An ode to womanhood

The Preatures’ Girlhood is a much-needed examination of the tension between femininity and identity.

Photograph of The Preatures with a red-pink background and 70's style opaque yellow circles printed behind their heads. “Whatever makes me a modern girl/Nothing makes me a modern girl”. Image: Justine Landis-Hanley

When I first heard the expectedly electric and glorious opening strokes of the bass on Girlhood’s title track, I knew that my perennial obsession with the Preatures and its magnetic front-woman Izzi Manfredi had well and truly resurfaced.

My fan-girling, reminiscent of my own girlhood, became inevitable when I heard Manfredi declare “Come on, give me heroism/Give me what is mine”.

The Preatures’ latest album is not, as its title may first suggest, an ode to the frivolity and awkwardness of teen-girl adolescence. Much like the title song’s iconic line, Girlhood is a call to action for the modern woman; one equipped with the self-actualisation to deal with the pressures and expectations of the world.

From the captivating, dance-invoking rhythm of ‘Mess It Up, to the melancholic nostalgia of ‘Cherry Ripe,’ the band mix stories of regret over love gone bad with belted lines about the victory that comes with realisation through reflection. Manfredi urges us not to underestimate the emotional expanse and intellectual depth a girl is capable of wielding.

Boys make an appearance but they are not a source of obsessive idolisation. They exist as secondary figures to the broader and more diverse preoccupations of the girl and her girlhood. “I’ve been stuck with you on my mind,” Manfredi confesses in Mess It Up. Yet those “lip-balm kisses” of early adolescence and messy fixations on boys are replaced by a protagonist fuelled by thought and progressivism. In ‘Your Fan’, The Preatures conflate the love between two individuals with the love of music or one’s favourite artist. The sense of heartbreak ties the two experiences together and also depicts a girl that can exist beyond the usual heartbreak that perturbs the years of girlhood. She has varied interests and emotions. The girl of this narrative does not wallow in some overly-dramatic turmoil that perturbs a stereotypical construct of teenage heartbreak. Instead she experiences deeper loves, new spiritualities and is subversively independent in her pursuits, chanting “just another runaway” as she manages to “live it all, all behind” (‘Nite Machine’).

Girlhood’s arguably most significant track, Yanada, sees Manfredi singing in the Sydney Dharug Indigenous language. Both the lyrics, and the act of producing the song, call for increasing understanding and communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures in the path to reconciliation. She chronicles, ‘And I’m here walking with you again/Tell me how it was at the beginning of our land’, capturing the need for reciprocality and an increased receptiveness to a world and community that is often ignored and left unexamined. The song’s lyrical persona seeks to discover these new ways of knowing the world, claiming ‘I just open up my eyes under water’. ‘Yanada’ also highlights how the album is embedded within the Sydney landscape and charts the definitively unique vulnerabilities and complexities surrounding the modern Sydney woman. Thus, the seemingly personal narrative of the girl find a place in the broader backdrop of her city and imbues her struggles with a universality and importance.

The Preatures’ modern girl is one who can embody divisive forms of femininity, who can embrace the clashes and contradictions within herself and her identity — she is strong yet soft, devoted in her relationships yet blissfully independent and able to embrace the pretty and the political.

When Manfredi cries “Whatever makes me a modern girl/Nothing makes me a modern girl” in the album’s eponymous song, their construction of womanhood is made obvious: the notion of what the girl should be, how she should act, or what she should be interested cannot be confined to established expectations or gendered constructions; it should not be confined to the themes or descriptions within the band’s eleven tracks.

There is no common idea of the modern girl. There is no modern girl. There is just the girl.

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