The Social Significance of No Doubt’s “Just A Girl”

Gender Reveal Poster. Photo by author.

Writing “Just A Girl”

Lead singer of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani wrote Tragic Kingdom‘s 1995 single “Just A Girl” to express the self-awareness of her gender’s implications in society. She was living at home with her strict parents into her twenties–a situation that many struggling millennials currently understand. One night, while driving home, she thought about the vulnerability of being a girl:

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m in a car, right now. I’m driving home. It’s like one in the morning, and if something did happen to me, I’m vulnerable because I’m a girl’…I just wanted to write a song to express how I was feeling in that moment…”

Gwen Stefani. Behind the Song.

No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” uses satire to express contrary opinions.

Girl is defined as a female human from birth through childhood and adolescence to attainment of adulthood when she becomes a woman. [Wikipedia]

In today’s society, the term “girl” rarely offends self-identified females of any age because of its frequent use; however, the problem with this is the subliminal message. If the first definition of “girl” means a “female child,” then why do we refer to self-identified females of any age as “girl?” Society does not tend to refer to grown men as “boys;” unless in an informal setting.

Taking the first definition of “girl,” the song demonstrates how childlike women are perceived and treated. The term “girl” reinforces the belief that feminine-presenting people are weaker than others in every situation. According to this thinking, like children, women should not be alone in public, especially at night; presumably because they are more likely to be targeted by criminals. Furthermore, women are perceived as incapable of having enough intelligence to make wise decisions without influence from a man; therefore, they will remain to be seen intellectually as young children.

From a young age, self-identified females are taught to be fearful of walking the streets alone at night.

Walking dark streets without male company could end in assault, robbery, getting lost, and so on. Society manipulates women to believe that they cannot live an independent life, safely. When they try to fight the stereotypes by living their lives without restraint, some do in fact meet one or more of those unfortunate ends, regardless. Women can’t seem to win; however instead of making streets safer and teaching self-identified males to respect women, most of these males are encouraged to continue feeding the inequality. For instance, when girls and women are raped, many victims are blamed for it. Rather than righting the wrong done by the perpetrator with appropriate punishment, the first question tends to be something along the lines of “What was she wearing” or “Did she do something to provoke the behavior?”

The moment that I step outside

So many reasons

For me to run and hide

I can’t do the little things I hold so dear

‘Cause it’s all those little things

That I fear

“Just A Girl.” No Doubt. Tragic Kingdom.

While it is common for the general public to observe others on a daily basis, self-identified females become aware in their early years that self-identified males look at them as objects more often than as fellow citizens. Girls and women are constantly reminded of their lower status by this socially accepted form of sexual harassment. Boys and men may gaze over a girl’s or woman’s body, but if she dares to speak up in defense, she will often receive the same types of questions asked to a self-identified female rape victim: “What choices did you make to cause this reaction?” The implication is always the same: “How might this be your fault?”

Even though the majority of the lyrics in “Just A Girl” are satirical, the song repeats the line “I’ve had it up to here.” It’s a reminder of how it feels to live this reality. It is harmful to perceive victims as objects, to pull them over for driving late at night, and to question the victim themselves why they were assaulted. Gwen Stefani is pushing back against corrupt male dominance.

“Just A Girl” Music Video

Director, Mark Kohr strategically focuses the camera to switch between a men’s bathroom and a women’s bathroom, divided by a wall next to each other. The appearance is drastically different in order to be symbolic of gender roles: the men’s bathroom lacks any beauty; the women’s bathroom is like a fancy hotel room. In addition, the bathrooms are designed to display how each gender should use their time in those rooms. The men rock out on their instruments; meanwhile, the women make themselves glamourous on their side. None of the men do anything to alter their appearances; therefore, the men should be careless. On the other hand, the women should be as overly decorated as the room in which they find themselves. In the end, the band and other guests join the women in their room for a party.

If only real-life gender norms were like the ending of the video. The song is the band’s second most popular single, and it remains relevant twenty-five years later.

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published on the author’s HubPages in 2014, but it has since been revised and republished here.

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