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When She Becomes King - Breaking Away From the Binary

By now, we’ve had quite a few discussions on the question of female representation in the media. We’ve seen good representations, we’ve seen bad representations, but how many of the representations we’ve seen are honest in what they portray?

This blogpost unpacks the song "King" by Florence + The Machine in an attempt to see how she resists the gender binary and tries to shape her self-image.

 

More often than not, media depictions of women, whether they are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are reduced to essentialist categories and made to fit stereotypical molds. In doing so, the multi-dimensional aspects of one’s identity as a woman are often left out.


The Girlboss

One example of such a category, which is considered ‘good’ in Western Media is that of a “girlboss”, an independent, self-made woman and often single woman, who puts herself and her career at the forefront with little regard to having a partner or family. In fact, it is primarily her lack of dependence and responsibility towards the latter which make her so successful.


The Mother

In opposition to this is the woman with a family and children, whose life revolves around bearing and raising them. This sort of woman is shown as having no voice of her own, as if she is being subjected to this by societal pressures and that her true liberation lies in adopting the the lifestyle of a girlboss.

This “otherization of motherhood” in Western ideology like we discussed in class, is not just limited to women from the third-world countries as I have found. It also applies to women from the first-world where the role of a mother in general, is looked down upon and seen as externally-enforced instead.


Resisting the Binary

In her song King, Florence brings this issue up by both relying upon and resisting these essentialist categories. The chorus of the song “I am no Mother, I am no Bride, I am King.”

In her rejection of the first two categories, she resists fitting into either stereotype and instead chooses to use a masculine term to describe herself.


This strategy of rejecting aspects of their femininity is frequently used by modern-feminists, often without consideration of its consequences; becoming the very thing you are trying to resist (an all-hailing male monarch i.e. King). Florence however, is cognizant of this fact in the song, which opens with the following lines:


“We argue in the kitchen about whether to have children

About the world ending and the scale of my ambition

And how much is art really worth?

The very thing you're best at is the thing that hurts the most”


Here, she attempts to draw attention to the conflict between the two roles; of being career-focused and maintaining control over her art, vs. adopting motherhood and letting go. She seems to want both.


In one interview, she mentions that the whole crux of this song is that "you’re torn between the two". Work is the one thing she's always been sure of, but she's now started to feel a shift in her priorities, knowing that there are other ways to feel fulfilled too.

In doing so, she captures the plurality of her identity; as a woman who has complex and often conflicting desires, and challenges the essentialist categories often depicted in media, by fitting properly into neither.

 

Have a listen to the song above (i promise its good) and do let me know what you think of her portryal of womanhood. Do you think her usage of the term 'King' for herself is achieving what she intends for it to achieve? Would love to hear your interpretation of the song in the comments.


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