expressing their own complaints, feats, courage & their fears as men would. A good example maybe "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" a female mulatto indentured servent (some say a whore)named Emily West whose name & calling are being buried along with the composer's identity, who maybe by a woman, who knows but I'd think not but hey I'm a man. Still the song will probably last at least another century & 1/2 without much background given to the hero.

On the other hand composer's & author's of traditional songs are unknown so whose's to know who started what songs.

With sea songs, as Bat Goddess points out above women who dressed like men, women (& priests) did not go to sea as an officer or as part of the crew, bad luck ya know, though it's well documented they did. Some as immigrant passangers, captains wife's & crew , some undiscovered for at least a few voyages & some maybe never detected, who knows? And then there's also the pirates. Captain Calico Jack Rackham's wife, Anne Bonney, probly the illegitimate cild of Irish lawyer William Cormac & A later captured dutch sailor who turned out to be a disgusied Mary Read (whom Daniel Defoe did lend his pen to), whom had also served in both the British Navy & Army, signed ship's pirate articales. These 2 deserved more than a couple of songs but as far as I know there's nothing though they probably out shinned many of their male contempories, espically afther shouting out to a drunken crew below decks "come up here & fight like men" while fighting off capture & then later to a captured Calico Jack, said "had you had fought like man, you need not hang like a dog". Then there's Grace O'Malley ("Grabuaile") who also deserved more than what song & history alotted her. There's many outstanding sea going women whom have never been mentioned in song that had they been male would have surely had been famous. The blood thirsty fiend Maria Cobbham, the famous Norse folk lore pirate Alwilda, the "Tragic Widow" Jeanne de Belleville, whose husband was unjustly beheaded by the French) who became a ledgend in her own time(1343) while backed & financed by the English took her anger & revenge out by wreaking hovac on the ships of Philip IV.
Then again there's part of the traditional folk world that might have believed or felt that women's chores were not worth singing about in a man's world, that probably thought/felt that singing of herding, plowing & hunting would make a better tavern/pub session songs than that of sowing & knitting, having babbies & dish washing (excluding waulking songs here, closer to man's work, same vein as factory girl working songs, funny ain't it?).

Hey Susanne (skw) You could take your thoughts & suspections to it's own thread, I certainly thinks it's warranted for intellegent discussion & debate & god forbid facts.


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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 11:46 AM

I think the scope, half the population, to broad for any trend to emerge.

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Le Scaramouche
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 01:34 PM

Lines like this in Barnyards of Delgaty "I can lie wi' anither man's lass, And aye be welcome to my ain." to my mind, are wishful thinking. Or boasting, Hoochie Coochie Man (and Mannish Boy) anyone? These songs aren't really about women.
Lots of good ones about clever, spirited gals, Broomfield Hill, Maid on the Shore, the Friar in the Well, the Outlandish Knight, Lovely Joan, and my personal favourite, the Crafty Maid's Policy. I'm not by any means saying they are related, but the heroines are similar. Almost Sabatiniesque.

I know its a popular theme, but I really don't think females in disguise were that commonplace. Just my suspicions, but I doubt any could pull it off for more than a short while without being helped.
Does anyone agree that songs such as the Female Drummer were fantasies of both sexes? Nothing would delight a soldier more than to discover a girl, and for women, well it's a chance to escape life's drudgery and have some fun. Not necesarilly sex though.

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 04:56 PM

yes you don't get lesbian bragadaccio, do you

I'm you're hoochie coochie dyke
every knows what i like

at least I haven't heard it

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Brían
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 06:06 PM


This requires more thought than what I can put into a short post, but I will mull this one over.

Having just recently returned from seeing THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde with an all-male cast(One would simply have to see this one to really beleive it, I have really grown an appreciation for the need for young men to go out "Bumbrying."

I think the role of women in creating, preserving and transmitting folklore is grossly misunderstood, understated and complex. I heard an interview about a woman who wrote a biography of the Brothers Grimm and she understood that the sources of the tales were most frequently midwives and and nursemaids. The tales in their original forms(The wicked step-mother dances to her death in iron shoes[Thank you Tommie De paola!]) may offer advice to girls in particular on how to protect themselves.

I wonder if THE FEMALE SMUGGLER may have been written by a woman. It appears to be an early declaration of equal work for equal pay as well as the integrity of working women as equal mates.


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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: moongoddess
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 06:11 PM

There is always the song about "The Husband With No Courage in Him" where a young woman complains that she isn't getting any, and then "My Mother Chose My Husband", where the young lass is afraid of what she will be getting (ho, ho).

Seriously, there are many New England songs about women who worked in the cotton and silk mills of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut that would be worth a Google. Many of these women came from Canada and brought with them their lovely French-Canadien music that is so similar to the music of the Cajuns.

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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Brían
Date: 22 Sep 05 - 06:55 PM

My ancestry points to French Canada as well. There were Quebecois and Acaidian immigrants into New England in the 19th and 20th century. If anyone can point out one traditional song in French or English about mill workers in New England male or female, I want to know about it.


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Subject: RE: Women in traditional songs
From: Wolfgang
Date: 24 Sep 05 - 06:16 AM

I think I do agree with Susanne that many songs about women's feelings have been written by men. In modern novels as well you often can tell whether the author was male of female by looking how the feelings of the male/female protagonists are rendered. Some (in my experience mostly female writers) can do it brilliantly for both sexes.


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