Will Wilkinson’s super reductive here, but he identifies a certain prevalent motif in country music:
[C]ountry music, taken as a whole, has a position on life, taken as a whole. Small towns. Dirt roads. Love at first sight. Hot-blooded kids havin’ a good ol’ time. Gettin’ hitched. America! Raisin’ up ruddy-cheeked scamps who you will surely one day worry are having too good a hot-blooded time. Showing up for Church. Venturing confused into the big wide world only to come back to Alabama forever since there ain’t a damn single thing out there in the Orient or Paris, France what compares to that spot by the river under the trembling willows where first you kissed the girl you’ve known in your heart since second grade is the only girl you would ever truly love.
My question is: are female performers more likely to reject this (actually perfectly legitimate!) view of the world? It’s true that there are plenty of women in country who, like their male counterparts, endorse the ideas Wilkinson explicates. Faith Hill sings about being a mom and Gretchen Wilson sings about being a wife, but there’s a definite sub-genre of country about women who want to escape their small town environment because it’s stifling and too small. I’m thinking of Miranda Lambert’s “New Strings” or “Famous in a Small Town.” Taylor Swift makes a new home in the big smoke in “Mine” and “Mean.” Carrie Underwood is less spirited but still optimistic in “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” Even something grimmer, like Emmylou Harris’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” posits the exit from the small town as an escape. Terri Clark just called to say goodbye.
But when blokes have to hit the road, it’s not a happy occasion. It’s cause they’ve run into some kind of trouble, or simply because they’re no good ramblin’ men. Or have I forgotten a swathe of young country boys who want to get out of the sticks: rural Springsteens who are pulling out of here to win? And if there’s not, why is the dream of the big city and the bright lights a girl thing? Is it because women, shunted into the role of wives and mothers, are most likely to find their opportunities limited by the traditionalism of small town life? Or am I too eager to ferret out hints of liberalism in country music?