Gender, Sex, And Womanhood Of Peggy Seeger 's I 'm Gon Na Be An Engineer

Gender, Sex, And Womanhood Of Peggy Seeger 's I 'm Gon Na Be An Engineer

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Gender, Sex, and Womanhood in Peggy Seeger’s “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer”
Peggy Seeger, a musician practically since she was born in 1935, is one of the most successful and celebrated female folk singers in twentieth century America (Good 5). In addition to performing classic American and British folk songs, she composed many of her own tunes as well. Written for a festival in early 1972, “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer” is Peggy Seeger’s first and most famous feminist song (Good 43–44). The piece exposes and explores societal expectations of femininity: contrasting what it means to be a lady and what it means to be woman. Despite presenting a powerful message against the “cultural scripts” that govern and reinforce feminine behavior, Seeger creates, at the same time, a limited notion of female liberation in her notion of what a woman can be. This paper discusses the limited scope of early liberal feminism represented in Peggy Seeger’s “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer’ using the theoretical framework of Judith Butler.
Butler understands gender as a constant performance, which is a useful way to understand the frustrations that inspired and the content discussed within “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer” (“Performative” 526). Throughout the piece, one can see the social pressures to conform to what Butler would call the conventional “scripts” on which the performance of the feminine gender is based. These scripts, when modeled by others “render social laws explicit,” teaching others how to perform and reevaluate how they perform their own genders (“Performative” 526). The script modeled for the character revolves around traditional notions of how to be a “lady”—the ostensible epitome of femininity in the early 1970s, when Seeger wrote and first...


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...res to play with a group of boys as a child. According to the character, “Everybody said I only did it [i.e., played with the boys] to annoy / But I was gonna be an engineer.” Much as Seeger equates the category of woman with the female sex, here she somehow equates her desire to be masculine to her desire to be an engineer. This suggests that engineering is an inherently masculine field. If Seeger’s message is that women can be engineers as well as men, it does not make sense to endow the character in the song inherently “masculine” qualities in order for that character to be interested in becoming an engineer. If anything, this strengthens the very assumption that one’s sex at birth is naturally conducive to a certain gender, and thus renders natural the constructed scripts she despises, a notion that further reveals the contradictions of early liberal feminism.

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