The Internal and External Male Gaze

An Essay by Danielle Jackson


Men used to be the only ones who received recognition in the world of art and media, and they still hold the majority of representation. Beauty and aesthetic ideals were set by men. Since the beginnings of industries like film, modelling and media, a certain ideal of how gender is presented has become a standard. The beauty ideals set for women are constantly changing and impossibly unrealistic. Not to mention the social expectations that come along with our gender presentation. We have created boxes so confining for the role of man and woman that none of us can fit them without bending over backwards. This is especially difficult for women since the ideal woman has been moulded entirely by the male gaze. Since few women are able to fit this mold, the benefits of being desired by men are huge. Men have created a social and beauty standard for women that is rewarding enough that we try and live up to it rather than fighting against it. Society has conditioned women to dream about being a male fantasy instead of an individual with our own fantasies. We have come to the conclusion that it is easier to falsely present our identities rather than to express ourselves honestly. I intend to analyze the male gaze through the art of Cindy Sherman and writing by Laura Mulvey. 

Cindy Sherman’s work is quite interesting as she is toying with the viewer by placing the gaze on herself. She is able to reinvent herself using costumes and makeup to embody the roles placed on women in society. This can be seen in Untitled Film Still #6, where she is laying venerabley on her bed half naked holding a mirror, almost as if she is provoking the gaze. She uses clichés like working girl, bombshell and housewife to play up predisposed identities women must embody. All her works are untitled so that it is up to the viewer to interpret these roles and place them on to her. 


(Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film still #6, Photography, 1977)

“I am trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.”

(Cindy Sherman, Artland) 

She is not reinventing herself to be who she wants but instead, who men want her to be. In other words: her characters aren’t real and only exist because of how we interpret them. These women that she becomes only exist for a second when the lighting is right and her makeup is done, but once the camera flashes she goes back to being Cindy Sherman. She is creating fiction just like the men who gaze upon us without knowing who we are. Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills are aimed to make the viewing understand the absurdity of the gender ideals placed upon us. When we gaze upon a stranger we are creating an identity in our heads that doesn’t exist and is only a projection of our desires. We do not like that person, we like the idea of that person that we have falsely constructed. No one can live up to expectations that aren’t authentic and never will be. This plays a lot into the male gaze as women can never be as effortlessly sexy as the women in film, art and media. The role men have constructed for us requires us to be completely submissive and vulnerable without the low self esteem and anxiety that comes along with that. Throughout most of her early film stills, Sherman is practicing the art of deception, a tool women use through their makeup, clothes and even personalities. In contrast to this, Untitled Film Still #175 is showing realism and decay by presenting herself in a state of distress. This work is one of the most popular from what is called her “Fairy Tale Disaster” series. She wanted to create something visually offensive that will further more disrupt the assumed role of woman. Sherman’s face can been seen in the reflection of sunglasses, surrounded by sand, half eaten cupcakes, vomit and molding food.


(Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #175, Photography, 1987)

There is a sense of disorder and conflict in this still. The combination of partially eaten food, vomit and the horrified look upon her face implies a complicated relationship with eating. Perhaps it is showing the aftermath of the binge and purge relationship many women have with food. This relationship comes hand in hand with a hatred of our bodies and the feeling of not being in control. Women have been taught to feel that our bodies are all we have, placing this unnecessary importance on them. We feel as though we need to literally make ourselves small to be accepted by men. This comes back to our desire to be seen and gazed upon by men. When we are taught that our sexuality is the only power we have, a toxic relationship can build with our own reflection in the mirror. Women have been conditioned to think that our appearance is our identity. We will do anything we can to keep that small ounce of power that comes with being seen as conventionally attractive. Lastly I want to talk about Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In this essay Mulvey analyses women’s role in popular Hollywood cinema. Hollywood does a great job of creating a fantasy. Especially one that is creating by and targeted towards men. Mulvey critiques films like Howard Hawks’s “To Have and Have Not” where Lauren Bacall’s plays the perfect elegant yet passive woman who embodies the male fantasy. Her essay talks about men’s fear of castration and how it is a woman’s role to make a man feel “masculine” but never the other way around. Men are accentuating their perceived power by putting women in their place. Once the man has asserted his dominance, then the woman will fall madly in love with him. In these films, men are the pursuer and women are the pursued. Men are the desirer and women are the desired. Men gaze and women are gazed upon. 

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle.”

(Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema) 

This system has been taught to men and women even before the beginning of media production. We have become something to be pursued instead of an individual who pursues. It’s a story that won’t die because men need to feel like they are powerful and women want to use any power they are given. The reason Laura Mulvey analyzes and despises these Hollywood films so much is because she actually enjoys them, which is part of the problem. One of the concerns about this trope is that women have internalized the gaze and place that expectation on themselves. We feel as though we must watch ourselves and even watch ourselves being watched. No matter what we are doing we understand how we are being perceived by men at that moment. Many women have an internal spectator that surveys our actions and appearance from the perspective of a man. Men’s opinions of us have taken on a crucial role in our own psyche. Our perceived success is dependent on our relationship to men and what they are able to provide us. We turn ourselves into objects by only valuing external validation from men. This is not blaming women for this phenomenon, but critiquing the system that set us up to feel this way. It is hard to change or unlearn a system that has influenced us from birth. In order to feel like whole people we must somehow turn off the male voice that exists in our heads, as well as changing the discourse on gender identity that was constructed by men. 

Creative women with an audience like Cindy Sherman and Laura Mulvey are paving the way for positive discussion about the gaze and gender identity. Now that women have a voice in the contemporary art scene, we can use that voice to talk about these issues and teach men the biases they consciously or subconsciously possess. We must challenge the gaze and create beauty and aesthetic ideals of our own. Once we understand these structures we will be able to change the gender expectations we have upheld for so long. When traditional patriarchal values are challenged, we are able to loosen the grip of the internal and external male gaze. 

Annotated Bibliography: 


Public Delivery. “Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills – Her Groundbreaking Self Portraits.” Public Delivery, 19 Oct. 2021, https://publicdelivery.org/cindy-sherman-untitled-film-stills/.

  • This article talks about Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills series as a whole. It is broken into sections covering each aspect of her career. The article includes many examples of the photographs with titles and dates at the bottom. Subjects that are discussed include femininity, presentation and the role of women. They also talk about cliches for women and how we can alter our appearance to meet these ideals. 

Pritchard, Saara. “Cindy Sherman (B. 1954) Untitled (#175).” Cindy Sherman (B. 1954) , Christies – Auction, 7 May 2016, https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5994787.

  • This is an auction listing that includes an essay about Cindy Sherman’s artwork Untitled (#175). The article gives details about the piece and its previous exhibitions. Below is an essay that includes quotes from Cindy Sherman about the work and her intentions for it. They talk about the female presentation of self and how we represent femininity. The work is almost a response to her previous work as it opposes the male gaze by showing grotesque imagery. The work is a self portrait. 

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Feminisms, 1975, pp. 432–442., https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-22098-4_25

  • This essay analyzes old Hollywood films and the role gender plays within them. Mulvey critiques women’s submissive roles and the tools used to objectify its characters. She analyzes the pleasure that comes from giving and receiving the gaze and how we are made out to be the erotic spectical that only exists to please men.

Ricci, Benedetta. “Portraits of America: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills.” Artland Magazine, 28 Oct. 2020, https://magazine.artland.com/portraits-of-america-cindy-shermans-untitled-film-stills/.

  • This article talks about Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills from a political perspective, investigating her impact on feminist discource in america. It goes into her backstory as well as including quotes from Sherman herself. The focus being on her early film stills and the cliche woman she is representing. The article uses her own words to discuss the inner turmoil she has about her gender identity.

Analysis of Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston Talk

Categorical influences including gender, social class and race, dictate the quality of life. Considering that individual experiences alter, it is imperative to acknowledge the localities and social location of an individual in order to determine their needs and their respective forces of inequalities.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie focuses on the localities and social location in Africa, and specifically, Nigeria. She reveals many experiences in her life, and in her surrounding African, cultural society wherein there are problematic injustices associated with gender inequality.

In order to provide a credible argument, she uses radical, multiethnic/multiracial, social constructionist, liberal, marxist and socialist feminist theories, ideologies relating to feminist studies of men, and terms pertaining to postmodern feminist and third-wave feminism. In Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston Talk, We Should All Be Feminists (2013) (00:30:15), the many feminist theories are used to emphasize the need for feminism in everyday life. Although a few gaps in her presentation will be discussed throughout the discourse of the essay, Ngozi Adichie successfully makes her argument as to why we should all be feminists


Courtesy of Hickerson, S. (2018, December 17.)

Heteronormativity and Lesbian Feminism

The heteronormative society has affected my life as an artist. In my studios and Art History lectures, I’m constantly reminded that the art world is very phallocentric. The Art History Canon consists of cis-gendered, heteronormative, dead, genius, white men. These are the artists that are considered great. They were the game-changers. They dominate the art world, even presently which is phenomenal considering they are dead. And I’m left in a dead-stare, wondering what my place/worth as a woman artist is. 

Nonetheless, in the journey uncovering why there were no women artists, we are learning that there were indeed women artists as far back as the Renaissance. It just so happened to be that they used their partners or father’s name, stopped their practice to see their partner succeed, or they were simply written out of documents as new editions were printed. 

Ultimately, I believe the emergence of lesbian feminism in the 1970’s allowed women to separate themselves fully from the male artist. Women artists used that period to create their own identity, and for many of them, that meant leaving their husbands and/or boyfriends “because intimacy with a man undercuts a woman’s independence” (Lorber 163). 

Although video and written documentations of emerging women artists in the 1970’s shows that they used lesbian feminism as a means to separate their role as the Other and comfortably come out of the closet, presently, women artists can use lesbian feminist politics to combat the Art History Cannon. Women can produce art that is separate from her male counterpart, without being ‘for the man’ or judged as overtly feminine. 

When women start using art to explore their own identity, a new perspective is born. Women dismantle their role as subject of the male gaze. She un-writes her story as intuitive, fragile, submissive and served only as a sexual object.

Lorber writes that “lesbian feminism praises women’s sexuality and bodies, mother-daughter love, and the culture of women (…)” (153). It is a concept that allows women artists, such as myself, an opportunity to share my own story without influences of heteronormativity. 


Courtesy of Hickerson, S. (2018, September 26). Re: Feminizing Equalities [Online discussion group]. Retrieved from https://mycourselink.lakeheadu.ca/d2l/home/52600.

References

Lorber, J. (2012). Gender Inequality: feminist theories and politics. (5th edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Queering Identities

Growing up, I had no concept of gender. When my brothers begged for me to give them makeovers, I was always overjoyed. Then whenever my father told me to remove their nail polish before school, I couldn’t comprehend the concerns. Even in recent years, I began contemplating what it means to be a man or a woman, female or male, feminine or masculine, and I realized these were concepts I could comprehend externally, but they weren’t concepts that I embodied internally. Initially, I performed outside the gender social order. I performed my truth through queering. Yet, agency shaped an experience which I felt pressured to conform within performativity. 

I was told time after time that I portrayed masculine characteristics. My friends, their cousins, my brothers and their friends constantly pointed out that I was more like a ‘man’ in my demeanor. I wasn’t afraid to get dirty; wasn’t afraid of burping in public; have been called psychotic or crazy when I geared more towards reason than emotion/empathy; was told I am too confrontational; too stubborn when I didn’t change my opinions; yet, I never considered these to be masculine traits. I just considered these traits to be me. 

Similarly, my presentation rarely fit the feminine mold. My brothers have described my aesthetic as ‘wack’, whereas others have used the term ‘creative’/’unique’. Although I have always passed as a cis-gendered woman, I rarely displayed the idealized feminine beauty. I would wear an assortment of patterns and cuts – the clothing never complimented my feminine curves. Also, I wore a variety of edgy, shorter and colourful hairstyles. Through my observation, Western feminine beauty is physically manifested through long, glowing hair, clear skin, and a small frame but with accentuated curves. 

Eventually, I tried aligning my presentation to balance in the equation: sex =  gender = sexuality. Scott Turner Schofield debunks the equation, stating that it is established through heteronormative terms. Consequently, I thought that since I identify as a cisgendered woman who would like to establish a hetero-romantic sapio-sexual relationship, I needed to present myself as the ‘ideal’ feminine. I decided to tone down my wardrobe and choose articles that were more mainstream with subtle unique details, and I started growing my natural hair. 

Dr. Roth brings our attention to Lorber’s concept of gender conformity as being completely impossible; no one wholly fits into the gender molds. Likewise, I am reminded that “the emphasis on agency, impression management, and presentation of the self in the guise and costume most likely to produce, parody, or confront conformity implies that people are free to consciously and deliberately construct the gender and sexuality they want” (Lorber, 289). In reality, I have oppressed my truth thinking that it wasn’t worth being noticed. Considering that sex does not equal gender does not equal sexuality, each identification stands separately. I can use my wardrobe as a creative outlet, and I can continue to embody a masculine demeanor because my presentation doesn’t dictate my sex nor my sexuality. In order for me to combat the oppression which lies in performativity, I need to acknowledge my truth; I need to acknowledge my worth.


Courtesy of Hickerson, S. (2019, May 3).

Capitalism and Marxist Feminism

I’m assuming that the initial question posed (…), “how do both Marxist and Socialist feminism broaden concepts of inequality?“, is in comparison to inequalities noted by liberal feminism. Liberal feminism regards inequalities based on gender specifically, but Marxist feminism extends the influences of inequalities to include “the economic structure and the material aspects of life” (Lorber 52). In other words, class becomes a large component to feminist criticisms. Whereas, socialist feminism extends the factors of inequalities to not only include class but race as well (Lorber 75). Overall, intersectionality becomes a large component in socialist feminism.

Personally, I gravitate towards the concepts regarded by Socialist feminists. Inequalities can better be observed through the acknowledgement of not only gender, but class and racial ethnicity as well. I wonder if I experienced an example of this at work today while training a young male international student. Recently, training has included a module where a team member guides the trainee throughout the store as they ask customers about their shopping experience. I’ve done this numerous times with female trainees of different ethnicity and one white male trainee and have always been happily accepted by the customers. But today, as the new trainee approached customers, four of the customers were quick to keep distance and say no. We only needed five surveys completed. I became aware of how in a public service sector, I had a source of privilege as a white woman as compared to the racial ethnic, male trainee. 

I also want to respond to [the] question: “do you think we can destroy the gendered and racial inequalities caused by capitalism without destroying capitalism itself, or is it necessary to destroy capitalism to do so?

Ultimately, I think we can destroy the gendered and racial inequalities caused by capitalism through destroying capitalism itself if we regarded positions in power/work to be infinite. From my understanding, a capitalist society is socially constructed by the people and not the state to maximize profit, thusly positions tend to have finite power. Yet, there is the power to create jobs to dismantle present inequalities. There is the power to create jobs that allow women to be mothers, as well as breadwinners. There is the power to allow men to be homemakers as well as breadwinners. In other words, there is the power to raise humanity to equal, high status without threatening the class of another. Yet, it becomes difficult to recognize the process as well as what these positions can be.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn notes through a Marxist feminist perspective that interdependence is established between White women and racial ethnic women. White women gain their power through the subordination of racial ethnic women. Noted, “this analysis suggests that if these special forms of exploitation were to cease, White women as well as men would give up certain privileges and benefits” (Nakano Glenn 64-65). Ultimately, to me, this notion suggests that power becomes limited, similar to a pulley system; as one increases, the Other decreases to maintain the harmony within power. 

Similarly, Leslie McCall writes “those who have been concerned with gender inequality have been the most likely to recognize the strategic importance of certain kinds of ‘new’ employment arrangements that have long been the domain of women” (77). Usually, people in power tend to stay in power because they don’t want to lose that position. This means that they will feel threatened if someone were to raise to power as well. This is a concept I learned in Philosophy in Science Fiction in regard to Machiavelli, The Prince. I believe this concept ties in well with teachings in past feminist courses that power is often seen as a finite source, when in reality, it’s infinite.


Courtesy of Hickerson, S. (2018, September 26). Re: Feminizing Equalities [Online discussion group]. Retrieved from https://mycourselink.lakeheadu.ca/d2l/home/52600.

References

Lorber, J. (2012). Gender Inequality: feminist theories and politics. (5th edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

McCall, L. (year). Essay Title. In Lorber, J. (2012). Gender Inequality: feminist theories and politics. (5th edition) (p.p. 95-102). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Feminism: For ‘F’s Sake!

In her article, “Subtle sexism entrenched in art world,” Alison Gillmor interviews Shawna Dempsey who states: “there’s a feeling that gender is over, that we’ve achieved equality, particularly in the art world where we’re supposed to be more enlightened, (…) but when you look at the statistics, when you look at the measurables, women do not have equal opportunities” (Gillmor).

The fight for equal opportunities commenced after the first world war when women were hired to fill-in positions vacated by men who left to fight overseas. Upon the soldiers’ return, women were readily fired so that men might resume their pre-war positions. Based on their needs, women fought for safety to vote and work. Women fought for personhood. Feminism circulates just as the needs of women circulate based on their position in society, and feminism is needed all the same. Presently, the needs of women in First World countries differ from the needs of women in the Third World.

As I read the article “Feminism by Any Other Name, Please?” by Katy Deepwell, I questioned my position and power as a white, young women of low-income class within a First World country. I considered the power and privilege I still obtain with low-class to fight and influence the oppressions of the patriarchy. I questioned what feminism meant to me, and which feminist perspective it is that I take on. The answers were not difficult to consider. It is imperative to consider the intersectionality of gender, race and class to understand inequalities faced by different people.

The following response will consider feminism as a movement for the equality of everyone in a white, hegemonic masculine, globalized society, although the oppression experienced by women will not be dismissed but rather highlighted through examples. The exemplified position of women in art becomes a reflected sense of feminine value within society because art presents commentaries reflective of societal beliefs. Nonetheless, women have been marginalized for centuries, and presently, oppression has extended to any individual defined as the Other.

Katy Deepwell defines feminism as “a movement by women, about women and for women in a patriarchal culture and society which has persistently devalued their contribution and rights” (Deepwell 10). During studies in introductory courses of Women’s Studies at Lakehead, I have understood that feminism, in actuality, concerns the rights and observes the injustices regarding any minority and person that does not identify with the hegemonic masculinity that is embedded in patriarchy and colonialism. In Transnational Masculinities, I studied the inequalities that men face, which feminist attempt to recognize and dismantle. Ultimately, any trait opposing the masculine becomes demeaned. Hegemonic masculinity entails the normativity of traits stereotyped to be a white, cis-gendered masculinity. Since gender is regarded as binary, the feminine becomes the opposed target. Traits regarded to be soft, delicate, sensitive, nurturing, and emotional are widely considered as undesirable. As a result, women, as well as queer men and other members of marginalized groups, are ostracized. Hegemonic masculinity becomes a model of the Self, and everyone else takes the identity of the Other. It is the Other in which Feminism seeks to aid. First wave feminism was a product of women, but present-day feminism is a movement by the Other, about the Other and for the Other in a patriarchal world.

Yet, because transnationally, globalization has influenced inequalities through the establishment of the patriarchy, power tends to be held by hegemonic masculinities. People in power tend to want to stay in power, and if others begin to rise to power in any hierarchal structure within systemic oppression, the change is viewed as a threat and the concept of the change is viewed socially as “uncool” (Deepwell 11). Feminism is targeted with preconceived, negative connotations because it seeks to dismantle the establishment of the patriarchy in order to provide equality to those oppressed by class, gender and race. Meanwhile, because the patriarchy is power, and power is viewed as finite, feminism becomes an ‘f’ word that is intolerable. The reality is that power becomes socially constructed, and thus it is infinite in nature. Society has established a structure in which power is finite. The reality of feminism is that it fights for everyone. Dismantle the patriarchy which feeds into a finite source of power, and everyone is in a position to obtain power.

That being said, although feminism fights for the equality of all marginalized, non-hegemonic masculine individuals, the struggles faced by women are not to be invalidated or dismissed. Women have been the suppressed. The inequalities concerning gender, class and race are primarily experienced by women, which is greatly exemplified in the art world. Historically, women were subjects of art, rather than being students of art. The female nude was studied by master artists, putting the female under the male gaze. Women became objectified through their form. Lauren Carroll Harris captures in an interview with Hannah Gadsby, wherein Gadsby states “being an object, being objectified, [creates] a toxic culture, because we don’t have the same cultural influence as men do. They’ve written the story, they have the power” (Carroll Harris). With the statement, Gadsby regards the role women play in Art, which is very little. Similarly, the role women play as power is very little within society.

In conclusion, feminism becomes the means to bridge localities and global communities. It becomes the means to demolish the patriarchy. It becomes the means to understand the needs of the oppressed, and it becomes the voice of those who face inequalities of class, gender and race. All-in-all, feminism may have been for the women, based on years of belittlement documented through art, but presently, feminism is a tool of liberation for everyone.


Courtesy of Hickerson, S. (2018,September 17).

Footnotes

1 To read more on power and leadership, consider reading Machiavelli’s The Prince or notes derived from Philosophy in Science Fiction at Lakehead University.

Mattress

I’ve heard that as a relationship 
grows older, the distance between them grows too –
first emotionally, even if it’s subconsciously, 
and then physically, as seen as they sleep on either ends of
their king size mattress. Maybe that’s why I love 
a small mattress, I think it will force us to stay together.
Sure, you may want your space, and I will give that to you 
daily. Feel free to take up beautiful amounts of space, 
and move freely around without me because we aren’t one
person, but we can be two persons that come together at night 
and close that distance between us so that there is no more space.
There’s just you and me, squished on a small mattress,
and I couldn’t be more comfortable, first physically. Then emotionally. 


Shayla Hickerson
22 November 2020

Protection

rain falls heavily above.
i hear the droplets smack loudly against the roof
and i fear that it will not provide enough protection.
if the ceiling caves in, we’ll be exposed to the brewing storm.
but fear not my friend, i will pull the covers over our heads
and let the rain fade out as our ears drown in our sheets.
now close your eyes and fade away too, towards sleep.
let us wake when the storm passes 
and our sorrows dry up in the warmth of day. 


17 January 2021

‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and Other Songs To Cure Your Emotional Stunting

The year is 1979, punk’s first wave has come to an end and the new wave has already begun. Though early punk brought rebellion and a lot of progressive ideas for its time, for the most part it still upheld traditional gender ideas. Women were groupies, men were angry and playing with the idea of gender was nothing more than a shock tactic.

The year is 1979 and what would become one of the most prolific bands in rock history, The Cure, release one of their early classics ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. The single was released as a standalone track from their debut album, and it dates back a year or so before the beginning of their infamous goth period and well before their pop period. It is as close to classic punk as they ever got. Guitar, bass and vocals – nothing fancy. Yet in a lot of ways, it was telling of what would come later and make them so successful across styles: vulnerable lyrics, catchy melodies and a knack for the bitter-sweet. 

The song chugs along with a simple three chord progression, a bouncy ‘The Clash’-esk bass line, some intricate and fun lead guitar work all paired along with a wonderfully innocent but constantly moving drum part. The song seems like a run of the mill breakup classic-punk track but the chorus, like most of Robert Smith’s best work, possesses a vulnerability that catches your ear and forces you to listen. When the rest of punk was angry and new wave were either angry or intentionally cold/emotionless, Robert Smith rebled with a deep sadness. And his music would become a method for many men to experience and deal with their own emotions. “I try to laugh about it, cover it all up with lies, I try to laugh about it, hiding the tears in my eyes, because boys don’t cry” – if reading that doesn’t cut deep for you then the song (and this piece) probably isn’t for you.

But if you’re like me — male, small, brown, emotional, genetically predisposed to neuroticism – you might have been told ‘boys don’t cry’ quite a few times while growing up. That phrase might have sunk deep and put your tear ducts out of business except for the one day a year where you undergo a complete meltdown. That phrase might be the reason why when you have a bad day you feel trapped inside your emotions without a method of release. If that’s you, then The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is probably for you… And so is all the music I’m about to recommend. Will this fix the years of emotional stunting society has caused you? No, that’s what a therapist is for. But it might give you some music to help get those tears going and emotions out of your body.  

Close To Me – The Cure

If you’re looking for some more music by The Cure, then I can’t recommend ‘Close To Me’ enough. Through a beautiful balance of a deeply sad vocal performance, upbeat instrumental and lyrics about relief the song embodies catharsis. I truly believe its one of the greatest three minutes in music history. if you need to get some emotions out of your body, I don’t think you can go wrong with this track.

I Get Along Without You Very Well – Chet Baker

For the more Jazz inclined denialists, Chet Baker’s rendition of this standard should cut deep. Like all of Baker’s vocal work the key to this track’s greatness is in its delicateness. Simple piano lines, soft drums and Baker’s classic whisper sing come together to tear you open.

Ghost Town – Kanye West

Kanye probably isn’t a good person. In fact, he’s probably barely a functional person. But to deny his ability to create musical ecstasy would be unfair to ourselves. If you’re feeling down about yourself and you just need a way to release those emotions this might be the track for you. The beat is impeccable, Cudi’s verse is heart-breaking and PARTYNEXTDOOR’s verse is nothing short of a religious experience.

A Change Is Gonna Come – Otis Redding

Originally a track by Sam Cooke about a man who feels so crushed by the world that he needs to believe a change is gonna come. The track certainly has an undertone of being about the black experience in America, but its lyrics are still generic enough where it could be about anyone who feels pushed aside by the world around them. Otis Redding does a mostly faithful but, in my opinion, superior cover that’s absolutely soul crushing. If this can’t get those water works going, I’m not sure what will. 

The New – Interpol

In our life there are some relationships that bring us so close together we become tied to them. When those relationships end, it can feel as though a part of ourselves was given to the other person and lost permanently in the abyss of a breakup. Nowhere is this feeling better captured than the penultimate track of Interpol’s incredible debut All The Bright Lights. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best straightforward breakup track in existence. 

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye

This is another track with a political tint, but a much stronger one than A Change Is Gonna Come. In the title track off Gaye’s magnum opus he laments the death of young black men to police and in protests. He then stakes the claim that “we’ve got to find a way to bring some loving here today” and that “war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate”. The political message might not be agreeable to everyone. It’s certainly a reference back to an increasingly less prominent form of activism often associated with the 60s and hippies, but ultimately the song isn’t about political strategy. Its about mourning the trauma of a community. Either way, if Gaye’s musically divine pleas for an end to brutality doesn’t at least pull on your heartstrings, I’m afraid to say you may be dead on the inside. 

Dried Rose Petals

why is it that I find it so hard to wake up in the morning?
i’d rather sink beneath the sheets and lose myself in dreams.
but the morning starts slow, and i go slower as my body aches 
how can I face another day when it starts with soiled thoughts? 
fill the tub and give me a moment to ease my emotions.
the weight of my comforter can be replaced by another
as i lower myself, i look to the waters to weigh in as comfort.
bathe myself in dried rose petals, soaked and cleansed. 
the rose petals become less and less distinguishable, but
i fight to distinguish myself from them as they dissolve to nothing. 
maybe it’s enough to last me another day. let the tub drain.


11 April 2021