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Girl Culture in 1960s USA
The 1960’s were a time typically characterised by sex, drugs and rock, yet in examining the song Will you still love me tomorrow (WYSLMT) in context with this backdrop of a relaxation of social taboos about sex and race, the song appears almost archaic. Yet for most adolescent girls growing up in the United States in the 1960’s there was a significant double standard in what being a ‘good girl’ involved and being a ‘good guy’. The article Ask Any Girl (AAG) by Patricia Smith refers to a compulsory heterosexuality that existed during this period and the influence this had on girl culture. Although Smith suggests that there was a homosociality evident in songs by female groups in this period that solidified girl culture, through analysis of WYSLMT, it is evident that this was not the case in this song.
While songs by male artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis for example, referred to sexual conquests, girl groups wrote of ‘the multifaceted angst’ of their precarious social position. WYSLMT delves into the potential disappointment that the girl may experience when her lover leaves her. It places the woman at the man’s mercy and removes her of all agency and autonomy, asking ‘will my heart be broken when the night meets the morning sun?’ The Shirelles directly referred to issues that concerned girls at the time such as reputation, boyfriends who have lost interest or cheated on them. They appealed to adolescent girls of the 60’s as sympathetic older friends to the average troubled teenage girl. However while other artists songs addressed girls as their audience, speaking to a plural ‘you’ or ‘us’, WYSLMT speaks directly to the man involved instead.
The Shirelles paved the way for girl bands like the Supremes who in a later time could sing more openly about sexual desire with songs like You can’t hurry love, Where did our love go and Baby Love. While the Supremes could sing quite explicitly about a ‘burning burning yearning deep inside me’, this was not an option for The Shirelles who were more discrete in their references to sex.
The social and sexual pressures on adolescent girls in the early 60’s were combatted with this escape into a homosocial world of girl culture, were females could share their experiences and gain empathy from other young women. WYSLMT voices their biggest dream, that ‘tonight with words unspoken you’ll say that I’m the only one’ and also their biggest fear that come morning he will leave them. Female desirability in the 1960s was a difficult territory to navigate with girls pressured to be ‘pure’ and have no sexuality or sexual desire in them but somehow gain the attention of a male who would marry and reproduce with them. This far away dream of a male saviour is referred to as a ‘lasting treasure’, and their fear that for the male it is simply a meaningless ‘moment’s pleasure’ supports the idea that adolescent girls believed that the only possible future for them was one of heterosexuality and there was no alternative but to marry for life and bear children.
These shared experiences drew girls together but to some extent also pushed them away from ever being more than friends and confidantes as ‘the guy’ was the ultimate goal and engaging in meaningful close relationships with other girls would devalue his position and therefore invalidate their own purpose in life. The boyfriend became a symbol of their worth and a path to approval from peers. Through the song WYSLMT we can get an understanding of the complexities of being an adolescent girl in 1960’s USA, with pressures to uphold traditional values against a tidal wave of change.