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The women’s lib movement (or movements, really) of the Seventies are a battlefield you could write several blogs about. Feminism was becoming impossible to ignore as a mainstream presence, with books like Robin Wright’s anthology Sisterhood is Powerful and Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class coming to light.. Whatever position one was going to take on gender, it would have to be a reaction to feminism in some form.
A couple entries ago we made it clear that Kate Bush is at the bare minimum not a conscious feminist. Her work is useful for women’s sexual liberation and art, but Bush’s beliefs are broadly conservative. I’ve gone on at length about Bush’s soft spot for men — she’s generally inclined to treat them well and make them paragons of beauty and virtue. Sometimes she’ll even do this at the expense of failing to call men out when they commit immoral acts, as we’ll see in “Babooshka.” Bush is a heterosexual woman, and one with an unusually positive view of men. One of the primary effects of this preference is that her songs predominantly feature conversations between men and women, often of a romantic or sexual nature (or both). It’s a terribly heteronormative dynamic, although one Bush will push against at times.
“Room for the Life” is that rare thing in Kate Bush’s early discography: a song presenting a dialogue between two women. You’d think this would be particularly refreshing, but there’s something odd about “Room for the Life”: nobody ever talks about it. That’s not to say there’s not a single person in the world who doesn’t enjoy the song — it’d be astonishing if in the four decades since The Kick Inside was released nobody had liked “Room for the Life.” But the song is hindered by the fact it’s not any good. It’s easily the worst track on The Kick Inside: ham-fisted, embarrassing, and just plain forgettable.
Musically, “Room for the Life” is a trainwreck. Its verse blends into the rest of The Kick Inside, offering little in the way of standing out, and the chorus does little to liven up the song, with its tepid use of beer bottles as an instrument only succeeding in making the track sound flaccid. The worst comes at the end of the chorus, with Bush chiming “mama woman aha!” obnoxiously. This culminates in the song’s outro, with Bush imitating… what is she doing here exactly? Percussionist Morris Pert’s boo-bams (a kind of bongos) bring a light world music flavor to it, amplified by Bush’s grating “OO-AH”s. It’s one of the most tasteless moments on an otherwise sophisticated record, and releasing a track like this instead of “Frightened Eyes” is a downright baffling move on Bush’s part.
In addition to its musical tastelessness, “Room for the Life” is out of touch. Bush has identified herself with male artists, admitting that a lack of interesting female songwriters was the reason (she cites Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, and Joan Armatrading as exceptions). When she writes about two female characters in “Room,” things fall apart (this isn’t always the case — my favorite Kate Bush song is a woman-centered dialogue, as we’ll see). The song is addressed from one woman to another, telling of the magical power of women, expressed as a singularity with the oddly agrammatical phrase “because we’re woman.” It’s an oddly naïve little song, and one with strange conclusions on how to be a woman. “Lost in your men and the games you play/trying to prove that you’re better woman,” Bush chides her friend. How dare she try to get ahead of men. The audacity of it.
But the apex of the song’s regressive gender politics comes in… its conclusion that women are special because of their wombs. Really. The room for the life is the uterus. “Inside of you can be two.” I mean… what do you do with that? Infertile women and trans women are pretty straightforwardly excluded from the deal. That’s something Pat Robertson garbage might peddle. It’s a vulgar and outdated form of the Feminine Mystique. Yes, this is pretty much orthodox women’s rights stuff of the period. And it’s the point where you’re almost ready to call it quits on the Seventies. Bush will get better on gender in many ways — we’re going to see some amazing stuff from her in the future directly related to wombs. For the time being, “Room for the Life” is just something Bush — and the feminist movement — will grow beyond.
Recorded 1977 at London AIR Studios. Personnel: Kate Bush — piano, vocals. Stuart Elliott — drums, percussion. David Paton — bass. Ian Bairnson — guitars, beer bottles. Morris Pert — boo-bams. Andrew Powell — beer bottles, production.