Rick Belden is an abuse survivor who’s written poetry about his experiences in his book Iron Man Family Outing. At a site called Masculinity Movies, he wrote a review of the 2008 film Iron Man. In this review, he shares his childhood passion for this comic book character and the appearance of this character in his dreams as an adult, which helped him heal and eventually write his book of poetry. He states that Iron Man “saved my life by showing me that I could use my own ingenuity to protect myself, to armor myself up (psychologically, emotionally and physically), to hide my vulnerabilities, and to survive.”

Rick’s post made me think about my “Iron Man” or more precisely my “Iron Woman.” I’ve been a fan of Stevie Nicks since I was 13. I listened to her albums daily throughout my teen years and my 20s. When I went no contact with my family, I left behind Stevie’s CDs and basically stopped listening to music altogether. When I began healing from my abusive past in 2008, Stevie started appearing in my dreams. I learned that she represented the Strong Woman within me who could help me work through my painful past and eventually find the courage to give what I had to give to the world.

My History with Stevie

Up until 1983, I hadn’t been seriously into music. I basically liked what my best friend liked and had a few albums that she had. My brother was the big music buff. He was in high school and into what’s now considered classic rock, including Fleetwood Mac. In 1983, we moved for the third time in my short life, and my sister and I began listening more to the radio. We kept hearing three amazing songs that were popular at the time: “If Anyone Falls,” “Stand Back,” and “Nightbird.” These were all from Stevie’s album The Wild Heart, which is still my favorite album.

Both my sister and I were enchanted by the music, the lyrics, and the voice, even though we didn’t know who the hell she was. Sometimes the announcer would say her name, and we kept making mental notes to go to a record store and get her album, but we never did. Then one day while we were in the living room listening to one of Stevie’s songs, my brother walked by. We mentioned that we loved the song. He said, “I know who that is. That’s Stevie Nicks.” As I mentioned, he was a long-time fan of Fleetwood Mac.

He then showed us one of his music magazines where there was an advertisement for Stevie’s album. We bought it and that was the beginning of our love for Stevie. As she came out with more solo albums (six to date, not including compilations, with another one coming later this year), we bought them. There were very few days when I didn’t listen to Stevie’s music, usually going through one album after the other. I truly believe that if I hadn’t, I would have eventually succumbed to my parents’ desires and traveled an inauthentic path in life.

Patriarchy Versus Feminism

It’s difficult for young women today to appreciate the struggles that women of previous generations had to go through to be visible. I was born in 1970, so by the time I was a teenager, feminist ideals were all around me. This conflicted with my parents’ patriarchal views. According to them, creativity and career ambitions interfered with the real business of nurturing a husband and children.

So on the one hand, I was hearing messages about women’s empowerment from my environment (my friends, the media, women other than my mother). But then on the other hand, I was constantly being bombarded with messages, both subtle and in-your-face, that I needed to embrace marriage and motherhood because these were the only options for me if my existence on this planet was to mean anything.

I think I knew from the start that these weren’t my destiny. I was drawn to the messages of empowerment but also felt guilty about caring so much for my creativity and career dreams (at that point, to be a writer). So I wrote in secret and resisted making clear goals and taking concrete actions to achieve them, doing meaningless things that kept my true potential safely hidden from world.

The Strong Woman

Stevie has always represented a strong woman to me, and comments I’ve read from many other women who love her agree. Her voice, first of all, isn’t your typical songbird voice. It’s distinct, gravelly, and strong. At the same time, Stevie has a very feminine style. She’s known for flowing dresses, shawls, hats, and boots. I’ve never seen her without make-up. I don’t know about other women, but this was something unique for me. She’s always given off an air of being a feminine woman who’s in control of her life.

Shortly after I began my first dream interpretation class, I had my first Stevie dream. In the dream, I had just gotten a CD player. It was black and white. I was trying to figure out how to work it. I pushed a button, and one of Stevie’s songs started to play. I thought, “OK, now I know how to make it play. How do you turn this thing off.” I fiddled around with the many buttons on the player, but the music kept playing. Suddenly, I saw a lever, like the sort you find on a toaster. It said “Stopper” next to it. I pushed down on it, thinking it would make the music stop. Instead, the music just got softer. I shook the CD player and said, “This thing is going to drive me crazy.”

I believe the CD player represented my mind. Some things were starting to come into the light (black and white), and that set off the voice of the Strong Woman within me. I had started to learn how to hear her voice. However, I wasn’t yet ready to keep it playing, so I was looking for the stop button (i.e., “stop her”). I couldn’t stop that voice, though, now that it had begun to speak. I could only tune it out. My reaction expressed my anxiety over hearing that Strong Woman speaking in my head. That was a reflection of the abusive messages I had gotten from my family: Any woman who thinks she can find happiness outside of marriage and motherhood is crazy.

Stevie’s lyrics are very personal. They reflect both strengths and weaknesses that many of us can relate to. I think any woman who grew up during the transition period that I grew up in or who was a young woman at that time (like Stevie) felt the dilemma between fulfilling the role of nurturer that had been placed on women’s shoulders for centuries while still honoring her ambitions and creativity. Even though it’s more acceptable for women to make room for a prosperous career in their futures, my experience working with women of all generations shows me that the role of nurturer is still revered as the most meaningful for a woman.

As I said, I think I knew marriage and motherhood weren’t my destiny from an early age, but all I kept hearing was that these were the only options for a meaningful life. I needed to hear another voice validating an alternative path for a woman. Stevie was that voice. In her lyrics, I found strength, confidence, independence, and love alongside weakness, fear, uncertainty, and anger. I needed to know that it was OK to express all of these.

When I started dreaming about Stevie, I bought a few of her albums and began listening to them again. Her music is just as enchanting now as it was when I was younger. The assumption that I must be crazy to follow a path other than marriage and motherhood has passed, and I’ve been slowly but steadily progressing with ambitions that I’ve had for years. I think I’m finally listening to the voice of the Strong Woman within me at full volume. I’m grateful that Stevie Nicks has had the courage to honor the Strong Woman within her and that we’ve been fortunate to receive what she’s had to give to the world for so many years.