Music is supposed to be an outlet. You are supposed to relish in the lyrics, or lack thereof, and feel that your thoughts are not as isolated from others as you once believed. The sounds are supposed to move you further into what you feel, offering clarity or at least relief. I used to think of music as a distraction, and in those moments, I missed out on the comfort it could offer. While I struggled to be unarmed in my relations with others, I learned that I shouldn’t avoid lyrics that rang true to how I felt or soundscapes so soft they urged self reflection. Vulnerable, female voices provide an opportunity to practice letting your guard down. 

Vulnerable artists were ones that I had strayed from for a long time. I felt as though some pieces cut too deep, such as Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska”, while indie pop songs like Clairo’s “Pretty Girl” cringed in my ears. I welcomed Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion, as their songs, with their enlivening melodies and uplifting lyrics, held the ability to bring me out of my low feelings. I thought that to be vulnerable was far too dangerous and in moments of fight or flight, I always flew. Everywhere I went, I sought interruptions from my emotions. I’ve always had an inclination towards distractions, keeping an abundance of mind-numbing apps on my phone or having a show kept playing in the background at all times. In the moments I was alone, the music I listened to took me out of my life instead of tugging me deeper into it. 

Surrounding myself with music that reflected my experiences or validated my emotions has been uncomfortable for me. The music, films, and people around me and the messages coming from them have an impact on my mindset. I internalize the media around me, especially if it’s in such cases where I’m seeking solitude in a song instead of an opportunity for critical analysis. I always sought out messages that were easy to digest, and a reflection of myself often felt like the hardest pill to swallow.

In the middle of escaping vulnerability, I spent a lot of time denouncing female artists. “I just don’t like female voices,” I would say and rationalize it by claiming I didn’t like high pitches or what I then perceived to be “corny” lyrics. While I didn’t always follow this generalization, I still reiterated my aversion to female artists to many. My apparent distaste for female artists contrasted against the female positive messages that I spread each day. Vulnerable, female artists represented an ability to be vulnerable that I felt I lacked, constituting an insecurity in my femininity. 

Allowing myself moments to be vulnerable alone wasn’t as harsh as it was to neglect vulnerability all together. I feared it, for allowing yourself to recognize how you feel does not come easy. I opened myself up to listening to music that wasn’t from a male perspective in a time where I felt like I couldn’t connect to the songs in my playlists. The male gaze centred in my music library didn’t reflect how unloveable I perceived myself to be, nor the solitude I was seeking. The songs viewed women as beautiful objects, and I felt as though I was neither of those things. The defining notion of this perspective, that women should be large enough to stall people with their beauty and small enough to not understand how they are objects, is discarded in music from vulnerable, female artists. Phoebe Bridgers’ lyrics reminded me that it’s okay to feel in opposition to how you once did. FKA twig’s voice rings beautifully in my ears, instilling in me that there is beauty where I didn’t think there would be. 070 Shake, a force behind a male-centred album I used to play on repeat, made me feel like I was floating in her solo album. Clairo, Solange, Mitski, and many more women show me a vulnerability that I would have once admonished.  I’ve even come to appreciate the same Taylor Swift or Lorde songs that I used to put down.

Uncomfortable in my insecurities, I didn’t want to be recognized as someone who was vulnerable or someone who could be affected by other’s actions. As women, I feel there are two forces pulling at our identities. We can be the quiet, concave being that fulfills the male gaze, or an overextending, powerful being that fulfills the Girl Boss complex endorsed to us. To satisfy either of these roles, we must ditch the emotions that we are critiqued for naturally having. Overcoming and dismantling internalized misogyny takes time, as it is intrinsically and invisibly part of us. It requires an interest in deciphering what parts of you exist to appease others and what parts are truly you. The two may continuously overlap, however there is no one right way of existing as a woman. It isn’t about whether your identity aligns with the male gaze or not, but about living unencumbered by other’s expectations. 

Most importantly, I found that being vulnerable alone is practice for letting yourself be vulnerable with others. It’s easy to go silent in the face of conflict or hide behind a white lie while surrounded by other people. I learned that every time I neglected to recognize the truth and be vulnerable, I was only lying to myself. This change in thought may not be seen from the outside, but it’s allowed me a recognition that we all deserve: It’s okay to let yourself be unguarded.

About The Author

Megan Tesch (she/her) is one of the Heads of Publishing for MUSE. She can be found with her cats, attempting to collage, or journalling her days away.

About The Illustrator

Sadie Levine (she/her) is the Head Illustrator for MUSE. When she isn’t drawing in her sketchbook, she can be found sipping London fogs at CoGro or hunched over a container of beads.

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