This Companion Stories Series features essays which look at my album The Work and each of its songs in detail, going behind the scenes to de-mystify what artists too often try to keep mysterious.
In the Bedroom
Listen on Spotify here.
This song isn’t about sex. Not really. It’s the result of a slow realization I had about the role I fill in the world and am expected to fill, and about the misleading rhetoric around it.
There are, women are told, “good” men and “bad” men. A good man will “never” do this, a bad man will “always” do that. But, as in my song Ideology, I don’t think such stark binaries are accurate or helpful. I used to want to believe in them, because I wanted to date good men, of course. I wanted to know which were the bad ones to avoid, and I wanted to believe that the golden heart of the good ones would lead to a deep, instinctive understanding of how women should be treated.
Yeah, it doesn’t work like that. What I kept finding, over and over and over again, is that I was dating men who would certainly fit in the “good” category, which was great because I was really hoping I was good, too, and obviously that would lead to bliss and sunshine in our lives forever, but I never quite experienced it like that. Goodness, it turns out, is no match for society, and it is no match for patriarchy.
We behave, on a cellular level, how we have been conditioned to behave. It’s so difficult to operate outside of this because most of the time we can’t even tell it’s there. When I moved out of America, only then did I realize how much of me is American. And even when I realized it, to my dismay it was clear I could never make myself un-American, no matter how many books I read about the atrocities committed in the name of the nation or how much self-reflection I did or how much time I spent abroad.
It got worse when I looked up the psychological concept of the “dismissive avoidant” attachment style . What confronted me was a laundry list of descriptors from across the internet of my behavior and the specifics of my emotional and family life with uncanny accuracy. I had really thought my volition determined my behavior, that I was an individual. But it turns out we really underestimate the programs we download from the world around us in our childhood.
This is why you can have inarguably “good” men who have never considered that good sex may not begin and end with their desire alone. Men who stand up for women’s rights and then cross the threshold of a bedroom and feel free to dismiss all notions of individual respect. Men who truly and deeply care about their partners, and who would never tolerate them being abused - until given permission themselves by a closed door and a light switched off. But we don’t even call it abuse or neglect because we are all products of a society that tells us that’s exactly how heterosexual relationships should work.
Patriarchy, of course, isn’t selective. Women don’t usually call it abuse or neglect either. We’ve got a copy of the script and we read our lines and perform our moves just as effectively as men. And it’s so hard for us to see that that isn’t the way it has to be. That the opposite of sexual neglect and abuse is not politeness, tameness or dreariness. There is an alternative to feeling like a hollowed-out version of yourself after a sexual experience during which you never considered, and were never asked, what might make a supposedly pleasurable experience pleasurable for you, how you might like to participate in an activity you are in fact a participant in.
In the Bedroom is about my frustration over the script but is ultimately a testament to the alternative. When I finally, after over a decade, experienced this alternative, it was not because a knight in shining armor, a “good” man, was benevolent enough to treat me with a measure of respect. We both had to look down at the scripts we were holding to realize the lines didn’t fit in our mouths, that the directions did not reflect what we knew to be true, and that going through these motions yet again didn’t serve what we were trying to achieve with our relationship. It was really difficult, and I don’t know if we ever got there. But at least now I can say, in some measure, to those who come after him, “I can’t take your wounds; I’m already healed.”
Next week we take a look at my song The Abandoning. Catch it here next Friday, and download all the songs in the series by searching for Carly Z in the iTunes Store.
Words are the backbone of my music. They often reference powerful ideas that strike me in my readings or develop from my life experiences. The creative expression of these ideas sometimes begs for musical form, and other times it comes out on the page. Here is a selection of my lyrics, poems, essays and other writings.