Always a woman…

I’ve had a bit of a liking for Billy Joel’s music  for a long while since my group of friends  each all  had ” my song” of his in the VIth form! ( Mine,  it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, was ‘My life’, and my best friend was a Roman Catholic called Virginia…’nuf said.. but I digress). Fast forward to 2010 and I am a big Fyfe Dangerfield fan, so I was always going to love this John Lewis advert quite apart from the brilliant concept.

It set me  thinking though; I’ve heard several comments about how the song isn’t appropriate, it’s not flattering to women, why would JLP want to associate their customers with  this ” description” of  a woman!

I could google and find out exactly what Billy Joel was getting at when he wrote it, was he describing one uber b*tch or is it more general than that? But I haven’t and I’m not going to, whatever his intentions it’s made me think about what it might be about – and about how we still expect or want this perfect idealised view of people, and especially of women. The visuals in the video are gorgeous, but highly edited, in all senses, they portray that perfect daughter/wife/mother image to which women are supposed to match up. The contrast with the harsher words of the song is perhaps quite marked…

Or is it? the impression I get from this song  is of strength, and of an acceptance of humanity  – ” she’s always a woman to me” – despite all our failings, our inadequacies and the way we hurt each other, beyond all that we are real people with so much capacity  for love and strength.

There is a strong strand of thinking in our society that  polarises the image of women, if you’re not perfect then you’re  completely  imperfect,   it’s the madonna /whore , good girl/bad girl dichotomy which  has been explored by many writers over the years,  girls and women with spirit and creativity, in other words those who don’t fall into the box of acceptable femininity, have been so often marginalised and criticised and feared not just by men, in fact less by men I think,  but by other women too, and this is the issue for me, and why I have reflected on this song so much. It has been other women who have criticised the use of this song for this advert, not men, who I think  are more likely on the whole “get” the whole humanity picture of women that is portrayed here, it is so often women though who find it hard to climb out of the either/or box of defined femininity. I guess largely this is about aspirations, or expectations that have been placed upon us in childhood and adolescence.

Unsurprisingly this attitude still exists in the church too, where perhaps women have been expected to behave better, be better and in ministry somehow prove that they are “better” than the men in order to be accepted. Maybe? Often a slip up has resulted in “well what did we say…” but you know what – I think we ( women) have to take ourselves off our own pedestal here, we have to stop getting quite so annoyed by the criticisms, stop thinking we need special treatment, if we want to minister and serve as the other half of God’s image in the world we have to do it alongside, not expecting positive discrimination or special consideration. Two halves of the whole can’t work on different levels. We’re not in ministry to be better, but to complete the whole.

This reflection did not start out in any way  to be a feminist diatribe,  in fact deeply the opposite, I want to be able to celebrate the humanity in my femininity , to accept that I am not perfect, nor, this side of death, will I ever be. I want to celebrate the fact that those nastier sides of me can be changed and worked on, that I don’t have to stay bound by them, but that the broken and messy me  can, does and will make me a better person, a better priest, a better parent,  a better pastor because it gives me an understanding and insight into the other broken and messy lives around me. I want to be able to know that my friends and family despite my flaws and feistiness can look at me and say

~ she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself ’cause she’s always a woman to me~

because ultimately this is all about relationship, our reactions more than the other’s actions, our acceptance of each other, our  flaws and failings, and seeing the human made in the image of God, male & female, at the root of it all.


One Response to “Always a woman…”

  1. I had meant to comment on this post a little while ago but hadn’t really got round to it, but also thinking of some adequate words that don’t detract from the blog.

    There’s nothing in here that I disagree with, but would add that in respect of the song, there is also the melody that should be taken into account. The melody of the simple opening of a few chords on the piano and then being joined by the guitar; all in all sounding very positive; it isn’t a tune that yells ‘harsh’ or negative tones. However, here I am writing as a bloke, trying to read more into the words but also sensing from the tune that this is a positive song, not a negative.

    We live in a world of contradictions and discrimination. Society certainly expects a lot when trying to make things ‘equal’; and of course, it isn’t ‘equal’ at all. ‘some are more equal than others’ and in this, the expectations are high; too high. we are not allowed to be human. human – and when we are imperfections are exaggerated and pointed out in a negative manner. Why can’t we celebrate this great diversity of humanity and, as you say, accept each other for what we all are, human in the image of God.

    And as a final point, as a male, I do not consider this, in the slightest to be a feminist diatribe. Keep going with writing and reflections like this. It makes us all think.

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