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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More appropriation of lesbian identity

Although a lesbian is a female homosexual, it’s also a fashionable label for people who aren’t female or homosexual to steal for their own use. This is not okay. When non-lesbians call themselves lesbians, not only is it lying, but I’d say it’s homophobic too—it’s blatant disrespect and erasure of actual lesbians.

Today’s example is celebrity opposite-sex couple Nico Tortorella and Bethany Meyers. 

Both of them are bisexual, but for some reason, Meyers identifies as gay.

It’s interesting that the queer/trans movement makes it compulsory for all women to be bisexual and outlaws homosexuality, and yet at the same time it’s fashionable for bisexuals to take “lesbian” on as an identity. They’re okay with a “lesbian” identity as long as it doesn’t mean being actually lesbian. If you’re actually a lesbian, then you’re a bigoted exclusionary TERF. (Words don’t mean anything, unless women attempt to use words to set a boundary that excludes men, and then her words are committing literal violence.)

The article about them in The Advocate claims that this couple is “reinventing what it means to be family.” It also claims that Tortorella is “defying the gender binary.” You heard it right, folks—an opposite-sex couple who both look typical for their sex are reinventing the family and defying the gender binary.

Quoted from People magazine:

“Even though Meyers identifies as gay, she embraces the queer label and shared that Tortorella is the only man she can imagine having a relationship with.”

Women who are gay can’t imagine being with ANY man. I have never been able to picture myself marrying a man or living with a man and the mere idea of it makes me uncomfortable. If a woman is happily in love with a man, even if he’s the only man in the world for her, she’s not a lesbian. She’s either straight or bisexual.

I wish people would just be honest. If you’re bisexual, that’s totally fine, but please don’t call yourself “gay.” If you’re in an opposite-sex relationship, you’re not reinventing the family. Opposite-sex relationships are the default.

Everybody wants to be fuckin’ special these days.

Grace & Frankie aren’t “a little bit gay”

In an Autostraddle article about season 3 of Grace & Frankie, writer “Erin” argues that “everyone is a little bit gay,” in the context of arguing that because Grace & Frankie get a little flirty sometimes, that means they are in actual love with each other.

*Some small spoilers but nothing major*

“Here’s the thing — everyone IS a little gay. I honestly believe this. The time has come for us to get real with each other about this brave new world we’re in where for many women, at least, sexuality is accepted as more fluid than ever before, and only 48% of teens ages 13-20 identify as exclusively heterosexual and only 65% of millennials identify as exclusively heterosexual. The human capacity for being a little gay is, quite frankly, tremendous. I see no legitimate reason why Grace and Frankie could not be bisexual women in love with each other on a show that already has a gay couple on it.”

Erin then goes on to list a bunch of things that Grace & Frankie do or say in season 3 that supposedly implies they are gay for each other. Some of the items on this list don’t come anywhere close to proving they feel anything beyond friendship for each other, such as Grace saying “We’re never getting chickens” or Frankie saying “We would never have a gun.” Some of the items are from scenes where there is silly flirtatious behavior between the two women, such as when Frankie insists on sleeping in Grace’s bed or when Grace is crawling over Frankie, who says “You know, you are a striking woman.” I am not all the way through season 3, but I saw those scenes and they are not at all implications that the two are romantically interested in each other.

The scene where Frankie wants to sleep in Grace’s bed has some funny jokes in it, but Frankie is just scared because of the break-in and wants some comfort. She is not there for sexual or romantic reasons at all. Grace is absolutely furious that Frankie wants to sleep with her and wants her to go away as soon as possible. There is absolutely nothing lesbian about this.

When Grace is crawling over Frankie, they are both trying to deal with having sore backs and trying to get up off the floor, and it’s just a silly moment.

There is actually no such thing as being “a little bit gay.” You are either exclusively attracted to the same sex or you aren’t. If you aren’t exclusively attracted to the same sex then you aren’t gay. Grace and Frankie have been established to be heterosexual women throughout the entire show.

There’s a lot of things I don’t like about Autostraddle, and one of them is their tendency to read into everything every character does on a TV show and declare it “gay” or “queer.”

The truth is, when straight women develop close friendships with each other, when they sleep in the same bed once because they’re feeling anxious, when they crack jokes with each other, and when they work together and spend time together, they are not being “a little bit gay.” This is just normal friend behavior. There is nothing “gay” or “queer” about straight women friends. It’s good and healthy and life-giving for straight women to nurture close friendships with each other. If women are genuinely romantically and sexually attracted to women and men, they are bisexual, and that’s okay too, but that’s not what’s going on in this show.

The reason Grace and Frankie is such a popular show with women is because we love seeing a pair of women friends doing their own thing and spending time together without their husbands around. It’s refreshing and lovely to see this in a world where women are so often putting their energy into men. My partner and I have loved season 3 so far.

Grace and Frankie are an awesome and hilarious pair of women friends, and this show is appealing to women of all sexual orientations, because we love female friendship, we love shows that pass the Bechdel test, and many of the storylines in the show are women-centered. But having women friends doesn’t make women “gay,” and this is ridiculous to suggest.