A Natural Woman

I was weeping over this video of Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. In the audience were the Obamas and one of the writers of the song, Carole King—who were all having emotional reactions. It gives me an emotional reaction too.

After crying over this several times, I started getting curious about what it means to “Feel Like A Natural Woman.” This song was a hit well before my time, so I’m only getting around to pondering it now. I know older readers will have had this conversation long ago, but I haven’t! The phrase “Feel Like A Natural Woman” doesn’t hold any meaning for me. “Natural woman” is not a way I would describe myself. I guess I am a natural woman, in the sense that I’m not…a robot? But I have no particular interest in the label “natural.”

I did an online search for this phrase to see if there was any official meaning behind it. I found a hilarious thread on Reddit where several women said the phrase was meaningless to them but a couple of people thought it sounded kinda “TERFy.” Pardon me while I roll my eyes!

I got curious enough about this song to read Carole King’s memoir, appropriately called A Natural Woman.  What I found out didn’t surprise me at all.

Carole King and her husband (at the time) Gerry Goffin were a songwriting team who wrote hits for other artists. It was Gerry who wrote the lyrics for their songs, and Carole who wrote the melodies. They were specifically asked to write a hit song for Aretha Franklin, and they were told to call it ‘Natural Woman.’ So, the people responsible for the actual lyrics were both men—one who requested a song about “Natural Woman” and one who took that starting point and made it into a full set of lyrics.

I’m not sure what the writers thought of the phrase, but I do know that it was never a woman’s idea, and that’s an interesting point. It is men, not women, who think that a woman in love feels like a “Natural Woman.”

I really do love this song, and that’s because it’s a beautiful celebration of love. Whether it’s sung by Aretha Franklin or Carole King it sounds like a woman in love and finding renewed energy and joy because of the love she feels. The gospel chords lifting up the words “You Make Me Feel” are spectacular, and I imagine that lots of delightful phrases could finish off this thought, although not in the correct rhythm.

You make me feel complete. You make me feel like life is worthwhile. You make me feel like I can accomplish anything with you by my side. You make me feel beautiful. You make me feel joy, love, affection, excitement, tenderness, wonder.

Or, as I wrote in a poem when I was falling in love with my partner, you make me feel like a garden blooming with new colours.

These are all the things I hear when I listen to this song. Even though I don’t specifically connect with the words “like a natural woman,” I connect with the burst of joy that comes with the chorus.

And speaking of natural women, take a look at Carole King performing this song in the 1970s.

She had no makeup on, she let her hair do whatever it wanted to do, and just wore normal clothes, and looked like an entirely normal woman getting by on pure talent. Nowadays the only way to be a famous woman in showbiz is to look like a porn star every day, perform while mostly naked and gyrating, and put on a big flashy show full of special effects.

In only a few decades, being a natural woman has gone out of style. We’re expected to be consumer products now, always modifying ourselves to fit an increasingly pornified image of perfection, in order to suit the needs of the consumer, no matter how artificial it makes us. I think we’re headed the wrong way. I was taught that outward appearance doesn’t matter, and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I still believe that, and I find women beautiful and wondrous just as nature made us. Anyone who wants the “fake” version doesn’t know how to appreciate a woman, and is missing out on a real pleasure.

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8 thoughts on “A Natural Woman

  1. I’ve had issues with “You make me feel like a Natural Woman” for years because I don’t want anyone else to make me feel like a woman — natural or otherwise — I AM A WOMAN — I don’t need anyone else to make me feel that way. Aretha Franklin has such an incredible voice that she can sing just about anything & make it ok but still. This song has issues. Finding out that a man wrote it (what, as a testament to his total awesomeness?) just makes it worse, IMHO.

    Another “feel like a woman” song that gets on my nerves is the one by Shania Twain, which is a drag because it’s a great dance tune — really gets you up & bouncing — but the lyrics are so horribly superficial it’s like nails on a chalkboard. “Men’s shirts, short skirts” — NO! That’s not what makes us “Feel like a woman”. No wonder so many MtF can’t figure out what it is to “feel like a woman” other than what’s going on in their pea-brains because there’s isn’t any fucking “feeling” like a woman.

    Funny how there’s no “I feel like a man” song. There’s song about BEING a man. BEING & FEELING are two totally different concepts. Funny how the transpeople don’t ever seem to get that one. It’s all about their “feelings”. Maybe if they ever thought about it … but of course thinking just gets in the way of feeling, amirite?

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Funny how there’s no “I feel like a man” song.” There’s song about BEING a man. BEING & FEELING are two totally different concepts.
      To be something is a strong and fundamental statement, which is the patriarchal idea of men, while to “feel something” is secondary and more superficial, as patriarchy think women are.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I really love this post. It’s the perfect essay – an excellent blend of meandering through the potential meanings yet remaining on point thematically.

    And what a perfect ending – Carole King truly being a natural woman (sans artifice) beautifully rendering a song, transcending lyrics written by a man.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OK… here are the lyrics I copied from the Carole King YouTube video:

    Lookin’ out on the morning rain
    I used to feel uninspired
    And when I knew I had to face another day
    Lord, it made me feel so tired

    Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
    But your love was the key to my peace of mind

    ‘Cause you make me feel
    You make me feel
    You make me feel like
    A natural woman

    There is a problem with these lyrics written by a man about what he thinks will make a woman feel natural… LOOK!!! The song clearly takes autonomy away from women for what they feel and frames it as a woman can only feel like a woman, because HE makes you feel it. LOLOLOL Isn’t the logical conclusion that without HIM, she can’t feel like a natural woman except in contrast to the MALE ideal. Without his love she couldn’t have peace of mind. Blechhhhhh…. Never realized all the patriarchal programming…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post! I was in Starbucks a few weeks ago and the Aretha version came on. (I often stop into that particular Starbucks close to closing time, and they always have the music up loud. It’s like a disco in there.) Anyway. I hadn’t heard it in a long time—at least not that way—it was loud, over a good stereo system, and well, it really is just a spectacular song. If anybody can really listen to it without tearing up or getting chills I’m not sure I’d want to know them.

    The lyrics are puzzling, and terrible, especially now that I know a woman never came up with the idea of “natural woman,” but on some level I kind of understand it if I think of it in a sexual love light. It’s a love song and it’s so beautiful that I have to just suppress the troubling parts of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “I really do love this song, and that’s because it’s a beautiful celebration of love. Whether it’s sung by Aretha Franklin or Carole King it sounds like a woman in love and finding renewed energy and joy because of the love she feels. The gospel chords lifting up the words “You Make Me Feel” are spectacular, and I imagine that lots of delightful phrases could finish off this thought, although not in the correct rhythm.

    You make me feel complete. You make me feel like life is worthwhile. You make me feel like I can accomplish anything with you by my side. You make me feel beautiful. You make me feel joy, love, affection, excitement, tenderness, wonder.

    Or, as I wrote in a poem when I was falling in love with my partner, you make me feel like a garden blooming with new colours.

    These are all the things I hear when I listen to this song. Even though I don’t specifically connect with the words “like a natural woman,” I connect with the burst of joy that comes with the chorus.”

    You put it in lovely words. One could argue, and I’d agree, that anyone can feel this sense of renewed energy and joy without a romantic partner. But, still, I agree with your interpretation of this song.

    I think the words “like a natural woman” do make some sense, , precisely because we live in a patriarchal world. In this case, because the woman’s partner truly loves her, she can finally be her natural self, just like Carole King in that clip: she can be truly seen and appreciated for who she really is, for her raw untamed self.

    Like

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