In Praise Of The “Too Much” Woman
I’ve told these stories before. How my high school best friend’s boyfriend hissed at me to “shut the fuck up” in AP History class because I raised my hand too many times for his liking. How I was often quieted as a kid because I have a big voice and even bigger opinions. How I’ve been told I’m “too much” by various humans, throughout various phases, of my life.
What I haven’t told you as much about is how after that kid hissed at me, I stopped raising my hand as much, in that class and others. How I became hyper-cognizant of the volume of my voice and am now crippled with anxiety if I’m ever shushed or told to be quiet. How I learned to mirror other people’s best versions of themselves back at them instead of shining on my own - not to be manipulative, but because it was easier than being my big ol’ huge self. How I’ve learned to make myself smaller while also absorbing whatever emotional maelstrom swirls around me, becoming a people-pleaser who has spent more time in toxic relationships than I should have because maybe, just maybe, if I improve, they’ll love me again.
I ask myself a lot: when did I morph from a fearless teenager into a grappling and awkward 20-something hellbent on making herself blend into the beige-boho macrame walls of the early 2010s, an inoffensive ornament next to the spider plant in an Instagram photo?
Which is why I want to talk about Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ right now (whoever started reading this and predicted this was the road I was going down, pat yourself on the back.)
And I’ve got thoughts. Not well-formed, or sophisticated thoughts. I’m not going to expound on how the production nuances elevate decade-old songs without changing their essential energy. How Swift’s voice has deepened, and softened, and gained texture and confidence that bring out elements of these tunes that none of us ever heard because. How the 10-minute-long “All Too Well” is somehow bigger and more epic while burrowing into tiny moments etched in a young woman’s brain, with such specificity it somehow makes it universal. Although allllllll of that is true (seriously, it is SUCH an accomplishment).
What I’m going to talk about is the size of the emotions. ‘Red’ has always been a larger-than-life tour of heartbreak and the devastation of the end of young love. We’ve known that, it’s not new. But I’d never truly felt that depth as a listener, that well of longing and anxiety and wounded pride and desire to both want to reconcile AND burn it all down and spit on the ashes.
There’s a Tik Tok I saw yesterday that I cannot for the life of me find despite the fact I commented on it (stupid algorithm) that talks about how when ‘Red’ originally came out, some of us didn’t listen because we were “cool girls” who didn’t like “girly stuff”, and so not listening to artists like Taylor Swift became a personality trait.
That Tik Tok hit me square in the face, because I was that “cool girl.” If you’re not familiar with the cool girl trope, it’s best captured in this monologue from Gone Girl (huge excerpt ahead, you’ve been warned):
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer… Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want… (Cool Girls are) not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.
And yes, I am including this because I was that cool girl. I was that girl who proudly had “more guy friends than girlfriends,” who eschewed anything that was remotely feminine or “girly”, because to me…. that was weak. And I wasn’t weak. [CONTENT WARNING: discussion of drinking alcohol, skip to the next graf if you need to] I remember at one of the start-ups I worked at being recruited to take a couple of engineers to a whiskey bar in the Mission to convince them to join the company, wherein I proceeded to wow them with my knowledge of obscure high-test scotches I knew because my ex-husband liked them. Did I like scotch? Well, technically as an alcoholic, there wasn’t any booze I didn’t like. But the answer is no, I didn’t like scotch, I would have much preferred sparkling rose in a coupe glass because it tasted good and made me happy. But did I order scotch and get on with the night? Yes, yes I did, and I was proud I was able to do so.
‘Red’ is the antithesis of Cool Girl. It is a big album of gut-wrenching pain. It’s an album screamed out during that very last fight when both party says the things that cannot be unsaid. It’s crying in a stairwell after a boy kisses you one day and ignores you the next. It’s the hurt while still raw, that first moment you’re cut open. It’s the sobs before the crying hangover. it’s unmediated rage and sadness and betrayal and regret set to super catchy ear worms in an album that spans country to dub step to hyper-pop. It’s uneven and disjointed, but it’s also straight to the veins.
Taylor Swift isn’t a Cool Girl, she’s the girl every Cool Girl specifically contrasts herself against, because she takes up space, is inconvenient, calls out her exes on their shit (while making great music) and dares to name her emotions for exactly what they are. And there is something so undeniably seductive about how she can write exactly what we do our best to tamp down, to not express.
And I want us channel some of that righteous energy. It’s OK to feel and mourn and laugh. It’s not like we should start going off the handle when a relationship ends, or we lose a job, or someone talks over us in a meeting. But maybe we shouldn’t put too much of our self-worth into always having the stiff upper lip, always being polite and forgiving, always laughing off everything from broken hearts to broken bones. Maybe we should all get to scream-sing about it sometimes.
Because being the “cool girl” is an artifice, it’s a defense mechanism, it’s a form of people pleasing that attempts to manipulate those around you so you fit in. And it creates a false reality, as Swift sings about in her monumental 10-minute all too well, singing,
The idea you had of me, who was she?
A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you
Not weeping in a party bathroom
And while we are discussing this Too Much Girl energy, isn’t that the biggest enthusiastic accomplishment, to re-record your own work as a giant middle finger to those who wronged you, only to discover that the words you wrote a decade ago when you were dissected in the press for the number of partners you had, as everyone hated you for being too perky, too enthusiastic, too in-your-face, before the larger recognition and societal discussion of the power differential in relational age gaps.
So here’s to “Too Much” Women of any age: may we take up space, sing loudly, fall hard, and feel everything.
Be kind to yourself,
PS: And I hear some of you now rolling your eyes through the screen, because it’s not fucking Proust, or Joyce, or Hemingway. But this is what I’ve talking about - it’s ok to love something fiercely that isn’t clever for the sake of being clever. TMI time: I went on a first date yesterday and at some point referenced the ‘Red’ release and the man tilted his head and said “Oh, you’re a Taylor Swift fan?” My first reaction was to say “oh, not that much,” but I stopped myself and said I was. And while I realize the above 1,500 words (oy) brings me, a 37-year-old-woman, firmly into Swiftie territory, I don’t care. I’m going to throw on a turtleneck and get that pumpkin spice latte today because I wanna get autumnal up in this joint. And I shall do so unabashedly.