It’s sunset. I can feel the salt gathering in my hair as I skate along the beach. I'm listening to the waves, the wind, and the speaker playing in my backpack when I pass a group of men.
The ocean goes silent, my ears close off to the music. All I can hear is:
“That’s not how you should push —”
“Hey baby —”
“Can I get your number?”
If I had a dollar for every time I got catcalled or critiqued while skating, I’d probably have enough money to hire someone to do something about it. The fact that my mind instantly jumps to depending on someone else for this security is both enlightening and frightening. When I first heard Voice Box by Why Bonnie, I was instantly taken back to these moments, to being talked down to and completely objectified.
“The first time I listened to this song, I hardly heard — let alone understood — the lyrics. I was so swept away by the ephemerality that absorbs it.”
The title track is what hit me hardest. “Voice Box” sounds dream-like, soft, melodic. If I close my eyes, I see myself on a cloud, flying over the beach through an orange sky. At least until I see myself down below on my skateboard, register the lyrics, and realize that everything is more concrete.
The first time I listened to this song, I hardly heard — let alone understood — the lyrics. I was so swept away by the ephemerality that absorbs it. Once the lyrics registered, the entire song shifted. There’s one line in particular that brought me back down to Earth.
I wanna go out in the streets /
Hit the concrete until my knuckles bleed
I felt struck by this for two reasons — firstly, because I felt this exact same desire to react every time I was catcalled while skating. Secondly, because I never actually fought back, in fear of what would come of it. I remained silent and submissive and, honestly, I couldn’t tell you why, aside from the obvious reason: I was afraid of being judged for expressing this resistance. The feeling of wanting to fight back but not being able to, of dreaming of resistance and simultaneously staying submissive so that you can pass as acceptable. These desires are constantly in tension with one another in the song, and in life alike.
I don’t wanna yell /
Take my voice box out /
I can’t control myself
I reached out to the band to better understand the purpose of this title track. Blair Howerton, the vocalist and guitarist of the band, told me that “the song is a reflection on being silenced or undermined.” She explained that her experience as a woman had shaped the idea that “natural emotions like anger are taboo or off limits” — and that if she expressed those emotions, she wouldn’t be taken seriously.
“Whether it be in personal relationships or in a public setting, I think this is something that most women have experienced in some capacity,” Howerton explained. “I wanted to funnel all of these repressed emotions into the lyrics in a tongue and cheek kind of way — kind of like giving a big ole middle finger to any man that’s made me question my own experience.”
“I am only now getting in touch with my voice box, becoming comfortable expressing emotion and resistance.”
Truth be told, I cannot stop listening to Voice Box. Every time I listen to it, I find a new way I relate to it. I uncover memories of ways my gender negatively impacted how others interacted with me, some so ingrained in me as normalities I am only now getting in touch with my voice box, becoming comfortable expressing emotion and resistance. The next time I go skating, I promise myself I will protect my voicebox from the judgment of others. I promise myself that I will let it ring out in self-defense so that I can start chipping away at the objectification of both myself and all womxn everywhere, little by little.
Soleil Engin is a public policy major at the University of Chicago, where she also helps organize student performance opportunities with the Music Forum. She is passionate about healthcare equality, creating gender inclusive music spaces, and making music with her band, Puddlejumper.