Feminism: Ruining My Love of Music Since Forever

by Becca Lee

I love music, I love feminism, and dammit if I don’t hate it when the two don’t come together. Unfortunately, this perpetual tension is way more common today than I could thoroughly relay here (but see exhibits Robin Thicke, the music video industry, and I don’t know, EVERYTHING ELSE to start). I think I’ve more or less just come to expect it from modern day Top 20 hits. But then, I have to say I’m still sometimes a little bit shocked/peeved when I realize I’ve been be-bopping along to “classic oldies” that turn out to be nothing but woman-degradin’, rape culture-perpetuatin’, street harassin’ tunes. This weekend, I woke the hell up to one.

They singer/songwriter in question: Roy Orbison, folks. Sweet charmer whose creamy lyrics made Julia Roberts’ famous strut down Rodeo Drive all the more memorable? Or really a slimebag weasel who can’t take a hint?

I am of course talking about the song “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and it’s pretty stunning I never noticed before. I mean, check this shit out:

Pretty woman, walking down the street

Pretty woman, the kind I’d like to meet

Pretty woman

I don’t believe you, you’re not the truth

No one could look as good as you


Classic scene. Poor lady is just doing her thing, out for a walk, headed for Noneyabusiness. Some guy comes along thinking he’s special and starts laying on the perv vibes. Just another day in lady-paradise.

Does Julia look like she has time for this asshat? Nope.

 Then it really gets going:

Pretty woman, won’t you pardon me

Pretty woman, I couldn’t help see

Pretty woman

That you look lovely as can be

Are you lonely just like me


Pardon you? There’s no pardon for harassment. She knew she looked lovely even before she started rockin’ that hat, so you can save it. And that growl? Sexy in a song, perhaps. On the street, not so much.

Not an invitation, Roybison.

But sigh. It continues:

Pretty woman, stop a while

Pretty woman, talk a while

Pretty woman, give your smile to me

Loser, she has places to be, and she smiles because she’s happy, not on your command. Stop and talk to a creepy stranger late at night on the street? Or even in the middle of the day? Hell to the no. Move out her way.

But he doesn’t:

Pretty woman, look my way

Pretty woman, say you’ll stay with me

‘Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right

Come with me baby, be mine tonight

Pretty woman, don’t walk on by

Pretty woman, don’t make me cry

This is getting pathetic. And if I were this woman, I’d be a little terrified by his persistence. I think that’s the part that’s most disconcerting, that here is how the song then ends in dudebro Roy’s harassment-is-sexy fantasy land:

Pretty woman, don’t walk away, hey…okay

If that’s the way it must be, okay

I guess I’ll go on home, it’s late

There’ll be tomorrow night, but wait

What do I see

Is she walking back to me

Yeah, she’s walking back to me

Hold the fuck up. So in the last verse, not only do we learn that our singer is a repeat offender (“There’ll be tomorrow night,” AKA more chances to harass women), but then she starts walking back. The implication is that Mr. So-Smooth-Not-Really has wooed her with his crooning melodies and animal noises, so she has no choice but to go to him. I bet he pictures something like this:

GUH-ROSS. And unrealistic. “Oh yeah, you like how I walk? You think I’m pretty? I’M YOURS!” …said no one ever.

Newsflash, Roy. In the age of the revolution, she is headed back to HOLLABACK in your face. It looks more like this:


Do you think Roy Orbison was really a scum-sucking harasser in disguise? Do you know any other golden oldies packing age-old sexist bullshit in a jukebox candy wrapper? Call that shit out in the comments!


3 Responses

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  1. […] Des Moines‘ Becca Lee challenges music and street harassment themes within, discussing the song “Oh, Pretty […]

  2. Hilary says:

    Um, this is one of the best, and most hilarious things I have ever read. “Does it look like Julia has time for this asshat?” Hahahah.

    Hilary Abrahamson, your former student.

  3. frank says:

    I´m in a certain way a feminist, but some paranoic deliriums such as this, shock me. you are completely out of context and obsessed with this issues and you are seeing things that are just not there. forget julia roberts, this song is from 64, street harassment werent even an issue then, it was a totally diferent time…surely there was a lot of misoginy then, but roy was by far the most kind and least misoginist man there were in those days.

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