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The Return of Female Rage: A Year Into Paris Paloma's 'Labour'

By A. L. Sarino

By mixing musical genres of alt-pop and folk, Paris Paloma's Labour became a social media sensation with its thought-provoking lyricism honoring the feminine rage released a year ago.

We minimize our anger, calling it frustration, impatience, exasperation, or irritation, words that don't convey the intrinsic social and public demand that 'anger' does. We learn to contain our selves: our voices, hair, clothes, and, most importantly, speech.

- Soraya Chemaly, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger

In contemporary times, there's an assumption that women have attained all the rights they've legally fought for over decades. Consequently, as noted in previous essays, much of the discourse surrounding the ongoing oppression faced by women becomes muddled by this assertion. One can counter this dissection of the feminist movement, which results from the manipulation of Western media in depicting such efforts. In a chapter of the book titled Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism in the 21st Century, Pozner (2003) asserts that this phenomenon of antagonizing feminism can be observed in media coverage, perilously defining the overall discourse merely as 'women's issues,' thus resulting in stereotypes that are both invoked and perpetuated in the current sphere. Given the challenges women have encountered in maintaining the feminist conversation in recent years, what can they do to overcome such obstacles for further progress? How can they resist the narrative of feminism's often-assumed obsoleteness as a movement?

As a response to the trend of misogynistic displays in media particularly during the era of Donald Trump, there has been a resurgence of works categorized as 'female rage' in independent media (Heimberger, 2020). While the term itself has been used by theorists since the 20th century, it has long carried negative connotations due to stereotypes surrounding women's anger perpetuated in media and literature. Beard (1971) contends that attitudes and beliefs suppressing female emotion, particularly anger, trace back to the beginnings of Western civilization, evident in its literature and tragedies throughout history. The resistance against women's natural emotions, coupled with assertions of feminism's irrelevance, intensifies efforts to silence the often marginalized stories of the female experience. Despite its perceived connotations, the concept of female rage persists in literature and independent media, often serving as a tool to challenge and dismantle prevailing opinions in sociopolitical discourse.

In London-based artist Paris Paloma's song 'Labour', we witness such resistance in the opinions toward female rage. At the onset of the song, we are immediately confronted with an image of retaliation—the female persona questions her male partner about why he is holding onto the rope she hangs onto with the sea beneath her—hinting at the simmering anger underlying the song's instrumental. In the first pre-chorus, the female persona directs her query toward her male partner, of which one of them tends to the orchards and gables, providing us with insight into the song's setting. This added detail in the lyrics not only informs us of the period in which the song is set but also serves as a reminder of the longstanding history of women enduring patriarchal practices.

Unsurprisingly, the persona uses profanity in the pre-chorus as the tension between recollection and the present intensifies. However, this accumulated anger does not erupt in the anticipated chorus—instead, it chooses to sustain the momentum created with the use of chants. The lyrics "The capillaries in my eyes are bursting" can be interpreted literally, as the bursting of capillaries occurs not only in instances of burnout or strangulation but also during childbirth—a theme that becomes prevalent in the later parts of the song. The persona questions the romantic dynamic between herself and her male partner, as well as the preconceived role of her partner as her savior. By the end of the first part of the chorus, Paloma simply writes "You make me do too much labour," appearing to offer a straightforward conclusion to an otherwise anticipated section, unless one delves into the nuanced use of the word "labour."

'Labour' encompasses both the physicality of manual work, as earlier stated by the persona, and the act of giving birth—a dual meaning that adds depth to the line. The persona further describes the physical effects of the rigorous work she has endured under her male partner by mentioning the cracking of her calloused hands in the second part of the chorus, and then repeats the last line of the first half. The use of repetition in songs can emphasize its message, and in this instance, Paloma not only highlights the suffering of women in domestic settings but also depicts it as a recurring form of oppression.

The second verse begins by highlighting the unbalanced dynamic between the two characters, now shifting to the verbal realm of their relationship. The persona focuses on the power her male partner holds, even in the dining room, as the recipient of the labor she is compelled to perform, accompanied by verbal abuse. The persona acknowledges her partner's intelligence but notes that he often feigns incompetence to maintain dominance. This recurring behavior can be likened to paternalism—a practice of coercing individuals, often under the belief that it is for their own good (Murphy, 1974). Paternalism and incompetence, whether false or not, have both been utilized to reinforce power dynamics in relationships.

In the second pre-chorus, the persona is horrified by the prospect of conceiving a daughter with her male partner—a scenario that would perpetuate the cycle of trauma without any chance for escape. The persona expresses great fear that this cycle of trauma and abuse would not only be witnessed by herself but also experienced by the unborn child, as articulated in the lyrics "She'd do what you taught her, she'd meet the same cruel fate." As a response to this fear, the persona brings us back to the present in the midst of her escape, with lines such as "To undo this mistake" and "At least I've gotta try," echoing torment and desperation.

The chorus resurfaces with its controlled anger, neither loud nor faint—a choice reminiscent of the pervasive silencing of female emotion throughout human history. The following section delves into the ironies of the roles forcibly imposed on women, where each synonymous and juxtaposed word represents two opposing characteristics that are both expected and desired:

All day, every day, therapist, mother, maid. Nymph, then a virgin, nurse, then a servant. Just an appendage, live to attend him. So that he never lifts a finger. Twenty-four-seven baby machine. So he can live out his picket fence dreams. It's not an act of love if you make her. You make me do too much labour.

-Paris Paloma, Labour

The second reiteration of this chant is not only sung by Paris Paloma herself but also accompanied by a youth choir. This symbolizes the cycle of trauma, horrifyingly beginning in childhood and often first introduced within a child's own household. The final chorus is accompanied by the aforementioned chant, creating a powerful yet controlled showcase of seeping, raging anger. The song maintains its momentum until the very end, concluding abruptly with the final repetition of the lyric "You make me do too much labour."

In the accompanied music video, Paris Paloma herself portrays the persona from the song, seemingly depicted before her escape to the waters. The scene is set at the supper table shared by the persona and her male partner, with the latter dining first before her. The woman observes her partner attentively while singing along with the lyrics, waiting until she is allowed to eat. Instead of partaking in the meats in front of her, she selects the solitary pomegranate at the corner of her side of the table. Ignoring decorum, she voraciously gnaws at the pomegranate, prompting visible disgust from her male partner at her unkempt appearance. Momentarily averting his eyes, when he looks back, the woman has vanished—indicating she is already planning her escape. Pomegranates have long held significance in various societies, adorned with both similar and differing meanings, often symbolizing fertility and death (Bezzant, 2019). The use of the pomegranate as a fruit before the persona's escape in the music video can be interpreted with its two main connotations: fertility symbolizing the birth of the woman's freedom, and death representing the end of an abusive relationship dominated by the male partner.

Paris Paloma's lyricism displays remarkable potential in its adept handling of the subjects she opts to address. The succinct yet impactful nature of each line unveils a broader, more harrowing reality for women, both in history and in modern times. Her songs serve as a voice not only for the past and present struggles but also for the ongoing journey toward gender equality. Through her songwriting and voice, Paloma reaches out to younger generations, reminding them that despite appearances, the feminist fight is far from over. That anger as an emotion not to be shunned, but to be acknowledged and listened to.


About the Writer

A. L. Sarino is an emerging writer hailing from the Philippines. Aside from reading as a daily ritual, they take an interest in discussing prevailing social structures and injustices through literary film analysis. They study Creative Writing at the Philippine High School for the Arts and serve as a general editor at The Trailblazer Literary Magazine. Sa Ngalan ng Gula-gulanit na Gunita is their first published book. They can be found on Instagram at @a.l.sarino.

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