Australian singer-songwriter Angie McMahon writes about the "rumbling, twisting" anger she feels when women are mistreated – and what we can all do to redress gender imbalance.
When I wrote "And I Am A Woman", I had asked my date to change the song in the car because the man singing it was known in my social circle to be predatory. But my date liked the song and didn’t turn it off. So as the weight of the patriarchy floated over our drive, I looked for the gentle way to explain how deeply it cut that he was normalising the disrespect of women.
When I wrote the song, I was teaching myself to start getting louder about the unequal distribution of value and power afforded to men and women, which I’m privileged to do openly without putting myself in immediate danger. I felt that I had work to do in becoming fluent in the language of gender equality, because it is one of the few ways that we create safer spaces for ourselves.
I can identify and channel my anger because of the words and work of women who have kept pushing open the door before me. So before I play this song, I take the opportunity to talk about respecting bodies and personal space, and how often we feel unsafe. A couple of Saturdays ago, I spoke about a time that a man had licked my neck in a gig crowd (gross). Someone in the crowd called out, “What’s wrong with that?" It was probably to earn a couple of laughs from his mates. I felt myself shrink and sharpen as I told him that our bodies are not objects for him to stick his fucking tongue against, and he should quit his rape culture jokes.
The overwhelming statistics of gendered violence are difficult to forget, to process, and to talk about (let alone talk about gently) if you are a woman. This anger is rocket fuel. It’s a rumbling, twisting feeling, when a casual comment travels deep into your nerves and pokes at the scars of all the women you know, or know of, and how they have been treated. It’s not surprising that the drunk man at the gig wasn’t thinking about rectifying violence against women, or that he’s unaware of the familiar vigilance he would ignite in the women around him in the crowd.
Sometimes people don’t realise how upsetting their behaviour is, because something has fallen from their mouth which is learned from this culture where we all have the same kind of sickness, wounds inherited from the same patriarchal ideals. When inhibitions are lowered, these internalised ideas are the most dangerous.
Even though I carry anger and fear in my body, and memories of awful intimate experiences where I felt violated, I don’t carry the trauma of sexual assault, and I don’t carry the same risks as those who are part of many vulnerable groups or intersecting minorities.
What I know is, as gender equality increases, the prevalence of violence against women decreases. I know that when a woman is raped or murdered, we feel it personally and deeply, because we carry that fear too. I know that we can all work in small ways to shift the crisis, to validate femininity and stand up to toxic masculinity, with people in our lives. I know that I’m angry, and it’s fuelling me to talk about it. We can teach ourselves and each other how to channel and nurture the anger. But it will take everybody, and especially men, to actively change the culture.
"And I Am A Woman" features on Angie McMahon's debut album Salt, which is out now. Among other dates, she plays London’s Kentish Town Forum on Tuesday 3 December.