Bobbie Gentry first recorded the song in 1969; most know the Reba McEntire remake of 1990, but no matter who sings it Fancy says the same schizophrenic thing. A woman can give up her body and still be true to herself.
It starts where most situation ethics do in a terrible situation. Fancy is 18 and Her “Pa’s run off,” her mother is “real sick and the baby’s gonna starve to death.” Fancy’s one chance is to become at worst a prostitute or at best a woman who sleeps her way to the top.
This is a tough thing to ask a young woman to do, so to offset the guilt she feels about sexual sinning her mother gives her more guilt. She pleads for her daughter not let her down! The mother then dresses her as a trollop, and plants in her the useful fiction that she can give up, sell, market her body and still be true to herself by giving her a locket inscribed with Shakespeare’s line “To Thine Own Self Be True.”
The song, written by Bobbie Gentry, anticipates my problem with this and refers to “self-righteous hypocrites” who would call Fancy bad “and criticize Mama for turning me out no matter how little we had.” But I don’t wish to call Fancy bad. I wish to point out that Fancy didn’t let her mother down; she let herself down.
The Bobby Gentry version of Fancy only made it to #26. Fancy’s victory is Pyrrhic, and the world of 1970 (the year it charted) knew that. She got her “Georgia Mansion” and her “New York townhouse flat,” but at the cost of her body, her self, and her soul. The post-1990 world disagrees. Reba’s “Fancy” is regarded today as one of the great country songs of all times. Country Music Television ranks it in the top 100 of all country songs.
Today’s women are led to lose body, soul, and self to gain much less. A local Sunday night talk show host, Lisa Fritsch, related that she had been watching Oprah and a woman in the audience said that men who bought her two drinks expected to sleep with her and she didn’t see how she could refuse. Lisa Fritsch, who makes no apologies for claiming Christianity, was aghast. She said in absolute seriousness, “Girl, you gotta at least wait 90 days.”
We’ve gone from giving up your body to save a baby, to giving it up to gain a mansion and apartment, to giving it up for two drinks or 90 days in the case of a Christian. Lisa even threw in that well worn, but still pithy truism, that no one buys the cow if the milk’s free. Evidently, in her mind if you wait 90 days before giving it away, the truism doesn’t hold.
Fancy may have let herself down but we conservative Lutherans are letting down women. In 1959 the conservative LCMS published Planned Parenthood which, much to my surprise, endorses that organization and has a theology of sexuality that while keeping it in the context of marriage places it under the powers of human will, reason, and intelligence. The author is only thinking of a Christian’s will, reason, and intelligence, but 50 years later Lisa shows us that a Christian can think herself wise, reasonable, and intelligent if she waits at least 90 days.
I believe the LCMS hasn’t grown beyond or even thought beyond that 1959 book. Our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ have. In matters of sexuality there is something beyond man’s choice, decision, and reason. There better be because these are always going to be heavily influenced by the times you live in.
I could write more; I might write more even though it is an issue most Protestants think was settled in 1959. I will say this much now: what was settled wasn’t the particular issue of birth control but the general issue of how one looks at sexuality. The settlement, however, contradicted centuries of previous Christian thought.
In this matter we ought not to be content with the church of our grandfathers especially when it’s so very different than the church of the Fathers. Fancy that.