Earlier this evening, I was getting off the bus when an older gentleman asked me if I was okay. I made a noncommittal noise and rolled my eyes. He took what was barely an acknowledgement of or response to his question as a green-light to then say, “I could tell by your face how sad you are, but I bet your husband brightens your beautiful face right up.”
Maybe I like my face this way! I certainly don’t need a man–let alone a husband–to brighten it up. Maybe I’m not prettier when I smile! The fact that this man assumed I even had a husband also pisses me off. Just because I am an almost thirty-year-old woman doesn’t mean I need–or perhaps more on point, even want–a husband.
I don’t think this man intended any ill-will, but he did royally piss me off. Because benevolent sexism (which is what this was) is still sexism. So, here are some of my favorite feminist anthems. Stay nasty and persist.
Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman” from I Don’t Know How to Love Him (1971)
This anthem from the 1970s women’s liberation movement should have lost its relevance by now (in my opinion, at least), but the message is just as important as it was almost half-a-century ago. I listened to this song a lot in the days following the election, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t provide a small sliver of comfort during unfathomably dark times. It’s just a pop song (is anything just a pop song?), but there’s so much more to it than the clichéd and overused opening line of “I am woman, hear me roar.” (Looking at you, Shoshanna Shapiro.) Try these lyrics instead: You can bend but never break me, ’cause it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal. And I’ll come back even stronger, not a novice any longer, ’cause you deepen the conviction in my soul.
Alix Olson, “Eve’s Mouth” from Built Like That (2001)
Alix Olson’s 2001 spoken word album Built Like That is bookended by “Eve’s Mouth” and “I Believe,” which I also highly recommend–it starts with the brilliant claim, “I believe misogyny and patriarchy are closet homo lovers, and they screw over their sisters ’cause they’re scared to screw each other.” I chose to include “Eve’s Mouth” in this post because I love Olson’s feminist subversion of the legends of immortalized women. The alternate tellings of the stories surrounding these canonical ladies are actually more impressive than the anthem-y chorus (She screams from the top of her lungs I’m whole…) because in providing an alternate view of the literary or historical or even Biblical, Olson highlights how misogynistic some of these texts we often don’t think twice about are. Of the seven ladies mentioned (in order: Eve, Queen Victoria, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Helen of Troy, Rapunzel), my favorite twist is the first (double entendre much?) because it highlights how the male gaze/viewpoint has long influenced the standardization of the interpretation of any classic text, regardless of its origin: Well, Eve’s mouth hurts from trying not to laugh at some joke some scholar made about her being someone’s half. It was a joke, a lie, exaggeration, a fib, and now you all believe I came from his rib.
Lily Allen, “Hard Out Here” from Sheezus (2014)
I’m not a fan of music videos in general, but this one is just…the 100 emoji. And the song itself is spot on, too, obviously. Lily Allen is so smart, so clever, so badass, and so very underrated (see if you can spot her myriad visual and aural digs at different male recording artists–the most obvious is probably Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”). My favorite lyric? Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain. Fuck yes, Lily Allen. Fuck. Yes. (Fun fact: this is my “Spotify anthem” on Tinder…do you think that could be part of the reason why I don’t have a husband yet?) Also worth listening to by Lily Allen: “Knock ‘Em Out.”
Here are some other honorable mentions that I thought of including, but ultimately fail whatever the musical version of the Bechdel test is because ultimately, they’re (at least partly) about romantic relationships with men.