Point: Beware the Man Who Mocks Keith Urban’s ‘Female’
It’s easy to see why a confident, self-driven, educated woman would hear man-splaining when Keith Urban sings "Female." The song’s beauty lies in its simplicity — simplicity that’s necessary to be effective. But one person’s “simple and beautiful” is another’s “well, duh!”
The writers of "Female" say they didn’t set out to respond to the many sexual harassment scandals making news right now, even if the song was penned the week after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. Nicolle Galyon tells Taste of Country that she and co-writers Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman had the ladies in their lives in mind (all three have daughters) when writing, and only after the song was done did they look up to see how it applied. Days later, they’d learn Urban wanted to record it, and within a month it'd debut at the 2017 CMA Awards.
It wasn’t intended to become a #MeToo anthem, but it has. It has because the world does not allow a vacuum — an anthem was necessary. A specific group of country music fans needs to hear this song and consider the lyrics. One demographic needs it most — they stand confused, uneasy and fearful as accusation after accusation come to light.
"How do we respond?"
"Is a response necessary?"
"Am I guilty, too?"
"Should I apologize?"
The group that needs “Female” is men. Decent, well-intentioned men need Urban’s song not as a reassurance, but as a wake-up call. Even the good guys are not that good. The bar is set low. Any male that quickly dismisses the song’s tightly-worded premise isn’t considering what’s happening in America right now and applying values and lessons learned to past experiences. Critics like Stephen Colbert don’t get it, and they should be kept at a distance.
It’s not a pity call, but a wakeup call. Few men will admit it but, but we’re all blowing the dust from old memories in search of times when an action, a suggestion or a joke could have been interpreted as sexual assault or harassment.
“She laughed, but did she really?”
“But we were dating!”
“I was really drunk.”
“She was flirting, right? Or was she just being friendly?”
He’ll say he just misunderstood, she’ll say it’s harassment and the social justice system will side with her because the victims and the offended get to decide what’s offensive. This is how it should be, without a doubt. You can’t have a bunch of dudes scoffing and saying “It wasn’t that bad” and also promote gender equality. Every one of these accusations are serious because someone was hurt, often with longterm affect. When a random guy grabs a cute woman’s butt on the street, that handprint doesn't leave her.
When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it / Just cause she was wearing a skirt / Oh is that how that works
Until recently, did men as a group understand this? Do we now?
Clearly one small sliver of the male population did not and does not. Alleged actions committed by men like Weinstein, Kirt Webster, actor Steven Seagal (and so many more) represent the worst forms of harassment, abuse and assault. The majority of the time the legal and moral lines are blurry. It’s a coy suggestion or a bold stare. It’s a personal question, an awkward compliment or a drunken kiss at a Christmas party. It's a "did he do that on purpose?" kind of brush or touch.
Digesting the #MeToo conversation as a man is painful because admissions by close friends and family members hurt, especially when everything appears normal and has for 10, 20 or 50 years. “Wow! You too?” we think as an aunt posts the hashtag on Facebook. A sympathetic man will feel the sting.
"Who are we as men?"
"Who am I?"
"Did I …?"
“Female” is a conversation between Urban and his female listeners, and that conversation is empowering and inspiring many women (an all-female cover of the song by the Song Suffragettes speaks to the power). Aside from the “skirt” line, not much recognizes the men in the room. The song’s theme is that women are equal, if not superior to men, and the lyrics are simple, but never disparaging. Men are bystanders, but the most effective messages work not because they're loud, but because they are accessible. The song is an invitation.
Galyon didn’t quite have an answer when asked how difficult it was to boil down everything they were trying to say into a digestible radio single, as the trio was very in-the-moment and not even considering that someone else may want to record or even hear this piece of art. Remember, they weren’t trying to write the #MeToo anthem.
A more complicated, wordy verse and chorus would fly over the heads of the mass audience. Had a female artist recorded the song it would have, over time, dulled the message. In this male-dominated radio and music business universe, Urban is the one who stood up.
A man needed to cut “Female” because men listen to other men — especially those that we respect. It’s a sad truth that underscores all of these problems. This song is not man-splaining, it’s explaining. As men we need obvious testimony to get our attention. If the song wasn’t boiled down to the essence, we wouldn’t understand why behavior that some believe is engrained in our DNA is wrong.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point/Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Dec. 20 for another installment.
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