Kathryn Williams - "No-One Takes You Home"

I am not one of those people who glances back to adolescence nostalgically. Being a teenager sucks. There, I said it. Probably the best bit of teenage-ing is that when it ends you get to suppress all its horrors, be that with the help of legal alcohol, an ephemeral and organic blossoming into one's person, or intensive application to the work of re-inventing oneself. I can't remember exactly when I heard Kathryn Williams' track "No-One Takes You Home" (2002), but it was deep into my teenage wilderness, in the period where I obsessively loitered in the CD section of my local library, sourcing any and all balms for my soul. To this day, the song makes me cry. It encapsulates the unsettling isolation of trying to figure out who you are in the world, how to navigate social landscapes and to make connections. It's that slippery feeling of needing to move beyond an emotional economy based on external validation - who likes me and how much?; what box should I be in? - to inhabit instead one founded on authentic extension of yourself into the world. And how desperately difficult, if not impossible, that shift can be. So I guess, this is a track for teenagers only in the sense that that it when I discovered it first. Really, it says a lot about adult-ing too. I would argue - perhaps predictably - that it is a song that expresses in particular the tensions of woman-hood, of being a feminine object entrapped in the patriarchal system, whose worth is defined more or less explicitly by being taken home by a prospective sex partner, rather than by one's ability to create a home for oneself in the world: 

Now is the time to find out why you're buying everything
Now is the time to find out why you sigh at everything
You dress your self up to the top of your knickers
And you smell so good it's like a box of chocolates
But no one takes you home
No one takes you home

You've watched all the romance on the television
It's too much to bear you've got to get a new sort of vision
You've done your best at the gym you've got your lip-gloss on
You're going to the doctors to see if it's a medical problem
'Cause no one takes you home
No one takes you home

It's breakfast, it's lunchtime, it's dinnertime
Spent with all those women's magazines
That tell you you're not as fine as you look
To yourself in the mirror
In the morning when you smile
To get yourself out of the door
To give life why can't life give you some more?
'Cause no one takes you home

The lyrics are deceptively simple, with clean lines. And that sparseness, the banality of some of the imagery - knickers, gym, the television - lets your own life fill in the gaps. Or at least it did back when I first heard it, and every time since then that I have listened, as my connection to the track evolves as my own life changes over the years. This is a heart-breaker of a song - a yearning love song for the self, for the satisfaction of being taken home one day and the hope of not needing that validation at some point. 

Robyn - "Who's That Girl"

Ladies! Today is our special day! Don your brightest pinnies and rejoice! OK, I'm snarking, I admit it. It's 8th March, which makes it International Women's Day (IWD), a day to '[c]elebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women'. Bringing women's vast contributions to every human sphere out of the enforced closet of patriarchal neglect is important, even essential. I am 100% in. But, I have to snark - because otherwise I might weep and wail - about the necessity of a special day in which to warehouse this undertaking. If we recognised, valued, glorified women's achievements as standard, then every day would be "International Women's Day", and the acknowledgement of women as equal partners in humanity would be woven into the fabric of our society. Frankly, it'd be a bit banal: women are often awesome too, duh. In all fairness, the IWD website does flag the point that things are not all rosy and a-glow for women worldwide, noting that 'progress has slowed in many places across the world, so urgent action is needed to accelerate gender parity.' Perhaps it's just that I feel a bit weary. That 'urgent action' occupies the 364 patriarchal days of the rest of our year.

Anyway, IWD always makes me think about the definition of the terms "woman", and "women". There's no one way to do "woman-ing" right, despite what the media might tell us. And women from different classes, races, geographical locations, levels of ability, sexualities - you name it - all have significantly different experiences of what this state of "woman" is. Above all, "woman" is not monolithic. This is in direct opposition, I think, to the advertised roles enforced by the patriarchy. So in this vein, I appreciate the proclamation of rebellion issued by Swedish singer Robyn, the song "Who's That Girl".  Sample lyrics:

Good girls are pretty like all the time
I'm just pretty some of the time
Good girls are happy and satisfied
I won't stop asking until I die
I just can't deal with the rules
I can't take the pressure
It's got me saying ooh, yeah...
Who's that girl that you dream of?
Who's that girl that you think you love?
Who's that girl, well I'm nothing like her
I know there's no such girl
I swear I can't take the pressure
Who's that girl?

Robyn's had enough of this shit. She's calling out the fantasy of a singular acceptable womanhood: the pretty, good girl that covers the media landscape like a particularly pernicious mould. I love how the video intersperses images of Robyn doing her thing, her way, with stock footage of models, seamstresses, women in bathing suits. There's more than one way to be a woman; women are pressurised to conform to more than one alienating paradigms of acceptable womanhood and/or femininity. Also, I really like Robyn's eye make-up in the video. Dismantling the patriarchy is hard. Personally, I find on-point make-up fierceness helps gird my loins. I also think "who's that girl?" can be a fairly useful tool for evaluating one's life and life choices. From time to time, I ask it of myself, drawing out why I'm doing what I'm doing, choosing what I'm choosing. Am I trying to conform to some mythic (and perfectionist) fantasy? Or, am I responding to my own desires, thoughts, caprices? It can be an eye-opening reality check, let me tell you. So this IWD, I wish all of you, dearest readers, the time and (head) space to ask yourself that same question. Substitute preferred identity markers in place of "girl" as necessary, and Bob's your uncle. Happy questioning to one and all.