There are positives and negatives to sharing in any given relationship. In mine, we share food, stories, experiences, secrets, and…a Spotify account. Sharing a single account for any media is a great cost-saving measure, until you both need access in different places and the platform doesn’t permit concurrent usage. On typical days that we’re not together, my boyfriend and I shower at different times, drive to work at different times, and generally never need to use the music service simultaneously. This morning, I was casually driving to work – on time, might at add – singing the Hamilton soundtrack to the top of my lungs per usual when the song stopped. I’ve been having trouble with my FM transmitter lately (yes, my car is old) and half expect it to die on me any day now. Surprisingly, another song started playing that didn’t resemble anything close to Lin Manuel Miranda. As Helen Reddy’s I am Woman came across my speakers, I was overcome with emotion.
Although it wasn’t the upbeat song I was belting moments prior, it was an easily recognizable tune that had me feeling remarkably sentimental on my drive into town. Upon hearing the opening verse, I sat at a stoplight and felt my phone vibrate in my back pocket. I saw a text from my boyfriend saying that he had purposely played this track (he knew I’d be driving to work at this time) because it reminded him of how stubborn I had been the day prior as I stood convinced that I could build my new bedroom furniture singlehandedly. I frequently pride myself on being an independent woman, but frankly I physically could not have put together my new bed or really have completed any other physically demanding project in my house without his support. How lucky am I to have someone who not only recognizes my drive and independence, but continues to support me when I am stubborn enough to believe I can conquer any task alone.
In I am Woman, Reddy sings about the value of experiences gained in womanhood and the physical, mental, and emotional duress that made her “strong” enough to sing confidently. Undoubtedly, this song, released in 1972, became indicative of the US women’s liberation movement due to its timing and content. Today, the lyrics of this song resonate greater means of liberation. If you live outside of the university bubble and away from Gender and Women’s Studies courses, as most people do, you’ve probably heard little discourse in the form of gender discussion. As a country, we overwhelming still espouse the existence of a gender binary – of man and of woman, masculine and feminine. Most days, I am fervent in displaying my pride to be a woman. I value and display many of the characteristics often attributed with womanhood and with femininity: kind, gentle, peaceful, graceful (lol, yeah right), and nurturing. There are days, however, when I find myself disgusted with feminine stereotypes and would rather be perceived as independent, powerful, authoritative, confident, ambitious, and worldly – traditionally masculine characteristics. Thus, gender is not a continuum of consistent behaviors and traits. It is flexible and performed behavior based on circumstance and socialization. Gender is not the only identity that has been broadened or expanded to encompass more individuals; we must allow our words to evolve with our minds and identities.
When I hear the chorus of I am Woman, I am empowered. Not purely because of my sex or gender identities, but because I live in a country where we can use music – among numerous other art forms and talents – to positively uplift others. When individuals see and feel themselves represented in popular culture and beyond, we see much less of the verbal and visual hate strewn across the internet and heard in conversations. When identities are not represented or are overtly marginalized, particularly by individuals of authority, we see protest, backlash, and even violence. Although I don’t agree with recent events, it comes as no surprise to view protests across the country against Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential election.
When gender, sexuality, religion and a multitude of other identities appear to be jeopardized by the rhetoric of an elected official, the country is in disarray. The nation that claims to welcome all, embrace difference, and serve as a point of refuge is no longer seen as such. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: Language is the most powerful tool we have. Amongst weapons and other violent means of protest and dissent, changing the language we use to most appropriately represent ourselves, discuss others, and to foster a culture of respect and understanding is the starting point to building solidarity among all of our country’s people – regardless of party lines. Despite my efforts, no matter how stubborn I act or strive to be an independent woman, I can’t singlehandedly save the world and change the words we all use to create tolerance and humility. All we can do at the end of the day is celebrate ourselves and our differences, participate in democracy, vocalize respectful opinions, love boundlessly, and strive to learn, understand, and value the unfamiliar.
“I am strong. // I am invincible. // I am woman.”