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Megan Voegele

Dr. Henley

English 300-004

27 October 2009

Goodbye Feminism

In 2000, the Dixie Chicks opened a giant can of controversy along with the release of

their hit song, “Goodbye Earl.” The music video features a catchy narrative about two female

friends who separate after high school and reunite for vengeance. Wanda marries an abusive

husband and “put on dark glasses and long sleeve blouses/ And make-up to cover a bruise” (9-

10). Earl breaks Wanda’s restraining order and puts her in intensive care, which summons her

friend Maryanne back from Atlanta. Together the two women devise a plan to murder Earl by

poisoning his black-eyed peas. They dodge the law and open up a roadside stand where “they

sell Tennessee ham and strawberry jam” (38). It concludes with all the townspeople dancing in

celebration and yelling “Hey hey hey.” Though obviously intended as a comedy, the video

presents a ridiculous take on 90s feminism; it contradicts feminist ideals by including an

‘educated’ woman who can decide on nothing better than murder. The video also muddles the

female empowerment message by concluding with the two friends subservient to their male

customers.

The feminist voices of the 90s are diverse and branch off into many different schools of

thought, but are generally categorized as a “third wave.” Some of the overarching goals of

feminism include working toward equal rights, equal pay, and self sustainability. Several

women advocated a “don’t need a man” ideology. Naomi Wolfe, one of the large figureheads

for third wave, spoke out against the cosmetic and fashion industries in her bestselling novel The

Beauty Myth. She holds that beauty is a socially constructed concept that is used as a tool for
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industries to subdue and control women. She would argue that women shouldn’t subject their

appearances to a man’s judgment in order to feel accepted. Other important activists like

Rebecca Walker highlight the importance of female education, leadership, and awareness. Some

feminists are more passive, and simply want to be recognized as equals and nothing more. Katha

Pollitt argues that feminism is simply “women are people”, and to separate the genders further is

sexist and not feminist. “Goodbye Earl” is a response to this third wave of feminism and

represents many of these goals. However, it only does this partly.

In many ways, “Goodbye Earl” embodies the ideals of an independent woman. It appeals

to the heart with that touch of sisterly bonding between Maryanne and Wanda. The friends are

empowered with the ‘pinkie-swear’ they share in the video, recalling a childhood-deep

relationship. Maryanne leaves for college in Atlanta “looking for a bright new world”(5),

echoing the importance of education. When Earl has beaten Wanda horrifically, the women

overcome the oppression by taking matters into their own hands. The idea of conquering the

dominating male is also a prevalent theme of feminism and is satisfied in the video. When

Maryanne and Wanda set up their roadside stand, they raise a flag for the movement by

advocating female-operated business and leadership. Everyone in the video is glad to see Wanda

and Maryanne become an independent part of society; the most important point is that the friends

didn’t need Earl to do it.

Despite these punches in the positive direction for feminism, the video has extremely

conflicting parts that destroy the image previously built. The most serious offense is presenting a

college woman who doesn’t have the sense to approach the situation with anything but the

primal murder instinct. She of all people should have been the one to lead Wanda through

further legal action. If the restraining order wasn’t kept, Earl is subject to criminal punishment. If

the local police do not have the sense to deal with the matter properly, there is a whole hierarchy
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above them that will. But what does Maryanne say? She tells Wanda to kill him. It’s a gross

mockery of female intellect. If women are educated and cannot act with logic and worldly

knowledge backing their decisions, they have accomplished nothing.

The video also contradicts the third wave feminist ideal with the women’s patriarchal

response to the abuse. Earl typifies the dominating male who uses violence and abuse to assert

his power. The women act out their revenge through violence and mimic the male role. Many

third wave feminist speakers value the choice to be beautiful and feminine while making

powerful decisions. In contrast, second wave feminists argued that in order to be equal, women

must become like men. “Goodbye Earl” returns to this idea and takes a step backward. The

women only feel justified when they have made a masculine choice and thereby assert a

patriarchal role. In this way “Goodbye Earl” fails as a response to modern feminism by reverting

to older ideas.

The Dixie Chicks also take a step in the wrong direction with the portrayal of the friends

at the roadside stand. In the video, Wanda licks her finger suggestively as she sells a man a jar of

strawberry jam while in the background the female singers slap their bottoms. Here the women

fall prey to what Naomi Wolf dreaded: they are using their physical appearances to become the

playthings for men. This again implies that the women have learned nothing and will return to

this pattern of being subservient. The whole point was that they didn’t need a man to be self-

sufficient and happy. Just a few months after they murder Earl, they are shown selling their

products with the aid of their bodies. In essence, this is a form of prostitution. Exactly what kind

of message were the Dixie Chicks trying to send here?

Furthermore, there is the fact that the women literally get away with murder. Many

feminists like Katha Pollitt would strive for equal treatment of men and women. This also means
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equal doling out of justice and punishment. When a woman commits a crime, she is just as

legally accountable as a man. “Goodbye Earl” glosses over this and includes a murder that

wasn’t investigated as fully as it should have, allowing Wanda and Maryanne to walk free. This

is because “he was a missing / Person that no one missed at all.”(34-35). Unwittingly the video

“separates the genders” by giving women the superiority here. Pollitt would say that this is

sexism (toward men) because it goes beyond that equal treatment and creates a double standard.

Earl commits a crime and he is murdered. Wanda and Maryanne commit an even graver crime,

but where is their punishment?

“Goodbye Earl” makes a noble attempt at female empowerment and blending with the

90s third wave but fails in its execution. If the Dixie Chicks wanted to promote women’s rights

they should have done so more tactfully and not through this black comedy. Murder and

irrational decisions are not a mature response to domestic abuse, and the message is lost behind

all of these misleading cues taken from the video. Considering that the song was written by a

man (Dennis Linde), it may have been a failed cause from the start. Modern feminism? Please try

again, Dixie Chicks.


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Works Cited

Clarke, Jessica. “Beyond the Politics of Irony and Lip Gloss.” Lipmagazine.org. 02 April 2001.

http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featclark_98.htm

Hubbard, Kim. “The Tyranny of Beauty.” People.com. 24 June 1991.

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20115393,00.html

Rockler-Gladen, Naomi. “Third Wave Feminism.” Suite101.com. 3 May 2007.

http://feminism.suite101.com/article.cfm/third_wave_feminism

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “Evolution of a Feminist Daughter.” New York Times. 18 March 2007.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/fashion/18walker.html?_r=1