Both Sides Now: Women showing weakness through music is just as powerful as showing strength

Kirstin selfie for column

By Kristin Hay (@kristinhayCS)

Before I got my first Sony Walkman MP3 for my Christmas in 2006, I had a chunky, silver CD Player that my mum would borrow every Saturday and would blast her favourite artists over and over. Artists like Pink, back in the days of her magenta pixie cut and penchant for replacing s’s in words with z’s, Madonna, and Aretha Franklin. A self-confessed shower singer, my mum would belt out the hits never missing a note. To this day, she is still the best singer I know.

The women I grew up with musically were categorically ‘strong’ women. Against the grain, powerful, women who didn’t-need-no-man to run the world. As a musician, these women struck a chord with me as well. I wanted to snarl like Pink, scream like Joan Jett. Recently, I was sitting in the kitchen with my mum one Friday night, and, after a few vodkas, she put on Silent All These Years by Tori Amos. She looked at me and said:

“If you’re going to be a singer, you need to listen to women like this.”

At first I didn’t get it. Tori Amos was softly sung, with a range much higher than mine, and anyway, I’m a Rock Chick™, for God’s sake. “I’m in a rock band, mum!”. The next day, after a few listens of Tales of A Librarian, I understood.

Tori Amos, and others like her, represent a group of equally strong, feminine women who are often forgotten when we talk about powerful female artists. Women like Kate Bush or Joni Mitchell, who bare their souls to the listener, with a delicate sense of fragility. Like the scene in Love Actually when Emma Thompson’s character is listening to ‘Both Sides Now’, sobbing and heartbroken, it’s that emotion which makes them special.

Sometimes, especially in a business dominated by men, it is easy to push away from typical feminine traits. We need to be strong, edgy and carefree. However, I think it is just as important to remember that is okay to be vulnerable as well, to be scared, and to be effeminate. Being feminine does not make you weak, nor does it invalidate you as an artist. But when people slate Adele for building her empire on one breakup, sometimes baring it all seems a daunting thing to do.

On that Friday night, I was reminded that it is okay to embrace both sides of the same coin. It’s okay to be fierce, just as it is okay to be fragile. The former is not ‘more feminist’ than the latter. The ability to be both strong and vulnerable is an attribute that should be celebrated.

We should not forget women like Amos or Mitchell, just as much as we shouldn’t negate Franklin or Jett. We are women, and we are unafraid to say so, in whatever way we feel is appropriate.


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Women in Music: ‘Frustrated by your apathy’: A sombre reminder of the issue of sexual harassment in the music industry’