Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…

I just happened to be surfing past the  Broadway Channel on Sirius XM, and found myself startled at the tone of the lyrics of that Hit Parade smash from the 1956 musical, “The Most Happy Fella,” by the great composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, “Standing on the Corner (Watching All The Girls Go By)”—especially at the end:

Saturday, and I’m so broke
Haven’t got a girl, and that’s no joke
Still I’m living like a millionaire
When I take me down to Main Street and I review the harem parading for me there..

Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by
Standing on the corner underneath the springtime sky!

Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking
Or for the “Woo!” look in your eye
You’re only standing on the corner watching all the girls
Watching all the girls, watching all the girls
Go by!

Nobody saw anything wrong with these sentiments in 1956. It was fun, it was cute, it was innocent! A bunch of guys hanging out, leering and ogling women as they walked on the sidewalk, with “woo”—that is, lust— in their eyes and illegal thoughts in their brains, and periodically wolf-whistling at “the harem.”

Sometimes we forget—sometimes women especially forget—that our culture’s ethics regarding sexual etiquette and respect does advance, and has, as much as self-serving activists would have us believe otherwise.


65 thoughts on “Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…

  1. Huh?

    Cat calling does not a rape culture make.

    The song even identifies their thoughts is as far as it goes.

    Not sure, but cat calling is still very accepted in certain subsets of the greater community.

    The song even acknowledges a social taboo on “going further”…

    “Illegal thoughts”. I’d never hear you endorse that notion…

    If pop culture songs are the measure on this, then no, we haven’t improved…

    • Cat calling is not acceptable. It’s unconsented sexual harassment. What is creepy about the song isn’t that the guys have “illegal thoughts,” but that they think its nothing to be ashamed of to be fantasizing about rape, thus proclaiming it in public.

      It’s not illegal or unethical to think about raping someone, but it’s nothing to be proud of either. Only in a genuine “rape culture” would someone sing that and not expect disapproval.


        • Social opprobrium controls cultural norms to a great extent. If a respectable individual can proclaim a desire to commit rape without fear of widespread disapproval, then the conduct itself is not especially disapproved.

          Imagine someone saying, “I’d never do it, but I often think about how nice it would be to have a black slave!”

          • Sure, in that instance, but this:

            “I often think about how nice it would be to have a slave!”

            Hardly an issue. Anyone knows such a comment is flippant.

            Adding black to the comment belies far more than a desire for slavery were one to say it.

      • And there’s this, which I foolishly didn’t note, but should have: in the 1950s, pop music was middle class and mainstream, mirroring mainstream values. That faded away in the Sixties. Broadway is still middle class personified, but there hasn’t been a mainstream pop hit coming out of there since “Music of the Night,” and that’s even a stretch. Sure, hip-hop and rap and punk have rape and sexual abuse all over the place, and the mainstream culture regards it as toxic and corrupting.

      • Perhaps just a quibble, but I find it interesting that the line “You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking” evoked the understanding that they were alluding to fantasizing about raping the girl. My first take was that it was merely an exaggerated euphemism for “get in trouble” as opposed to endorsing violent and criminal thoughts.

        • Kind of a “What your thinking” is actually tame conduct- the likes of which, if you did it, wouldn’t send you to jail.

          Perhaps all the singer is “thinking about” is mild flirtation…conduct which would not send him to jail.

          Interesting interpretation.

  2. What “self serving activists” are saying our culture’s ethics haven’t advanced?
    I’m sure most believe we’ve got a ways to go, but I don’t know of any that would claim no progress has been made.

    • Sometimes you ask questions like this, and I wonder if you’re actually asking a question, or if you’re being purposefully obtuse and bank on a lack of response.

      Basically the entirety of third wave feminism has said a variation of “Sure, women have more right now than they ever had before, but they live in constant fear of [insert something scary sounding and sexually based here] at one point or another.

      As an example, Naomi Wolf said in a panel discussion earlier this year that “We need feminism now more than ever because women on campuses are more likely than ever to be raped on campus.” Which is factually untrue, the rate of rape has been going down year over year for decades, and women on campus are about 30% less likely to be raped than women off a campus.

      • HT, I will cop to being obtuse on occasion, but didn’t mean to be this time.

        I think your Naomi Wolf instance is a perfect response; I didn’t know that. It’s a good counter-example to my doubt that anyone said that – apparently someone did.

        I’m still a little skeptical about “the entirety of third wave feminism” because what you suggest they’re saying doesn’t confirm your thesis.

        You have them saying, “Sure, women have more right now than they ever had before, but they live in constant fear of xxx.” That doesn’t sound like denying progress (unlike your Naomi Wolf example). The ‘but’ doesn’t contradict what precedes it.

        So, you moved my needle a little…

        • They won’t deny ANY progress, they’ll just minimize real progress behind a smokescreen of made up issues…. Patriarchy! Rape Culture! Manspreading! Mansplaining! Microagressions! (Thank you little red squiggles)

          But you kind of moved the goalposts there, Jack’s comment was specifically about progress with sexual connotations:

          “Sometimes we forget—sometimes women especially forget—that our culture’s ethics regarding sexual etiquette and respect does advance, and has, as much as self-serving activists would have us believe otherwise.”

          (Emphasis Added) I don’t know if you can make an argument against third wave feminism having a distinctly sex-negative view that their second wave and suffragette foremothers didn’t have.

    • Surely you recognize that the current atmosphere on college campuses that presumes that male students are thinly disguised sexual predators with no respect or concern for female sexual autonomy is based on a warped, and intentionally warped position that posits no progress in this area since the 1950s? You did notice the premise of the Rolling Stone articale, yes? Why else would the DOE’s “Dear Colleague ” letter demand presumed guilt of sexual assault, which is what it amounts to? Why do I even hear “rape culture” from feminists, when normal, civilized men simply do not think this way, and have not for decades? Where does the “war on women” rhetoric come from in the 21st Century, if not self-serving faux victim-mongering? Women in the workplace, campus and household were considered, to a great extent, sexual quarry above all else through the 50’s. That attitude is no longer acceptable to men or women, but the undercurrents even of H. Clinton’s campaign pretend otherwise. It’s good politics, or so some think. It’s also a lie.

      Does that answer your question?

      • Sorry, not in the least.

        All those examples are cases of where past behavior has come to be seen as unacceptable, i.e. there has been an advancement in what we take as evidence of values. Less tolerance for catcalls etc. doesn’t mean we haven’t advanced, in fact it means the opposite.

        Am I misconstruing your point? Because it sounds like you’re making the opposite case.

        I’m not trying to debate whether the current line being drawn is or is not silly or over-stated: I’m just reacting to your saying that activists are claiming there’s been no progress. And other than the Naomi Wolf example pointed out earlier, it seems to me quite the opposite. The shrillness of voices isn’t a claim that we haven’t moved, but rather that more movement is desirable.

        • I think that the catcall example is apt… But think about that. Catcalls are less acceptable now, less common now than they were previously. We all agree on that, I think. So why then are there viral videos of “Street Harassment” that make Catcalls seem like a form of bigotry on the rise?

          Think back to the woman who walked in New York City for 10 hours to highlight the problem of everyday misogyny. I’ll link it below. These things just seem so… manufactured. “Woman Harassed over 100 times”. There was harassment on there, no doubt, but they also counted instances of people saying “Hello” or “have a nice day” as harassment. The horror.

          • HT, I agree with you about that video, and I agree with Jack about the relative shrillness of voice around issues that only a decade ago would have seemed trivial, or even less.

            But to claim it’s a function of “them” rather than of “us” I think is judgmental. I think of reformed smokers as analogous: they’re hyper-critical and hyper-sensitive, both compared to smokers and to long-time ex-smokers. That doesn’t mean they’re denying progress in anti-smoking legislation – it just means they’ve become even less tolerant of smoking in other areas.

            Most people don’t remember being able to smoke on planes, and would be highly indignant if anyone tried it now. Many smokers (and long-time ex-smokers) roll their eyes at Bourbon Street in New Orleans going non-smoking in bars, but just-turned-ex-smokers are probably in the Mike Bloomberg camp of “it’s about time!”

            So who’s changed? They who are often on the vanguard of what will come to be seen as normal? Or us, who have changed more slowly perhaps than the norm?

            Norms change: other than the cited Naomi example, I don’t think most activists are culturally blind to the past, they’re just impatient. Or to put it more cleanly: they’re more impatient than others.

            • I dunno Charles, I’ll take a step back and think about it.

              I gave the Wolf example because I thought she would be the most recognizable. I could just as easily have said Jessica Valente, Mary Koss, Margaret Atwood, Laci Green, or Anita Sarkeesian, but I think in order to believe that current feminism doesn’t infer, if not outright state that gender relations are at an all time low, you can’t have spent much time reading their work.

              And now I’ve considered us vs. them. There’s something to that, perhaps as a thinking exercise, but I think the comparison is poor. One of the overriding hang-ups for me is the dishonesty. The science is firmly on the side of tobacco use having negative health effects, feminist theory is built on sand, and adhered to like religious tenants in spite of facts and reason. Another is while anti smoking zealots are against a behavior, rape culture theory is against a demographic. And there’s a measure of confirmation bias in a reformed smoker where they made a choice, and then they rejected that choice, that doesn’t really have a parallel in a feminist.

              I don’t think they’re on the vanguard of what will one day be seen as normal, I can’t think that, because I have to think that over time, the truth will win out. If there were more feminist voices that were less…. fanatic, I’d have more hope for the group as a whole, but there’s a reason that as a society, more people adhere to the belief that men and women should be equal (80%+) and fewer people are accepting the feminist label (20%-) Even assuming a 1:1 correlation, that means that 60% of Americans hold the majority belief that men and women should be equal, but have a disagreement with feminism.

          • Here are several counter-examples:

            —This is from an academic conference in March titled “Educators talk on feminism during session.”

            The panelists included NE history assistant professor Sara Reed, Texas Wesleyan University history professor Elizabeth Alexander and NE psychology assistant professor Jeanell Buck.

            “In the third wave, females are stronger and more empowered than before. The third wave is still being defined, but women have made progress and are breaking boundaries.”

            Here’s a quote from a Time magazine article on International Women’s Day a month ago:

            Here’s a brief look at some of the big improvements that have been made for women since Beijing. There are still major obstacles for women: violence against women is still a pandemic, too few women are in leadership roles and most workplaces don’t make enough accommodations for working mothers, especially in the United States. But there have been some brief glimmers of progress, evidence that when we commit to global action for women, we actually can move the needle toward greater gender equality. Here are some stats that will make your day…”

            As far as feminists criticizing Naomi Wolf, I couldn’t find the quote Humble Talent was talking about, but here’s a few quotes from Wikipedia regarding Wolf’s latest book:

            “Published in 2012 on the topic of the vagina, Vagina: A New Biography was widely criticized, especially by feminist authors….Calling it “ludicrous” at, Katie Roiphe wrote, “I doubt the most brilliant novelist in the world could have created a more skewering satire of Naomi Wolf’s career than her latest book.”[36] In The Nation, Katha Pollitt said the book was “silly” and contained “much dubious neuroscience and much foolishness”; she concluded, “It’s lucky vaginas can’t read, or mine would be cringing in embarrassment.”

            And so forth. So there’s a whole bunch of examples of how she is farther from the rule than the exception, not closer.

          • Yes, it is good business. It’s probably also the definition of “activist,” without whom we’d be moving forward at a lot slower pace. This is a bad thing, how?

            • It’s a lie? You’ve taken this stance before, and it confuses me. It basically amounts to the ends justifying the means.

              • HT, my apologies for imprecision here, and thanks for calling me on it.

                I do not mean to justify anyone lying. If someone says there has been no progress and there has in fact been progress, that’s a lie, and I’m with you in condemning it. And the first part of Jack’s sentence did indeed talk about “activists always say there’s no progress…”

                I should have been clear that I was reacting to the rest of his sentence, “…or minimize that which has been made. It’s just good business.”

                I think Jack was being hyperbolic here on the first part; your example of Naomi Wolf is the only example given in this thread so far, and I gave five counter-examples in return. But to such examples, if more be found, I totally agree with you – such statements are lies and should be condemned.

                But I also agree with him, and I think with you, that almost all activists do indeed “minimize” progress. Though perhaps unlike you, I don’t see this as something to be condemned, or even as something remarkable. It’s what activists do – they focus on the task ahead, the remaining room for improvement, blah blah.

                By contrast, “conservatives” (in the broadest and best sense of that word) remind us of tradition, of heritage, of the miles we’ve travelled, the depth of what’s been accomplished by those who’ve gone before, and the worthiness of those who have struggled on our behalf.

                It takes two to tango. Almost by definition, some people are going to focus more on celebrating the past (e.g. the military), and some people are going to focus more on the destination ahead (e.g. MLK). I don’t see much value in condemning one side or the other in this ongoing dialectic.

  3. Jack,
    You told me a few weeks ago, during the course of a disagreement over leadership, my flaw was the belief that values became out-dated. Isn’t this an example (along with your Burt the Cop post) that they do?

    Also, while I agree with the spirit of your post, I feel like the line of thinking is a dangerous one. I’m not sure how much traction one would have gotten in the 60s with the argument “Sure, Blacks still aren’t allowed to vote nor are they paid equally to their white counterparts but, less than 100 years ago, slavery was still legal. So, let’s keep some perspective.”

    Hope you’re well!


    • Our values DO NOT change.

      Where we falter and where this objection is raised is when the minor rules that we create to protect and reflect our values begin to change. Those rules change when, after further meditation, we recognize that a particular rule does not fully protect the value (in the cat-calling song instance). Or we change a rule when we recognize that all this time it has not been protecting a value or reflecting that value like we thought it did. We will also change rules when we recognize that rule takes two values into account, but overemphasizes one or misprioritizes one of the values compared to how we rank the values as a community.

      If you ever hear someone say “our values are changing”:

      1) What they really mean is that “the minor rules we create to defend and reflect those values” are being adjusted to MORE PERFECTLY defend and reflect those values.

      2) OR, as a matter of cultural rot, succeeding generations do not live their lives practicing the disciplines that defend and reflect those VALUES. But that is a matter of education.

      • To your point, Jonathan Haidt has a great piece of work on the five moral values that seem to underpin all societies’ views. They are: Harm and Care; Fairness and Reciprocity; Group and Loyalty; Authority and Respect; and Purity and Sanctity.

        He has a great set of data to suggest that while all people agree on the first two, liberals put a little more stress on them than do conservatives. When it comes to the latter three, conservatives put a LOT more emphasis on them than do liberals.

        He’s collected data across nations, political leanings, genders, dog ownership, and geographies. It’s remarkably solid. And it explains a whole lot of difference between people on various issues. It’s why liberals can see flag-burning as freedom of speech, while conservatives view it as deeply insulting; it even explains why conservatives favor dog breeds that are loyal while liberals prefer dog breeds that are independent.

        Good stuff to explain how to talk to each other: Check him out on TED Talks at

            • Still will be awhile. Perused some of it, but need to read some parallel pieces on this topic.

              Currently in Spring rush in our industry combined with a parallel reading of the Synoptic Gospels with the Greek text.

              • Interesting stuff keeping you busy! Should you find the TED talk interesting, the book is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012, Jonathan Haidt. Goes much more into his own research, tracks back to Plato and Hume and Jefferson, and the shift moral psychology in the 80s and 90s.

    • Those first two are only sexist with the context of the culture at the time. In and of themselves, they’re just mildly amusing. I can see the argument for the second one being sexist, but…. meh. I delegate the opening of certain jars to my husband. Men are good for that sort of thing.

  4. I was “catcalled” for the first time in my life a couple weeks ago. I didn’t feel sexually harassed, just bewildered, as this NEVER happens where I live. Sure, guys will “admire the view,” as it were, but they never say anything to the woman. Being a small city in Mennonite country, I guess we just don’t tolerate rudeness here as much as big city folk do, I don’t know. But that’s what it is – rude, not threatening.

      • While I agree that catcalling is wrong, and needs to stop, I just can’t lend a single speck of credit to the idea that because someone finds a behavior threatening, we per se have to do something about it.

        Individual people’s neurosis cannot be the basis for action. There are some people afraid of birds, that doesn’t mean we should shoot every bird out of the sky, or have ‘bird free zones’.

          • So what? If I found your posts threatening, should you have a duty to not post here? The fact that a behavior CAN be found intimidating doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to be intimidated, or that the behavior is wrong, per se. The fact that THIS behavior is both wrong and intimidating is a coincidence, with intimidating being irrelevant.

  5. I just watched the number from the musical. I’ve never seen anything sweeter and more innocent. A barbershop quartet arrangement. A cop showing up to (unconstitutionally) harass and intimidate the group for loitering and simply looking at girls. A guy saying he doesn’t have enough money to buy a girl a bottle of pop. The girls fully clothed in chaste ’50s attire. Rape culture? Huh?

    As a young lad in the late ’60s, I asked my great college professor friend why he’d been engaged to so many different women when he was young (in the ’50s). Before offering me another cigarette, he replied, “In those days, it was the only way you could get them into bed.”

    • How about that infernal “Christmas” song…

      ♫♪I’ve got to get home…♫♪
      ♫♪But, Baby it’s cold outside…♫♪

      ♫♪But really, no, means no…♫♪
      ♫♪Here, Let me slip you a mickey…♫♪

      (I used a little artistic license there to interpret the verses)

      • That song doesn’t offend me actually — although I do have female friends who hate it. To me, the song comes across as flirting between a couple who regularly has sex. What woman hasn’t been convinced to have sex with her partner even if she originally wasn’t in the mood? I’m sure that’s true for men too.

        But the Sixteen Candles movie REALLY bothers me. If I recall correctly, our romantic lead puts his passed out girlfriend in a car and tells the nerd hero, “have fun.” The next day it is revealed that they had sex and she doesn’t remember it at all.

        I have other problems with Sixteen Candles too. It did not age well.

        • “Say, what’s in this drink?”

          The exact line from the song…

          either showing the drinker realizes there is a hefty amount of booze or it’s a Roofie Colada…in which case her ability to consent is being taken away.

          Is there another interpretation for that line?

          “What woman hasn’t been convinced to have sex with her partner even if she originally wasn’t in the mood? I’m sure that’s true for men too.”


          I’ve been in that conversation before, it’s very short:

          Wife: Hey honey…

          Me: Gads I’m mentally exhausted, today was a drain, I can’t keep my eyes open, I almost fell asleep driving home. I’m spiritually and physically drained. Alas, were we to be broken into, I’d be incapable of rising to the occasion to defend hearth and home.

          Wife: Do you wann…

          Me: OK!

          • Ah ha ha, for once I have to agree with Texagg, at least about the irreversibility of roles on this issue!

            Variation on the theme:
            Guy 1: What was the worst sex you ever had?
            Guy 2: Fan-tastic!

            • You know, I added in the line about men as an afterthought because I didn’t want responses about “you’re so sexist” and the like. Damned if you, damned if you don’t. 🙂

              • We sometimes need to be convinced as well, it’s just that we are more open and receptive to a variety of supporting reasons…and more quickly recognize the veracity and soundness of those reasons and how they outweigh any objections previously raised…

                  • It occurred to me the other day, that, given *on average* men have the urge for sexual fulfillment more often than women, and arguably WAY MORE OFTEN, that, had women’s sexual urges evolved even a percentage more frequent, that mankind would have never bothered getting around to making civilization, let alone technological advancements…

                    A hypothesis.

          • My PG interpretation — it’s Christmas, she’s drinking egg nog, and realizes she is drinking the brandy-laced version.

            The “Go to Jail” interpretation — he’s pulling a Bill Cosby.

  6. I actually saw a production of The Most Happy Fella a couple of weeks ago. It was staged by our School of Music as their annual “opera” performance, and it certainly has a number of roles to challenge even strong voice majors; the title role in the original production was played by Robert Weede, better known for his Rigoletto than for any Broadway work. As a work of theatre, of course, it’s pretty dreadful. As a snapshot of the social values of the era in which it was created, it is illuminating.

    What struck me about “Standing on the Corner” was not that the men singing that song seemed sexist or predatory, but rather that virtually no one in the audience thought so. (Indeed, I was more put off by the music-hall pseudo-Italian accents.) Part of the reason is that, as you noted, Jack, the most problematic part of the lyrics comes near the end, by which time we’re paying more attention to the music itself and to the staging than we are to the words. Moreover, the fact is that, in the moment, we often react differently than we would if we really had a chance to think.

    Also, aesthetic distance works the same way in these situations as it does in, say, portrayals of violence. We may not like it that (to reference another 1950s musical) the Sharks and Jets “rumble,” but we have no inclination to intervene. The women—neither the actors nor the characters—who scamper across the stage to avoid the leers of the titular corner-standers in “Standing on the Corner” are not in any real danger, and we know it. A real-life situation, however, has a more open-ended second act, the stakes are higher, and the consequences of action (or inaction) are real and palpable. (And we know it.)

    It is easy, in other words, to get caught up in the story and the music of The Most Happy Fella and to leave the social values unexamined. That happens a lot when we consider plays and musicals from the 1950s. My Fair Lady is far more sexist (to the point where I can’t enjoy it at all) than Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play from 40-something years earlier on which it is based.

    I used William Inge’s Bus Stop as a text in my Beginning Directing class this spring. Anyone who has seen the Don Murray/Marilyn Monroe movie is likely to regard the play as something of a romantic romp: attractive young couple ends up together despite the odds. Yet when I say it’s a play about a stalker who wins, virtually everyone in the room nods in agreement. Why? Because those students have been asked to read the play carefully, to determine character motivations, etc., not simply to be caught up in the play’s apparent lightness of tone.

    The point is that what we see at first glance and what we see upon examination aren’t always the same. Moments like these allow us interrogate the presuppositions to our understanding of events. Yes, that moment in The Most Happy Fella is a more than little creepy when we think about it, but it isn’t presented that way for a variety of structural and thematic reasons.

    If we play it right, we might be able to turn moments like these into actual conversations, perhaps even to have all of us pay a little more attention to the consequences of our actions. There’s a line at which “boys will be boys” ceases to be a defense: where is that line? Am I hearing more complaints from female students about cat-calling now than I did two decades ago because the problem is worse, or because the worse problems are better? Many African-Americans suggest that racism is no longer socially acceptable, but that also means its still very real manifestations now come as a surprise, and victims are blindsided—does a similar phenomenon apply here with respect to gender? Is it inconsistent for a young woman to be angry about being cat-called one day and to say her day was made when a stranger complimented her appearance the next? (This is the only one of these questions to which I have an answer: No. There’s a difference, and I’m going to trust her to know it.)

    Apologies for going on rather longer than I intended.

    • Comment of the Day…I know I have a bias for this topic, but that was excellent perspective, Rick.

      This also why I refuse to change of leave out the lyrics or lines that make people uncomfortable in 50’s shows. The heroine’s reference in Fiorello! to good guy hero Fiorello LaGuardia having leave to beat her really sticks out now, but 50’s audiences just brushed it off. We need to remember that.

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