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IWD Series: A Soundtrack to Being a Girl – songs that shaped the woman I am today Literature & Culture Politics & Current Affairs 

IWD Series: A Soundtrack to Being a Girl – songs that shaped the woman I am today

‘The music of a well-chosen set takes you on this trip through emotions and through various forms of intellectual engagement.’ – John Green

The quote above completely encapsulates the power I believe music can have on the individual. Like most people, I have been a lover of music from a very young age and there is not a day that goes by where I fail to put my headphones in and let my favourite songs take me to a happy (or sometimes melancholic) place.

I was inspired to write this piece by the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, whereby I wanted to contribute something – no matter how small – to the discussion of feminist politics today. I may not be an expert in feminist literature, an avid follower of current affairs or a political activist. However, I still believe that throughout my childhood and development as a young woman I have continuously engaged with feminist culture, ultimately via my musical interests.

Feminism has often been described as a personal form of politics. Perhaps this explains why feminist ideas so easily go hand-in-hand with the deeply personal art of music. As a young woman today, I continuously feel the impact of gender inequality in society. For example, my female friends and I are criticised for our sexual histories whilst our male peers are congratulated. Myself and my female co-workers are encouraged to flirt with male customers at work to advance in our professions and at the same time continue to receive a lower wage than men doing the same job.

So far, this article may appear to be drifting into some intense, man-hating political rant yet I merely aim to show how in a society where women are still mistreated, comfort can be found in the simplest of pleasures, in this case, in music. Without further ado, here is a list of the songs that have influenced my perception of what it means to be a girl/woman.

I Don’t Need a Man – Pussycat Dolls

Although it was released over ten years ago, this song will always perk up my mood when it comes to feeling lonely or let down because of relationships. When I was about eleven I met a girl at a Halloween party who was recovering from cancer treatment. We’d snuck into another room to get away from the pesky boys that were trying to wrestle us in a game of ‘murder in the dark’ and she’d shown me how her hair was slowly growing back. Her illness didn’t seem to affect her and I remember blasting this song from the Hello Kitty mp3 player I’d recently got for my birthday and laughing in hysterics with her as we tried to dance like Britney Spears, shaking our asses in the mirror. Eight years later, I still play this song now and again with friends as we remind ourselves that any woman is complete regardless of whether or not she has partner.

Dancing Queen – Abba

This is one of my Grandmother’s favourite songs which she used to play to my brother and I whenever we visited her as little kids. I never quite liked it as a child as I found it was too old-fashioned and a bit cheesy. However, after countless drunken New Years Eve parties dancing to this with my friends, mum and her friends, and after watching Muriel’s Wedding, I now realise that this song has profoundly influenced my outlook on what it means to be a young woman. To be ‘young and sweet’ and not give a fuck about anything other than having a laugh and dancing around is a philosophy in life that we can all dream of and Abba taught me that it is a lifestyle that each woman is entitled to.



Daffodil Lament – The Cranberries

In comparison to the previous songs, this one is rather heavy in terms of the emotions it evokes. Dolores O’Riordan softly sings of the inner struggle of moving on from damaging relationships. I found this album in one of my dad’s old CD collections and since the age of fifteen, it has really touched me. Admittedly, this song is not exactly your everyday up-beat kind of girl-power song but in times of intense sadness it is reassuring to listen to these lyrics and understand that you are not the only person who has ever felt worthless and undeserving of a healthy, happy relationship. For a while, this album left such an impression on me that I wanted to change my name to Dolores – I now thank my parents for giving me tough love and telling me to get over my teenage existential crisis and stick with ‘Hannah’. 



New Romantic – Laura Marling

Marling has been one of my favourite female artists since I was thirteen years old and of the stubborn opinion that boyfriends are never a good idea. I used to listen to her haunting songs about the mental impacts that damaging relationships have on women and convince myself that this was proof that a relationship would never make me happy as a teenager. This was also heightened by the fact that I had some sort of grudge against teenage boys after I was frequently mocked in primary school for having goofy teeth and a disproportionately large forehead (I know, I still have these qualities) and never received any Valentine’s cards in in secondary school other than from my female friends as a joke. However, experience has taught me to connect with Marling’s songs in a different way now as I realise that songs like ‘New Romantic’ aren’t about completely avoiding men but knowing that relationships may make you feel like you can never love again but it is important to overcome emotion and trust people.

Oasis – Listen Up

Admittedly, Oasis, may not be the quintessential provider of feminist lyricisms, yet ‘Listen Up’ gives a subtly anti-patriarchal vibe that is accessible for both men and women in society today. A YouTube caption describes this as ‘One of the best Oasis B-Sides and one of the most underrated songs ever’, which to me is a fair assessment. Liam blurts out that ‘day by day there’s a man in a suit who’s gonna make you pay’ – a message that sheds light on not only class inequality in society today but also male dominance over the future of our generation. I played this song a lot when I was in sixth form – a poignant stage in my life when I was often left questioning my future career prospects due to my gender and background.

Teen Idle – Marina and the Diamonds

Marina Diamandis sings of bulimia, prom queens and virginity in an unsettling yet witty manner that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. the preppy tone of the piece enforces the sentiment that throughout much of their secondary school experience, girls feel inadequate due to their appearance, popularity and sexuality. Listening to this song at sixteen made me want to boycott the school prom, wear a Madonna-esque cone-shaped bra and tell anyone who criticised me of being ‘unfeminine’ to politely fuck off.

So Happy I Could Die – Lady Gaga

The first ever music concert I ever went to was a Lady Gaga show when I was thirteen. I went with some friends, my cousins and my aunt. One of the male support acts paraded around the stage in a wife-beater vest with only a pair of fishnets underneath and screamed ‘I don’t pay rent but I’m fucking gorgeous’ at which my aunt visibly cringed due to the potentially detrimental impact this may have had upon our innocent thirteen year-old minds. A hard act to follow, yet Gaga’s performance made this seem like a church sermon in comparison. As she sang ‘Monster’ in black leather underwear, a group of dancers pretended to rip out her heart and eat it, smearing fake blood all over her exposed thighs and chest. She later set fire to her piano. My favourite song however was subtler in its message but still a strong lesson for many young girls – you should love your own body and being vain is not an issue. In ‘So Happy I Could Die’ Gaga sings of self-love both physically and mentally, which taught me that female sexuality should be embraced, celebrated and openly discussed.



Fuck You, Not Fair – Lily Allen

Both of these songs have shaped the way I view relationships today. ‘Fuck You’ is a reminder that you should never take shit from anyone and should know your self worth. As my parents used to and still do remind me, sometimes there’s no better way to assert yourself than by telling someone to go fuck themselves. Just because you’re a woman it does not mean that you always have to conform to conventions of politeness and adopt a weak persona. ‘Not Fair’ reminds all women that whilst emotional equality is vital in a relationship, sexual equality is just as significant. The teasing way in which Allen sings of a partner that cannot give her sexual gratification shows how women have the same sexual needs and desires as men. This is still a shocking idea for some people today, yet the sooner this idea is accepted, the more likely it is that such issues can be resolved.


Sorry – Beyoncé

The final song is one of the most empowering on this list. I could have chosen more obviously pro-women songs by Queen B, such as ‘Run the World’ or ‘If I Were a Boy’ but I find that ‘Sorry’ is the best in terms of its message for women. The amount of times I have suggested a friend in a post-break-up situation to give this a listen is countless and it never fails to brighten my mood when I’m feeling sorry for myself and need a good kick up the arse (emotionally, not literally). Believe it or not, many of us struggle to convince ourselves that we deserve better when in dysfunctional relationships and it can be difficult to have the courage to take a risk and move on. So, when a girl is questioning her self worth because of a male counter-part, what better piece of advice than the blunt line ‘tell ‘em boy bye’?

To female AND male readers, I hope that whenever sexism makes you feel insecure about your place in society, you remember that you can always stick your headphones in, blast some tunes and remind yourself that you are amazing and have the capacity to do whatever you want, regardless of your gender.

Hannah Neary

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