It’s been years since Fiona Apple’s last album, as it usually is. She’s a hermit who hates giving interviews and rarely leaves the house, a protegee who released her first album at 19, back when that was unusual, and proceeded to make an award acceptance speech that marked her as a freak for as long as people decided that lasted. And she does seem to be a bit of a freak, as so many of us are. What does Fiona have to contribute to the latest, most conscious wave of feminism?
A strange kind of love.
She (the narrator – no presumptions) aggressively rejects the competition, shaming, and other sexist behavior encouraged in women against women, particularly women bonded by their relationships with men. Decades after being bullied and bored in grammar school, she is sustained through hard times by the words of classmate Shameika, when she said she “had potential.” There is no resentment around her lack of kindness or the fact they weren’t friends, just an appreciation of someone who reached out for no reason except to help her out. I wasn’t going to read any reviews for this, but the quote I just stumbled across is too perfect:
My middle-school experience is still so important to me. Mainly because that’s where my relationship to women started getting fucked up.
And that- the fuckedupedness of women’s relationships, is a dominant theme in the album, expressed with humor and raw honesty and emotion and vulnerability.
Newspaper mourns her inability to befriend a woman getting fucked over by the same guy who fucked her. Where they should be bonding over his abuse and gathering strength and recognition from their shared experience, the new victim has “made me a ghost to you” while the singer can only observe the repeated pattern. “I watch him let go of your hand, I wanna stand between you” makes me think of a kid putting herself between an abusive man and mother, no thought for herself in the attempt to protect the person she cares about.
In Ladies, composed like a kind of Jazz standard, with a chorus sung like a Vegas showman, she strives to get through to “good women like you” to share and love and conspire together and accept themselves as irreplaceable, instead of different failed versions of whatever it is that any random man has made up in his head. I’m just goo-ing over this verse – typing it without the music attached is an insult, but it’s just so great, I had to share:
When he leaves me, please be my guest
To whatever I might’ve left in his kitchen cupboards
In the back of his bathroom cabinets
And oh yes, oh yes, oh yes
There’s a dress in the closet
Don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it
I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine
It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine
She left it behind with a note, one line, it said
“I don’t know if I’m coming across, but I’m really trying”
She was very kind
This simple offering is almost heartbreakingly beautiful, handing down a dress like the man they shared: I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine, try it out, maybe it’ll work for you. And feel free to build on whatever useful things I contributed to him or his life. It’s hard enough getting through any relationship, any life; making enemies of the people who could gift you the benefit of their experience is a horrible way to try and move forward.
But women have been doing this to themselves forever. You think it’s an accident? You think women just naturally hate other women? They are taught to see each other as nothing more than competition from childhood, and it’s the curse that keeps on giving. Who do you think created those messages? Who could possibly benefit by women going it alone without acknowledging, appreciating, or learning from each other’s pain?
The #metoo era of feminism ripped open the Pandora’s box of a lot of bullshit I had buried away for as long as I can remember. But one of the most disturbing things to come out of it was the realization that I had bought into the sexism of the dominant culture, all the while thinking I was fighting against it. I’ve shunned or minimized the importance of bonding with women my whole life, and while the romantic competition aspect hasn’t been a big one with me, plenty of other antagonisms have. Turning this competition into a shared force cannot be anything but powerful.
So, yeah, this is a FEMINIST album.
It’s also just fucking rock your sox innovative and raw and fun and brutal and both plaguey and plagueworthy. Do it.