Dawn begins Chapter 1 with a nostalgia trip back to a “more innocent era,” the early 60s. One night after work, she passes a Johnny Rockets at closing, where she hears “Will You [Still] Love Me Tomorrow” coming from the jukebox:
The song brought up bittersweet memories — more bitter than sweet. Like many songs from that more innocent era, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” expresses feelings that most people would be too ashamed to verbalize. There’s something painful about the way its vulnerable heroine leaves herself wide open. She’s not looking for affirmation so much as absolution. All her man has to do is say he loves her — then a night of sin is transformed into a thing of beauty.
Reading that, I really had to wonder if she and I had heard the same song. Let’s start with the title: not sure how a music journalist got it so wrong, but the correct title is “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” That “still” means a lot in the context of the song
— which is clearly a plea by a woman whose boyfriend is trying to get her to have sex and won’t come out and say either that he loves her or that he’ll love her once he gets what he wants:
Tonight you’re mine completely
You give you love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?
Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Tonight with words unspoken
You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?
I’d like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?
That’s not a plea for absolution. That’s a plea for an assurance that she’s not being used and won’t be tossed aside — that his declaration of love isn’t just a way to get her into bed.
There’s nothing in those lyrics about his declaration of love transforming a “night of sin” into a “thing of beauty.” The narrator isn’t trying to convince herself that she’s not sinning; she wants to be sure that she’s not being deceived. She could ask, I suppose, whether he’d love her if she turned him down.
As for the 60s, what Dawn calls “innocence” I call “shame and denial.”
As we’ve discussed before, Americans fuck. A lot. Before marriage. And always have — even in the “innocent” 50s and early 60s. The difference between then and now is that back then, shame and social sanction prevented people from openly admitting that they fucked. In addition, there were real, dire consequences for girls and young women who got pregnant or were simply known to have had sex. You want song lyrics for this? Try “Love Child.” Try “Wake Up, Little Susie.” Hell, for a shotgun wedding, try “The River.”
Aspazia wrote about the mythical innocence of the 1950s recently, and I think she perfectly captures the real reason people pretended that they were good, chaste and pure:
Shame. Shame about sex is what gave shape to the fantasies that we have of the 50s. It wasn’t that people didn’t have sex back then, rather it was that the shame of having others find out was powerful enough to drive you to get an abortion. You might perform it on yourself. You might kill yourself rather than have others find out that you had been having sex. Shame lead to untold numbers of deaths, and probably untold numbers of abortions.
Many pro-lifers believe that abortion rates will drop if you ban it. But, if you pay attention closely to the reality of the 50s–not the fantasy–you will realize that probably nothing is more likely to shoot up abortion rates and female suicide rates than prohibiting abortion, contraception and sex education. The fact is that our own times, which seem to be full of sexual dysfunction, are probably not a whole lot different than the 50s, except in one way: women don’t have to be as ashamed of themselves now. If you find yourself pregnant, you really do have the option of keeping the child, being a single mother, and continuing on in your community. You have that option because shame is no longer the single most important force directing your life.
Shame about sex is what’s driving the narrator of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” She has to know before she has sex with her boyfriend that he loves her, that his love is real, because the consequences of being tossed aside were so great. Reliable birth control either didn’t exist, or was hard to obtain. If she found herself pregnant, she had few options: a shotgun wedding, an illegal and dangerous abortion, or being sent “away,” a practice that is experiencing an unfortunate revival. Even if she escaped pregnancy, if she were found out, she would suffer serious social consequences.
Part of what makes the song so poignant is the delivery, which Amanda argues here was a feature of many of the girl-group songs of the era, transforming lyrics that were essentially male fantasies coming out of women’s mouths into something far more feminist: these singers conveyed that they knew exactly what was going on, and that their choices were limited, but they were trying to get what they could out of the situation.
Back to Dawn. As we know, she blames a whole lot on the sexual revolution of the 60s: now that everyone’s just giving it away, it’s harder to have the kind of leverage that the girl in “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” exerted in order to turn sex into a promise of everlasting love and marriage:
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t transform a sexual encounter — or a string of encounters — into a real relationship.
She does cop to insecurity being the driving force behind her behavior while she was sleeping around, beginning from the time when she was 20, a virgin, and her boyfriend wound up leaving her for a sexually-experienced friend. The conclusion she drew from that was that she could have kept him had she slept with him, so she began to sleep around. It sounds like a fairly grim time, frankly. But somehow she can’t seem to understand that sex isn’t the problem, it’s insecurity, and the feeling that she’s not in control.
Is chastity one way to get control? Undoubtedly. And it may be right for her. But many, many women are in control of their lives and their sexuality and don’t need the kind of rigid rules that Dawn prescribes for everyone.
Sexual freedom made her feel out of control; she likens it to a “drug habit.” It’s not surprising that someone that insecure and out of control would find comfort in Big Daddy Church, with its central authority and rules and prescriptions and ritual. Though it’s pretty creepy that she thinks that women in general need to be protected from their own freedom:
Do you believe that you have the right to own an Uzi? If you’re a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, maybe you do — [after] all, the right to bear arms is in the United States Constitution. But having the right to own one doesn’t mean you necessarily should — and you might not like to live in a place where people tote them around.
Likewise, the pursuit of happiness is in the Constitution [sic*] — and it’s safe to say that many single women in the New York City area where I live believe that part of that right is an active sex life.** Magazines like Cosmopolitan, many TV shows from Oprah on down, as well as films, books, and pop songs urge single women to take the sexual pleasure that’s due them. While love is celebrated, women are told that a satisfying sexual “hookup” does not require love — only respect. If “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” was good enough for Sixties soul diva Aretha Franklin, it’s supposed to be good enough for us too.
The fruits of this accepted single-woman lifestyle resemble those of a drug habit more than a dating paradigm. In a vicious cycle, women feel lonely because they are not loved, so they have casual sex with men who do not love them.
Ugh, where to start? First, what’s so wrong with respect? She seems to think that it’s a poor substitute for love, but, Jeebus. If you’re not so confused or insecure that you think that anyone who blows a kiss your way must be in love with you, you know that respect isn’t something you settle for when you can’t get love. Respect should be a minimum requirement of any kind of sexual encounter, whether or not love is also present.
Then there’s the comparison of sexual freedom to dangerous weapons and drug addiction, and, later, overeating. I’m really not sure what to say about that, it’s so fucked up.
And did it ever occur to her that those men might be lonely, too?
But most insidious is this idea that thinking you have the right to conduct your sex life the way you see fit is somehow an abuse of freedoms. She’s not the first one to float this idea recently — Dinesh D’Souza explicitly argues in his new book that the sexual liberation of women is an “abuse of freedom” that just invites terrorists to attack us, and Nancy “Really! I’m an honorary guy!” Levant thinks that women have gotten a little too used to this whole freedom-and-voting thing, which is taking them away from their biological imperatives. And that doesn’t even count all the women writing lately about how women’s suffrage was a bad idea.
Sorry, Dawn. Just because you can’t handle your own freedom doesn’t mean I have to give up mine.
* Actually, it’s in the Declaration of Independence.
** Because only New York women fuck, yanno. Once you leave the five boroughs, women reproduce by parthenogenesis. Well, maybe in Staten Island, too.