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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Reflection: To be Mick Jagger or to be with Mick Jagger?

Adrienne Murr ’25 reflects on female performance, gender envy and the trappings of rock-n-roll.

mick jagger.jpg

Liberal arts education is about asking the hard-hitting questions. What is gender? What is self? Is Dartmouth a panopticon? Are Marvel films ‘cinema’? Who gets to decide? Among the scholarly discourse, one intellectual inquiry has haunted me for years: To be Mick Jagger or to be with Mick Jagger?

My initial, heteronormative instinct was to be with Mick Jagger. While admittedly allured by the premise of having a Maroon 5 song named after me (Moves Like Murr has some undeniable alliterate swag), I’d rather perform the role of “rockstar’s girlfriend” off stage. Think Penny Lane, Marianne Faithful, Kate Moss, Alexa Chung and Devon Lee Carlson. 

For those of us who are less well-versed in female tropes, a rockstar’s girlfriend is the ultimate muse; songs are written about her, coats are named after her. She comes in many different shapes and a few different sizes (0-4). The rockstar’s girlfriend is your resident “it girl.” Tabloids love her, PETA hates her. When not on tour, she’s either modeling for Calvin Klein’s latest underwear campaign or photographed holding an insufferably avant-garde novel in last night’s eyeliner. The rockstar’s girlfriend rivals her androgynous boyfriend’s sex appeal. She’s paradoxical in all the right ways: masculine and feminine, sexy and sophisticated, wild and low maintenance.

While the male rockstar/rockstar’s girlfriend binary may seem like nothing more than a vapid false dilemma, it opens the door to broader gender predicaments. My initial longing to be the rockstar’s girlfriend, rather than the rockstar — the subject of a song, rather than its writer, reflects my prioritization of feminized beauty over masculinized agency. The problem with the rockstar’s girlfriend archetype lies in its apostrophe s, framing a woman's existence under the ownership of a possessive noun. Without The Beatles, there would be no Penny Lane. In typical college-essay fashion, I could resolve this tension with the classic “a little bit of both” thesis, lobbying to adopt the aesthetic of the rockstar’s girlfriend, while exercising the agency of the rockstar. But this compromise also feels unsatisfying, for what purpose do aesthetics even serve? What value should be placed on beauty?

I’ve always aspired to be beautiful. I don’t know if this sounds stupidly vain, or remarkably obvious, but it’s the truth. As women, we are conditioned to derive value, in part, from our physical desirability. We style our hair, paint our nails, shave our legs and perfume our wrists for what? Because it’s a productive use of time and money — or, rather, because we are expected to perform these gendered acts of presentation in an effort to market ourselves to men?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve identified as someone who “loves being a girl.” Only recently have I questioned what that even means. Take gendered fashion, for example. I feel my best wearing aggressively feminine silhouettes, some of which unintentionally infantilize and or sexualize my body. I could pretend that every time I wear a mini skirt it’s in a subversive, “reclaiming my femininity by ironically exaggerating it,” Sofia Coppola sort of way, but the reality is, no level of self-awareness can escape the male gaze. At the end of the day, I’m just a gendered body unconsciously catering my appearance toward men. And though I recognize this is problematic, I enjoy doing it. 

Should I feel guilty for adhering to, and enjoying, constructed notions of femininity? On the one hand, by dressing overtly feminine I’m positioning myself as an object of beauty and catering to the male gaze. At the same time, devaluing girlish things, such as dresses, on the basis of femininity is internalized misogyny. Disowning the female performance asserts that femininity is problematic — which it can be — but that also feels sexist, leading to the conclusion that you simply can’t win as a woman in today’s economy.  

Which ostensibly brings me back to the initial dilemma posed by Mr. Jagger, his theoretical girlfriend, and the liberal arts pursuit of ruminating over largely unanswerable questions. What does it mean to enjoy certain aspects of gender performance? Am I a bad feminist for longing to be beautiful? For aspiring to be the rockstar’s girlfriend? What is gender? What is self? And where does Keith Richards fall into all of this?