I used to do a lot of little shorts with an interesting clip and a few thoughts. I haven’t done any of these for a while, but I am currently working on my novel and a few other projects, which is taking up a lot of my time, and thought it might be time for a shorter post.
It’s A Man’s Man’s World was written by James Brown and his girlfriend at the time, Betty Jean Newsome (1930-1988). Betty Jean Newsome really did not get enough credit for the song, and according to the court case she started against James Brown, which stated he had nothing to do with writing the song, he also rarely paid her the royalties she was due. She lost the case, as far as I can tell and never did get any satisfaction. I believe Betty Jean Newsome. I believe she wrote the song, and I believe she did not profit from it as she should have done, which in turn perfectly proves the point she was making. The court believed something different, but then the law is often an ass.
James Brown’s performance was iconic, but perhaps without Newsome’s writing, he would not have had this song at all. Not only this, she was not properly rewarded in either recognition or in money for this huge hit, and she knew why: it’s a man’s world, just like this 1966 hit so beautifully and succinctly sets out. Rolling Stone magazine describes the song as “biblically chauvinistic”, but this is far too easy a reading. This critique on capitalism, how man buys money from man, how women are sidelined, is a far more subtle animal of a song. Betty Jean Newsome lists the material things that man made, and very neatly changes the reoccurring motif of the song in the final verse, instead writing ” Man thinks about our little bitty baby girls and our baby boys/Man made them happy, ’cause man made them toys”, reducing the extent of man’s involvement in child rearing to ‘making toys’, saying what legions of women who are left holding the baby, even if they are in happy marriages, are thinking. Men are so busy making and buying and selling, it is the things that are not listed that are interesting.
Newsome does not list any immaterial things, no lofty ideals of peace, of love, of support, and instead slips in the kicker of the final two lines, which makes her feelings about men and their selfish ways, absolutely clear. Betty Jean is my heroine. She writes so intelligently, so carefully, getting her blows against the patriarchy in, without Brown even realizing it:
This is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing, not one little thing, without a woman or a girl
He’s lost in the wilderness
He’s lost in bitterness, he’s lost lost
Without a woman there is no man, no man can be born without a woman’s sacrifice. No children are cared for – and the male rights activists can bite me, women overwhelmingly do all the heavy lifting of child bearing and rearing, the women are the rear guard, the home and hearth, the center and the source. The plaintive final lines detailing man’s ‘wilderness’ and ‘bitterness’ and how men are ‘lost lost’, encapsulate the reality of female life. Sacrifice over adventure. Creating toys and boats, or creating people. Betty weighs the yin and the yang, and finds the eternal male wanting, and I am with Betty.
I was not lucky enough to be able to escape the patriarchy, and Betty’s life experience led to this searing critique of the patriarchy. Every time I feel sad, or lost or down, I listen to Betty’s strength and rebellion pouring through the words of this song, and I feel stronger.
The longer I live the more the trinkets of the patriarchy disgust me. The more bombs fly and men’s wars tear up lives and landscape, the more I think the entire failed experiment needs to be dismantled. We have let men rule the world for long enough, I say let women take over. …and while we are about it, from now on, whenever I see this song as credited only to James Brown, I am going to make sure I do my best to rectify the situation and make sure the glorious Betty Jean Newsome gets the credit for one of the most iconic R & B tunes of all time.