The Beatles’ most sexist song

The Beatles

Many historical songs feel different in a modern context. With years of distance, societal evolution, and historical understanding, certain lyrics are legitimately unacceptable today as the globe wants equality. One of those songs is from The Beatles and sounds horrible now.

It’s difficult to imagine what the Liverpool band was thinking when they recorded ‘Run For Your Life’ for their sixth album, Rubber Soul, in 1965. “Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl / Than to be with another man,” John Lennon sings in the first verse. This poses a direct and pointed threat to his girlfriend. In a terrifyingly possessive track, the singer tells his partner to “run for your life,” threatening to kill her if she strays.

The simple way out would be to dismiss the tune as just being of its time. However, by 1965, the second wave of feminism was well underway. While the first wave of suffragettes demanded the right to vote, the second wave demanded further logistical reforms, such as equal pay. It also called for more philosophical and intellectual shifts in women’s attitudes and views. Women aspired to not only be equal but also seen and treated as equal by their peers.

Feminist activism was particularly active in the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s. Not only were there protests and actions to support the right to legal abortions and birth control. There were also numerous union strikes led by women, such as textile workers and sewers. All of this led to the first formal feminist conference in the UK, the Women’s Liberation Conference of 1970. It brought together the previous decade’s divided groups.

So, while society was far from equal, and lyrics like this were generally more accepted or allowed in male-dominated media at the time. The UK was not still an unquestionable totalitarian patriarchy, as the voice in ‘Run For Your Life‘ implies.

In any case, even if The Beatles had been unaware of the numerous social movements raging around them. It would be absurd to claim that threatening to kill your lover in song is acceptable or justified. Such sentiments conflict with a strong moral compass. As they double down on the suggestion with each passing verse, Lennon’s voice becomes increasingly ominous. The bridge sends a shiver down the spine: “Let this be a sermon / I mean everything I’ve said / Baby, I’m determined / And I’d rather see you dead.”

With historical background, this music and its sexist content feel far worse. By his admission, Lennon was physically and verbally violent to his first wife, Cynthia Powell. Knowing Lennon was as vicious as the song’s speaker makes it unacceptable, regardless of the song’s context.

‘Run For Your Life’ gives voice to the concept that women are nothing more than property to their males. It suggests husbands or boyfriends possess their girls. Not only is it wrong and has aged poorly, but it’s also hazardous.

To make matters worse, the band always seemed to defend the song. When asked about the menacing beginning lyrics, Lennon replied, “It was always a favorite of George’s,” agreeing with the sentiment. The closest they ever came to abandoning the song was when Paul McCartney described it as “a bit of a macho song”.

While The Beatles have many other dubious songs, such as ‘Getting Better,’ in which McCartney admits to abuse. There’s also the coercive voice of ‘You Can’t Do That,‘ but none compare to the savagery of ‘Run For Your Life.’

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