After dozens of women spoke out against the once-powerful producer last month, people in Hollywood and beyond have continued to name other powerful predators who they say have used their positions to keep sexual misconduct under wraps. Men in the industry, meanwhile, have shown support for the victims of Weinstein’s predatory behavior.
Urban’s new track, written just weeks ago, seems to be another such gesture.
Awkwardly, the country star is calling his new song “Female,” employing a word sometimes used by men to belittle and diminish the women around them.
“It just speaks to all of the females in my life, particularly,” Urban told Billboard. “For a guy who grew up with no sisters in a house of boys, it’s incredible how now I’m surrounded by girls. But not only in my house; I employ a huge amount of women in my team. The song just hit me for so many reasons.”
And it turns out Urban’s wife Nicole Kidman, who received much praise for her role as a domestic violence survivor in “Big Little Lies,” provides some of the song’s backing vocals, her rep confirmed.
Urban will reportedly perform the song ― written by Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman and Nicolle Galyon ― live at the CMA Awards Wednesday night.
Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu of BuzzFeed’s “Another Round” podcast explained their discomfort with the word very well in a 2014 listicle called “6 Reasons You Should Stop Referring To Women As ‘Females’ Right Now.” The duo points out that “female” is primarily an adjective used to describe biological sex, and using it as a noun reduces a woman down to her reproductive ability.
Besides, there’s another, more inclusionary word for the group of humans Urban wishes to celebrate that more fully acknowledges their personhood: “women.” (People generally don’t talk about groups of “males” ― they talk about “men.”)
Title aside, “Female” aims to express a vague feminist message as Urban guides listeners through a handful of basic gendered assumptions:
“When you hear somebody say somebody hits like a girl / How does that hit you? / Is that such a bad thing?” he asks.
And later, “When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it / Just cause she was wearing a skirt / Now is that how it works?”
But if there’s any point to this song, it’s lost by the time we hear the chorus, during which Urban presents an exhaustive list of archetypes and labels used to describe women ― mother, daughter, Virgin Mary ― as supposed empowerment. At times, his whimsical string of words has the unfortunate effect of hinting that women earn less respect through their simple status as human beings; rather, their value is tied to their utility: shoulder, healer, secret keeper.
Too quickly, though, it devolves into cutesy nonsense phrases to describe women who seem best suited to either fairy tales or riddles: “technicolor river wild,” “the dreamer’s dream,” “the heart of life.”
No doubt, “Female” will get its share of applause in Nashville. But aside from a feeble cheer for girl power, “Female” isn’t much of an anthem for equality.