sing a strong song
fighting patriarchy in words & music
If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut
When boys be talkin’ about their bitches, no one’s makin’ a fuss.
(Lily Allen, “Hard Out Here”)
It’s no secret: The patriarchy exists to screw women over. From the workforce to the schoolyard, systems ingrained with sexism lie in wait, ready to steal our agency and put us down. But what’s horrific about institutionalized sexism—its true paradox—is how alone it makes us feel. I’ve been ignored and shamed, told to be quiet, that I’m too big or too small, that my feelings are irrational. Some days, I feel like I’m the only girl in the world, and I might always, if it were not for Spotify. Female artists like Jorja Smith, The Spice Girls, Miss Lauryn Hill, Demi Lovato, and Aretha Franklin make me feel less alone; I know from their songs that they have endured everything I have. In a world that has taught us to hate ourselves, they have instead dared to love themselves (and other women) and celebrate their vulnerabilities, sexualities, and frustrations. With their music, they have created a sonic space for anger alongside love, a space to undermine the very messages that have shaped their lives.
These women are just a small sample of the artists I’ve included in my carefully vetted “f*ckthepatriarchy” playlist on Spotify. It is six hours and 20 minutes of strength and vulnerability; sex and frustration; life-loving, ass-shaking exuberance; profound, dignified suffering. There’s `90s R&B, `60s Soul, and even a Dixie Chicks song for good measure (let’s all be honest, “Wide Open Spaces” is kind of a bop). No matter their personal takes on feminism, no song or artist on this playlist can be called apolitical; they are women taking up space and refusing to apologize for doing so. Some artists relish in resisting the patriarchy through their music, while others go about it in a more understated way (and might not even claim to be doing so). Aretha Franklin demands respect, Maggie Rogers celebrates her independence, and the members of Salt-N-Pepa just want us to know that they are getting it and will not apologize.
It is my most musically incoherent playlist, and yet all its different sounds are tied together in my mind by three words with which I have a complicated relationship: “I hate men.” Of course, I don’t actually hate all men, nor do these artists—nor should anyone. But a pop song isn’t real life; it’s a space for exaggerated emotions, melodramatic narratives, and screaming to the sky. When I put this music on, each new song reinforcing the last, it feels okay to let my emotions get a little carried away as well; it seems okay to hate men.
I see how such a playlist (and the incredible amount of time I spend listening to it) might come off as kind of problematic—and full disclosure, there is, indeed, a song entitled “I Hate Men (I Hate All Men).” In my defense, it happens to be a certifiable banger, and you should check it out. Besides, what do I need to defend? Frankly, I have done enough of that in my life and am tired of it. The truth is the playlist allows me, if only for a short time, to be man-hatey, and its creation was prompted by the realization that I needed to allow myself the space to feel all the pain, anger, and disappointment that comes with being female. What better way to do this than by celebrating the women who have dedicated their professional lives to documenting emotional truths? The playlist has been the soundtrack for my own personal feminist awakening as I’ve grappled with its central question: Is there value in symbolically hating men?
Mama said, you’re a pretty girl
What’s in your head, it doesn’t matter
(Beyonce, “Pretty Hurts”)
Indeed, the idea of hating anything makes me uncomfortable. Growing up, I was programmed to believe that anger was not a part of my emotional toolkit. Sure, boys would be boys—wild, impulsive, and brash—but girls? Girls could be maternal, nurturing, and collaborative, not to mention catty, calculating, and backstabbing. What girls could never be was angry… at least according to TV shows, commercials, movies, and the gender dynamics I internalized on the playground. Anger was for boys.
Lacking any means of expressing anger, however, left me and many other girls with few options when we were excluded from playing with the boys at recess, when we began hearing snide comments having to do with the contours of our pubescent bodies, when we heard older men call us “sweetie” and “honey” on street corners, and when we realized that we couldn’t safely attend parties without deploying the age-old buddy system because there could be drugs in our drinks. Instead of getting mad, many of us internalized sexism and accepted it as part of our everyday existence. Hating men (or, rather, the roles and behaviors into which men are generally pigeonholed), the natural response to these woes wasn’t a possibility. Or so I thought.
Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I wanna love who I am
Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I will love who I am
(Janelle Monae, “Q.U.E.E.N.”)
My discovery of these songs, these women, changed that. What began as an effort to diversify my playlist (i.e. stop listening solely to white-boy indie) transformed into a discovery of a sonic space in which it was okay to scream, to yell, to cry, and to blame men—condemn them, even. It was not a space dominated by reason or moderation, but by unadulterated, unabashed, exaggerated emotions that were beautiful for the very reason that they were at the same time real and larger than life. Christina Aguilera has a son, whom she presumably loves very much. She also has an incredible song entitled “I Hate Boys.” When I got sick of male friends not even trying to understand my daily fears and frustrations, I was empowered by Lily Allen agreeing that it is “hard out here for a b*tch.” None of them apologized, ever, and so maybe I didn’t have to either. Without judgment, I could love men, hate them, and say I hated them whenever my feelings told me it was true.
But when I’d try the words out, there was still one more roadblock: How could I say I hated men when not all men are bad, and, hell, some of them are even pretty great? And, because I so genuinely cared about the well-being of the men and boys in my life, how could I say I hated them in such general terms? That’s just plain ol’ reverse sexism, right? But I quickly realized that wasn’t the point. The phrase was intentionally hyperbolic; it had nothing to do with individual people or qualities. Rather, it was a symbolic tool, a tiny verbal Band Aid to heal a festering wound of subordination and inequality, as old as written history.
Few things are quite as satisfying as staring into the eyes of a beloved female friend, knowingly nodding your head, and saying those oh-so-familiar words: “I hate men.” Sometimes, when the mood is light and sardonic, we’ll say the words jokingly, and other times they’ll come out when we are genuinely ready to punch a wall. The phrase is multivalent and full of hermeneutic possibility; it is at once a moment of catharsis, a declaration of war, a sob, a celebration, and an acknowledgement of the bullsh*t we all put up with. Fair? Maybe not. The epitome of rational discourse we love to venerate? Definitely not. But isn’t that the genius of music? It is a vehicle to express all that is raw, irrational, and complex. We all need a space just to be human, and this phrase and its playlist are mine. The world is still imperfect, but when I speak those words, and jam out to “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, I suddenly feel as though I’m sticking it to every boy and every man who ever made me feel less-than, and that is a powerful thing.