I hit the back button on my phone. Those first piano chords strike, and my heart melts a little, just like it has every time I’ve played it today. That first intimate “Hello” that sounds so vulnerable and questioning, yet resigned and self-assured. The way she splashes into the first notes of the chorus like a child cannonballing into the deep end of a pool. Even the way she pronounces the titular word as “Hallo.” It all rips me apart in the best way possible.
I’ve been waiting for Adele’s new song for a long time. I loved her last album, 21; it was my solo hiking music for a full year. I love her vulnerability and subtle sassiness. I love how she doesn’t fear her dark side and balances it with moments of casual, breezy sensuality. She’s confident in sharing her insecurities in a way that feels deeply authentic. And those pipes.
So, yeah. I love her. And I love her new single.
(If you haven’t heard it yet, go here and listen.)
“Hello” arrives during a remarkably girl-power year for women in the media. Feminist icons Sleater-Kinney released a comeback album, and bad-ass-of-the-moment Amy Schumer wrote and starred in one of the biggest movies of the year. Local heroine Britney Howard of Alabama Shakes is pretty much everywhere you look, rocking an extraordinary vocal range and unbeatable stage presence. My personal favorite, Florence + the Machine, released a new album in June that spoke to feeling heartache without letting it disempower you. Facebook is flush with articles about wage gaps and the unfairness of policing women’s behavior. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a great time to be a woman (we’ll get there one day!), but it certainly seems as though women’s relationship with the media is beginning to shift.
In a cultural climate where women are typically celebrated only as sexual objects–and ignored when they aren’t attractive enough to meet that standard–the radical notion that women might be people, too, is beginning to gain some traction.
I haven’t always had the most comfortable relationship with being female. As a teenager and young adult, I gravitated towards friendships with guys. I loved being the girl who was cool enough to hang out with all the dudes. We went rock-climbing and drank beer in their trucks. They loved my adventurous spirit, and I loved the feeling of approval I felt being the only chick in the crew. A male friend once said in front of a group of other dudes, “Melissa Scott, like, transcends womanhood”; I’m a little ashamed to admit that I took the statement as a compliment.
Looking back, it upsets me that I found joy in rejecting my femininity. I thought being not-girl made me better and more lovable. I found approval through what I was not, rather than what I actually was.
Then college happened, and I found brilliant professors and mentors who introduced me to feminism and social justice. They showed me not only the ways women are oppressed in society but also the ways we internalize that oppression. They gently challenged me to question assumptions I made about being female. I realized that I’d internalized the notion that being male was better, which led me to seek out relationships with men and value them over connections with women. This was self-oppression, and I’d been doing it for a long time.
As I embraced recovery from my decade-long eating disorder, I realized how much of that oppression I’d taken on and recreated in my own internal life. I believed I was not good enough as I was–in part because I thought my value came from being “skinny” and attractive–so I needed to alter and control my body to be “better.” And I didn’t want to live that way anymore. Most of my intimate relationships were still with men, but I began to entertain the idea that it was time to let women–and the acceptance of femininity–into my life.
In graduate school for Counseling, I folded into a world dominated by women. Not just women, but touchy-feely, lovey, supportive therapist types who took me under their wings and supported me for being the exact person that I am. I began to open up to women for the first time in my life. I was vulnerable and raw about my struggles and insecurities. And I was deeply accepted and loved for it.
And then, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I set off the bomb that would dismantle my life: I told my husband I wanted a divorce. I’d never not had a man by my side, and now I was actively choosing to go it alone for a while. Women from all over reached out to me, letting me know they’d been there and validated both my fear and my strength. My female friends huddled around me, wiped my tears, and propped me up until I could walk on my own again. And when I could, I discovered I still wanted them close.
Now, I savor my relationships with women in my life. I seek out women for both friendship and professional collaboration. Nothing excites me more than power lunching with a fellow bad-ass female and dreaming up an inspiring new project, perhaps after an hour or so of comparing notes on life and love and other important stuff.
When women unite, a force takes over. Women who embrace their power light up in the presence of other women. We become creative and authentic and inspired. It is with women that you can be vulnerable and strong at the same time. My beloved male friends say, “I care about you.” My female friends say, “I get you.”
And in return, I say, “I need you.”
I drool over the track list of forthcoming songs on 25 as I pre-order on iTunes. November 20th can’t get here soon enough. As I embrace my own womanhood and find greater joy in welcoming women into my life, female artists seem to write the soundtrack of this new chapter of my life. It seems fitting that my internal journey is outwardly reflected back to me as mainstream feminism gains traction and more women dominate the media on their own terms.
In announcing her new album on her website, Adele is characteristically both self-deprecating and self-accepting. She knows that critics and fans alike have wondered when she’ll ever release her next work. She manages to apologize unapologetically, acknowledging others’ wait time while validating her own experience.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” she says. “But you know, life happens.”
Nothing to apologize for, sister. You’re right on time.