I will never know if it was sheer chance that led me to pick up Girls They Write Songs About just days before events in America took such a sinister turn: in some ways I like to think the fickle fingers of fate were driving my reading choices. At a time when being a woman feels increasingly like you are born to fight a battle you can never win, Carlene Bauer’s novel connected to my inner feminist in ways that had been lying dormant for far too long. This novel is a powerful, poignant and ultimately heart-breaking love song to what it means to be female in a world that tells us we can live our dreams then judges us for believing we can.
Charlotte and Rose meet in 1990’s New York as ambitious young writers both working for the same music magazine. Despite being very different people on paper, they soon discover they share a similar outlook on life and long to achieve what generations of women before them have been denied. Both of them crave being published and for their words to have the value they deserve; both want to milk city-life for every exciting and exhilarating experience they can; both know they can trust the other not to judge their choices by the misogynistic standards of a hypocritical world. Railing against the patriarchal expectations of marriage, children and being a house wife – believing life can, and will, offer them more – they carry each other through love, loss, success and failure until one day Charlotte realises they are no longer in sync. What happens when the values you built your friendship on are no longer the same? How do you cope when those who swore never to condemn you now stand in judgement of your very existence?
I have no greater compliment to give this book other than to say I felt thoroughly seen. As a woman I have known intense female friendship born from the desire for a space safe away from the inherent criticism of the male gaze; I too have known those relationships break down and the pain of knowing someone who shared your inner most feelings is no longer your safety net. Despite their longing to be strong, independent women, both Charlotte and Rose find themselves seeking male approval time and again in a world where even those of their own gender are trained to impose patriarchal expectation. The journey from absolute, unquestioning confidence in your dreams to the compromise that comes with age is also far too familiar as a woman and one that resonated powerfully, with the book clearly showing that in confining one sex to out-dated roles, men suffer the consequences too. We are all trapped in this game we call gender.
This is a beautifully written and pertinent book that is being published at a time when women need to know they are not alone and that is just one of the myriad of reasons to grab a copy. We need to recreate that safe space on a global scale and support the oppressed no matter where they are or what they look like – otherwise who knows when they will come for us?