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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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8 comentários


Aisha Aamir
Aisha Aamir
22 de jun. de 2023

I LOVE thing song and the MV and almost stopped breathing when I saw the title. I love the lyrics and the visual art accompanying them in the music video itself. However, just like you mentioned, I do find the use of the term King a little on the nose. Modern feminists adapt to and use masculine terms to "redefine" themselves but, in doing so, also reinforce the gender binary. Even in the song itself (even though I love it), Florence's constant rejection of the terms Mother and Bride, and firm acceptance of the term King reinforces the idea that there can not exist any strength or firmness in the roles of mothers and brides and that these traits can…

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Respondendo a

So glad you liked the song!

And I agree with your comment too, in fact so does Florence lol. I remember watching an interview of hers where she admitted to her rejection of femininity and subsequent adoption of male traits (for example choosing to sing in lower registers) just so she could be accepted into the scene and not be held back by the responsibilties that come with being a woman. At the same time however, I think this song is also an acknowlegement of the fact that those responsibilities might catch up to you eventually, and that even though they subject you to certain societal norms and stereotypes, it is also okay to want them and give into them.

Curtir

Huge fan of florence welch's songwriting and I have to agree, this song is a lyrical masterpiece. I really enjoyed reading your take on it!!

My interpretation is that the song essentially reflects how career driven women have to make major sacrifices in order to survive in a patriarchal world. These sacrifices often come at the expense of motherhood. As a woman you can’t have both which also begs the question why do men have it so easy. While the term “king” is typically associated with masculinity, I think her use of it here is to highlight her desire to adopt a different kind of identity, one where she can break free from traditional gender expectations that force you to…

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Respondendo a

That's actually one of my favourite lyrics by her :( Gets me everytime.

And yess, I agree with your interpretation aswell, the idea that it is always women who are faced with the burden of making a choice at the end of the day and having to compromise between one thing or the other.

And once you've made one compromise, they never stop coming. There's always another challenge waiting at the corner. She also highlights this directly in the lyrics:

"But a woman is a changeling, always shifting shape

Just when you think you have it figured out

Something new begins to take"

which link to your point about wanting to adopt different identities, but none of them without sacrifice-…

Curtir

Exactly!!! I think the idea of king is very strong. It may be a weird analogy but I was thinking of bed sizes and how the queen size is essentially smaller than a King size bed. Even though they're very different things but they're just an example of this idea that even if you're a queen you are in some way weaker than or smaller than the King.


And exactly from this I was thinking, the song "God is a Woman," by Ariana Grande is a good way of subverting a lot of these ideas of strength and power (similar to something this song does).


It's also interesting how the song wants both career and motherhood. In a lot of…

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Respondendo a

Your comment actually made me rewatch the video and I happened to notice that her dance movements kept alternating between gestures that made her seem big/superior (for example when she raises her arms into the sky and floats up) vs small/weak (withdrawing into herself and pulling her hands close to her chest) which goes on to show just how powerful even sizes are in signifying certain gendered stereotypes.

But exactly like you mentioned, I like that the video shows both aspects and that she switches between these 'stereotypes' in the form of her dance, because being able to fit into both ideals can be equally as effective in challenging the binary as rejecting it entirely.

Curtir

LOVED THE SONG! both the video and song itself. goosebumps with the lyrics especially after how you analyzed it all so well. The idea of king i do believe is one associated with a man and is a representation of strong, capable, independent and a leader like, ideal man. my understanding is that she was not trying to break the binary but rather identify and characterize as the other (the man) in the binary with the traits and characteristics she was pointing at eg career driven, independent and how these are not restricted to a man alone and hence the term can be used universally. there are so many lenses through which the song can be analyzed, and it holds…

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Respondendo a

That's a very interesting outlook and upon reconsidering my own interpretation in light of it, I would think yours is probably better haha. This also ties in very nicely with the discussions we've been having in class regarding meaning not being fixed. I think this song is her attempt to reconstruct the definition of the word 'King' itself by challenging the ideals we're used to and applying them to a woman instead, which also goes to show the extent to which meanings and our subsequent perceptions are socially constructed.

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