Hysteria opens, appropriately enough, with the line “In the beginning God made the land.” And so this classic heavy-pop-metal album is off to a flying start with an anthem dedicated to the beauty of women, aptly titled “Women.” Or is it? SongFacts.com suggests that this song is “much more a tribute to women than a boasting of their [the band’s] conquests.” On the surface this seems to be the song’s primary purpose, and even as a gay man I get stuck on the catchy chorus:

Women! Women! Lots of pretty women
Men! Men! They can’t live without them

And yet I cannot help but wonder if the person who wrote this quote has actually listened to the lyrics. The song is much more than a tribute of metal dudes to pretty women. “Women” is a re-telling of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis (2:4 – 3:24). The familiar story of the tree of knowledge has been replaced with the first man’s lust, which seems to destroy the bliss of the Garden:

And in the garden lust began
The animal instinct the wanton man

While there is no talking serpent in this version of events, it seems that a certain one-eyed snake is the center of attention here. Not surprisingly the lyric holds women responsible for the misbehavior of men, suggesting:

She fed him with a hunger, an appetite
And fillin’ with emotion he took a bite

She fed him with an implacable appetite, which holds the woman in question (Eve?) responsible for all of the problems which as members of Western culture know fell upon the first couple and, if you believe in original sin, the entire human race. As we learn later, this lust is something which is seemingly unavoidable:

A whole lotta fire a little bit of ice
A whole lotta somethin’ you can’t sacrifice

The first level on which I hear this song is in the objectifying, testosterone-fueled level which holds men not guilty for their objectification of women. Here men use women to fulfill a seemingly unavoidable lust. As we will see below, this enculturates boys and young men to see women in a certain way. As a student of feminist biblical interpretation, and as an ally to the too many women in my life who have been raped, I bristle at these words and the way this song deploys the Genesis story. If there was any question as to how the song would turn out, or its ultimate purpose, the end arrives at the goal the male speaker has been heading for all along:

I give you…hair, eyes, skin on skin
Legs, thighs, what’s that spell?
Women! Women! Oh! Oh!
Women! Women! Callin’ every girl
Women! Women! All around the world
Women! Women! Oh we can’t live without them
Women! Women! Ooh!

“Women” was the first single released from Hysteria in the United States. This was ostensibly “to make sure their hardcore American fans, which [sic] were men, would get what they were hoping for in the first taste of the new album, and a swaggering song about beautiful women was the perfect choice for an introduction” (see SongFacts.com and the 2002 documentary Classic Albums: Def Leppard – Hysteria). According to that documentary, much to the frustration of lead singer Joe Elliott the single did not sell well and peaked on Billboard at 80. So in this regard, making money for the band, “Women” did not have the desired effect. In this way men were not able to use “Women” in the way women are portrayed in the song and, as we shall see, in the video.

Hearing “Women” on this level is corroborated by the video. In the video a boy with a skateboard reads a comic about a hero named “Def Leppard.” Leppard visits a planet where a cadre of merciless reptilian masters are served by female-bodied androids. One android in particular fails to perform her duties sufficiently and is to be sold for parts. Through the actions of the real-life boy reading the comic this android turns into a real woman, replete with Princess Leia style metal bikini. “Def Leppard” sees that the droids are now real women, liberates them, and rides off into the sunset on his flying skateboard with one. It is left to our imagination to see what “Def Leppard” and the liberated sexy female bodied android do with their free time.  [Note: it is difficult to discern the full story because the comic book scenes are interspersed with the real Def Leppard performing “Women” in a warehouse. This is the basic gist and I am glad to hear other readings of the story or key facts I have missed.]

While “Def Leppard” does save the female androids from their slavery, the story none the less re-enforces the basic message of the song’s lyric. Anyone who is female-bodied in the video (i.e. the android women) are subservient to every male-bodied person in the video: their reptile owner/creators, the “Def Leppard” hero character, the boy reading the comic book, and ultimately Def Leppard themselves. Yes, “Def Leppard” saves the women androids, but only after discovering they were flesh-and-blood and exclaiming “this changes everything!” about the transformation. The message here is that if women are robots [read: only useful for menial tasks], they are not worthy of salvation. If, however, they are flesh and blood [read: sexy] and  useful for satisfying the male libido, then they are worth saving at any cost.

In our culture this lesson is taught to boys and young men through the production of creative works like songs, music videos, and comic books. The video itself is all but a documentary of this process. A prepubescent boy sits around reading a comic book, learning this narrative at a young age. At the end of the video he rides off on his own skateboard, just like “Def Leppard,” to parts unseen. At this young age, what to the sexy, servile android women inspire him to do? Additionally, the song itself takes a biblical story, which can be interpreted in many different ways, and insists it is about the irrepressible lust of men. Nowhere in any of this does a real woman appear with any voice. Women are passive, servile objects to meet the menial and sexual needs of boys and men.

Is there another way to read/hear this song? Perhaps the song itself can be heard as an indictment of the havoc this “uncontrollable” lust wreaks upon women and men alike, yet paired with the video the message seems clear. In the coming days and weeks I will continue to consider the lyrics and video, to look for other possible narratives present either on the surface or as subtext. I admit to a distinct desire to try to find another reading, one which serves the purpose of justifying my own enjoyment of this song and which can perhaps allow me to enjoy it at the concert on April 3rd. Even if I do not stumble on a variant reading, maybe it is enough to unpack the song and realize that even if its message is harmful, the first song on Hysteria is much more literate than many people assume and tells the listener to pay attention to what is coming next.

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