Girls Just Want to Have Fun: Can We Call it a Feminist Anthem?

The year was 1983, a time that saw the birth of the moonwalk, the final episode of MASH and the debut of Fraggle Rock. As far as where women stood in 1983, the seedlings of a new “revolution” of sorts had been planted. Gloria Steinem was emerging as a prominent voice on the scene with the publication of her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. And then, you have Cyndi Lauper…

What has been reflectively touted as a feminist anthem for the 80s, Lauper’s hit song Girls Just Want to Have Fun tells a story and as seen in the video, a rather animated one at that. But can we legitimately call this hit a “feminist anthem”? Knowing what we know now, having soldiered through #MeToo, having butted up against glass ceilings and gender disparity in general, how should we interpret Cyndi Lauper’s musical/video plea for women to let their hair down and feel free to be, well, free?

The Great Lyric Flip

Many may not be aware that the original song was actually written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979. In this version, Hazard’s “parents” lecture him on the dangers of being seduced by women who are all about having “fun” with a capital S.E.X. And yet, the singer just can’t help himself, taking advantage of their lascivious longings when “the working day is done”—because forget comfy pants and a glass of wine while binge watching The Queen’s Gambit, pleasing this guy is apparently all that girls have on their mind after a grueling day of work. 

As far as the song lyrics go, the singer does manage to flip them on their head almost completely. Lauper cleverly subverts the original song and make it about a woman’s freedom of expression versus her unquenchable need to pleasure men. Kudos! The feminism that comes with turning a song on its head and owning it in a way that the original singer never could is definitely something to be applauded. And for that, Cyndi Lauper, a generation of little Xers donning hot pink legwarmers, popped collars and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts (which I still wear by the way—what can I say, comfort never goes out of style) thanks you!

The Captain Lou Conundrum

It is with the video for Girls Just Want to Have Fun, one of MTV’s more iconic offerings, that I have some questions. Enter, Captain Lou Albano, staple of the highly popular, can’t-look-away wrestling world of the 1980s. He stars as Lauper’s father. Granted, Captain Lou is supposed to embody a treacherously male-centric viewpoint, such that the girls wanting to be themselves and just “have fun” must escape. And in the video, Lauper does escape quite effectively (and ironically) by putting a wrestling move on the wrestler, pinning him to the wall and, count of ten, she exits the ring.

That she uses a mainstay of the WWF—an arena where during the 80s the women were relegated to eye candy and sex symbols (think Macho Man Savage and Elizabeth)—and symbolically escapes from this realm by way of using the mechanics of wrestling against itself is a definite nod to her feminist message. However, the final scenes of the video show that girls just having “fun” doesn’t really solve the problem.

What we are left with, apart from a parade of revelers having a house party in Lauper’s smallish room, is Captain Lou standing and hovering over Lauper’s seated mother (also her real mother). He is yelling, finger pointing, compelling this woman to shrink into herself in order to avoid his anger. This interaction continues as the parents walk down the hall to Lauper’s room, the mother notably wincing beneath the weight of the father’s exaggerated scolding. Finally, Captain Lou peers into the keyhole—the focus squarely on his eye. Male gaze takes the day here—just sayin’. Of course, the door does break open and Captain Lou is then buried by partygoers. However, the damage has already been done. Girls are having fun, people are freely dancing and cavorting, but what of the mother trapped forever in her chair within the super-confining context of that inescapable male gaze? Just something to think about…   Anne is a former English professor turned content writer. Holding a PhD in Literature, she spent almost a decade in academia putting that degree to use, until finally realizing it wasn’t exactly the best fit. A full-time writer for the past seven years, she’s learned a great deal about the numerous subjects she’s gotten to tackle, everything from real estate investing to the scarier side of online dating—sometimes more than she actually wants to learn. She can be contacted through [email protected].