Why Shania Twain Is My Gospel
When I found out Shania Twain was releasing a comeback album this year, the eight-year-old inside of me imploded into ten million screaming and joyous fragments.
Shania Twain was the closest thing I had to gospel growing up, and I went to Catholic school. The Bible came second to my “Come On Over” cassette, which I listened to on repeat until the tape inside had been nearly worn through.
Nearly every childhood memory I have has some sort of tune tied to it – be it my dad nearly bursting my eardrums blasting Jane’s Addiction on the way to school, or my grandmother’s eccentric Barry White obsession.
But Shania’s voice stands above the rest when I think about what specifically impacted, and still has an effect on, my life. Shania’s DGAF powerhouse vocals when combined with her self-assured lyrics became the ingredients that set me up for success. Her music became a surrogate moral code that was feminist in every measure, even though I had no idea what that meant.
But even then, why was Shania so formative for me? Well for starters, if you’ve listened to any song of hers, you know she doesn’t take shit from anyone. If she were making that music today, her Twitter fandom would rival the Beyhive.
Now of course Shania had a few songs that are like “I can’t live without you blah blah blah,” but doesn’t everyone? Especially compared to the songs on the radio today, like Meghan Trainor for one example, sell this version of feminism that encourages women to love themselves and their bodies, but only if it’s acceptable to a man. We heard you say “boys like a little more booty to hold,” Meghan.
Shania, on the other hand, advocated for loving yourself regardless of men (or if you have that “bass” *eye roll*) because they shouldn’t determine anything.
Shania made it pretty obvious that even though she was human and wanted love, that wasn’t coming at the cost of letting a man, or anyone for that matter, tell her what she should do or how she should do it. Her song “Honey I’m Home” was the first time I’d ever heard gender roles completely reversed, and effectually dismantled. She tells him what to do, and when she says, “This job’s a pain, it’s so mundane/ It sure don’t stimulate my brain,” it was also the first time I was made aware of possibility that women CAN want a future that involves valuing smarts and not looks.
She not only ran her own show, but everyone else’s. And I think that’s why as a kid, I saw Shania as a literal god. I wanted to be that independent and strong woman who fearlessly got up on stage, and was plainly able to say she wasn’t impressed by a man even though society makes you feel like you’re *supposed* to be this weak and impressionable girl who needs rescuing.
Especially growing up in the South, a lot of my energetic, self-determined side was something I was made to feel insecure about. I’m sure I wasn’t the only headstrong girl who was always belittled for either being “bossy” or having an opinion like it was something that women were just inherently supposed to suppress. I never got the memo to reign it in, and that’s probably because I had parents who also always encouraged me to chase whatever it was I wanted.
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Often times, I felt alone because of this inability to be passive. Taking initiative and having an opinion were my most powerful weapons, but sometimes they weren’t enough. If anything, Shania was a reinforcement of my hunger for that rebelliousness, especially the song “In My Car (I’ll Be The Driver)” in which she basically says I am in control, so shut the fuck up.
Arguably her most feminist track, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” is my anthem. It’s that one particular song that everyone in your circle kind of just regards as “your” song. Before I even knew what it was, this song forced me t0 own my femininity. I’ll always remember those moments when my family played this song, and we all celebrated like it was the most formidable force in the world.
But Shania’s music didn’t just celebrate femininity: it also empowered it. For example, another one of my fave songs of her’s is called “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face,” and I’d spend sunny Saturday mornings dancing around my room, hairbrush handle and all, singing the lyric, “She’s not just a pretty face, She’s got everything it takes, She’s mother of the human race,” thinking “Yes, I can be all of these things!'”
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I could go after any career I wanted, I could act thotty, I could stay home if I wanted. The ambiguity in whatever decisions I made wasn’t frightening, but rather thrilling. Whatever it was I wanted, Shania was basically there all along of the way of achieving it saying, “Yes, girl, you got this.”
Another formative track would be “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and it might be single-handedly responsible for my almost unreasonably high standards when it comes to partners. The way Shania almost callously remarks “whatever” at the end is the personification of my DGAF personal brand.
Also, if you’ve not seen the music video for that song, stop everything you’re doing and watch it literally right now. Her cheetah ensemble is living proof that you can be and feel sexy without being a sexual object. She uses the music video to shut down nearly every moment that a man looks at her as being sexy for them. That to me was so powerful because of how she shuts down these thirsty af dudes not just once in the video, but three times!
But ultimately, I have to thank my mom for placing this music in my life. There’s no way I’d have Shania’s entire discography memorized if it weren’t for my mom hitting play on the cassette every time I asked during our drives down the Jersey Shore while my dad was deployed. She’s the ultimate woman to me, and has always been my biggest cheerleader regardless of the choices I make.
It’s hard for me to say whether or not I would embraced the feminist movement if I didn’t already have such a strong female figures to look up to who was defiant in the same way that I was, and if anything embodies Shania’s message, it’s this lyric from “Black Eyes, Blue Tears”: “Find your self-esteem and be forever free to dream.”