"Woman In Chains" by Tears For Fears

written and interpreted by Kris Caballero (November 03, 2018)



Album Artist Song Album Track Number Year
The Seeds of Love Tears For Fears "Sowing The Seeds of Love" #1 1989
I want to remind everyone this: Being at the close of the 2018 year, current events have shown us some big controversies with men versus women. Examples would be Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford; The other is Google employees walking out and protesting against the company's handling of sexual harrassment against executives. Flip the coin and you see the case of Caylee Anthony, and the insanity that costed the life of Travis Alexander. It's been a very tough get-along in the showing of men and women fault-blaming, finger-pointing that bring forth the divide amongst ourselves.

Frankly, Tears For Fears wrote and sang a song about the rise of women's movement back in the eighties expressing and speaking out against the injustice and mistreatment, based on how they dress, income inequality, how the media portrays them and being "secondary" to men. Granted, this song takes a neutral approach to remind listeners, and fans, what the women's movement was and is about, but recalling the feminine qualities we possess.

"You better love loving and you better behave
You better love loving and you better behave
Woman in chains
Woman in chains"
Roland starts the song off with a simple opening, sort of coming off as a warning/disclaimer. Notice the usage of the word "better"—you better love loving/behave. Followed by "Woman in chains," this first verse opens up to inform us that this isn't just another story telling as the message is quite serious.

"Calls her man 'The Great White Hope'
Says she's fine, she'll always cope
Woman in chains
Woman in chains"
Ah, a female voice singing this verse alongside Roland. That female is Oleta Adams whom both Roland and Curt found performing at a nightclub in Kansas City, and welcomed her to sing a couple of songs for the Seeds of Love album.

You may have noticed Oleta's mention of "The Great White Hope." That was a nickname given to a white (light-skinned) boxer named James Jeffries who lost against a black (dark-skinned—mellinated) boxer named Jack Johnson back in 1910. Watching the official video (above), it features a woman in a relationship with a man who happens to be a boxing athlete. During the video, the woman looks distressed yet trapped because of the abusive antics of her boyfriend. To sum it up, Oleta saying this woman "calls her man 'The Great White Hope'" is a deep reference to domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse, just because her boyfriend is a boxer? That first line is immediately followed by "says she's fine, she'll always cope." I mentioned this interpreting the lyrics for the song "Luka" by Suzanne Vega, that words like these are reactive thoughts of reassurance—telling, perhaps lying, to herself that things will change and get better down the line, hence "she'll always cope." I like to ask with all sincere respect: Why do you folks think like this? If someone repeatedly puts you down, both emotionally and physically, shouldn't you leave them? Love is beautful despite its drawbacks and flaws, but some things cannot be properly explained or expressed with words.

"Well I feel
lying and waiting is a poor man's deal
And I feel
hopelessly weighed down by your eyes of steel
It's a world gone crazy
keeps Woman in chains"

Roland comes back singing "I feel lying and waiting is a poor man's deal." This might have a subtle reference to male aggression and injecting manipulative techniques to get a woman under his control. I say this because the next line goes, "And I feel hopelessly weighed down by your eyes of steel." If you patch both of them together, from a man's perspective, he wants to continue taking his aggression out against this woman, but the feelings of remorse is expressed by her "eyes of steel," thus being "hopelessly weighed down." Thinking about that, this is where men don't want to feel wrong or admit to doing wrong—his thought of "you're suffering because I suffered before, so I'm giving you what I experienced and the low-down I feel toward someone who's submissive to me." The world crumbles when a woman suffers and cries, and because of the world's craziness, keeps that 'woman in chains.'

"Trades her soul as skin and bones
Sells the only thing she owns
Woman in chains
Woman in chains"

Listeners and fans may find this part a little cliché. You trade your soul as "skin and bones"—parts that make up majority of the human body. She then "sells the only thing she owns." What's left? Her heart. It may be a quick reference about this woman just wanting to be loved. Another interpretation is this woman offers and gives her all, be it work, relationship/marriage, business partnership and so on.

Don't believe me? Write a list of female musical artists, past or present, then close your eyes and throw a dart/pen at your list. Whoever it lands on, look at their song lists from the albums they've released over the years. How many female musicians do you know have songs that doesn't sing about Love—flirting, dating, breaking up, marrying the man she met, etc? I noticed this personally, and it tells me one thing: What Oleta sang on this part of the song rings true, that women just want love and to be loved. (Now, yes, not all women are like this, but we're just explaining the lyrics in general as not all women fall under this classification.)

Roland continues to, what I think, is the hardest hit that strikes me in the depths of my heart:

"Well I feel
Deep in your heart there are wounds Time can't heal
And I feel
SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE IS TRYING TO BREATHE
Well you know what I mean
It's a world gone crazy
keeps Woman in chains"

You may want to read those lyrics more than once, then let it all soak in. What's Roland singing here? He summed up the effects of being a domestic abuse victim. It's this part that hits me hard:

"SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE IS TRYING TO BREATHE"

India, Peru and Norway are countries that are fighting so hard to combat rape/sexual abuse against women all because of the way they dress, where they lurk around at night and because...they're women (different cultural perceptions of how women are treated and looked upon, usually as submissive and always in agreement with what men tell them to be and do). Honestly, as a man, this hurts knowing about it.

Both Roland and Oleta sing that one line in all capital letters, telling the world that whatever you're doing, someone is struggling "trying to breathe." How do I know this is about the severity of domestic abuse? Look at the line previous to that, "deep in your heart, there are wounds Time can't heal." I'll spell it out for you: Women who were victims of abuse have to live with the ramifications and damages done toward them, while some pain inflicted can't be healed with Time. This causes all kinds of psychological havoc in the woman, causing them to emulate that aggression against others—men, specifically—or see no way out other than eliminating their own depression. Yeah, it's that: Suicide. Put them all together and you realize that "someone somewhere is trying to breathe" is a shock meant to wake the world up that an innocent life may be on its way out. Devastating....

While conversations about cultural differences in how men treat women can go on until the cows come home, just know that someone is undergoing a suffering many people never be able to fight off. "Well you know what I mean," as Roland states. We sure do, Roland, and the reality of the scenario pains me deeply. (My sincere condolences and heart goes out to ANY woman who has undergone or suffered from domestic abuse, or even lost a life due to this unfortunate occurance. If family or friends aren't there for you, we are!)

"It's under my skin
but out of my hands
I'll tear it apart
but I won't understand
I will not accept
the greatness of man"

Saying something is under your skin but out of your hands is very much saying that you know about it, but have no control to stop it as much as you'd like to. Tearing this issue apart but unable to understand sounds self-explanatory: You can ignore the issue and move on, but you won't understand fully how it affects someone's life and their well-being. Those lines explain what both Roland and Oleta are emphasizing throughout the song, saying that while they know about the issue, it shouldn't be ignored. The pain and agony it has caused has costed lives around the world, and when it happens to someone you know, you then pay undivided attention to work and sway away the pain before it gets worse.

Then comes something I feel is a response to all this: I will not accept the greatness of man. That may have a lot of interpretations but here's mine:

Because the song seems to steer toward the direction of a call to women's movement, the happenings and after effects of something demeaning, such as domestic abuse, often is the cause of Man. Being that we live in a world run and operated by men, their control and power allows them to push forward in any which way continuing making this world turn and habitable place. Unfortunately, this control and power is often abused and seeing that women are "secondary" to men, they've opened up opportunities to manipulate and con women into doing what they want to do, to or against them, any which way. Because this has triggered controversies and ruined lives, the attention is there and mentioned, but because we have limited control fighting off this constant mistreatment, we can only do so much. With that being said, the respect and honor given to "the greatness of man" should not be easily accepted. Think of that as "we will not take this and we will stand up to fight and combat this mistreatment and inequality." You might also say it's a "quiet" protest against men.

"Tt's a world gone crazy
keeps Woman in chains

So free her
So free her"

After all that's been said, this sums up everything that constrained the woman. Back to the official music video, the woman and her boyfriend finally settle in offering their forgiveness toward each other, thus living happily ever after. Don't you just love a happy ending?

After the major issues that keep a "woman in chains," it is up to us to "free to her."

Interpreted about the rise of feminism, this is what Roland says the song is also about:

"The song is an anthem for the women's movement, if a man can write such a thing...

But the song is also about how men traditionally play down the feminine side of their characters and how both men and women suffer for it. I think that a lot of the spiritual side of men and man's soul are seen as feminine qualities. I think it's sad [cause] we miss out."

Interesting about what Roland said about men playing down their feminine traits. This makes for a new, re-interpretation of the song but I, myself, can't help visioning the demand of women's rights through the words. That's why we host a section on this website to openly discuss the lyrics for songs like these!

Songs like this are as hard hitting as you can get. The words are deep and have more than one interpretation/meaning behind it. Given what's going on in current events today, it couldn't have come at a better time. Then again, it's a big reminder to fellow Tears For Fears fans, and fans of eighties music what the song is really telling us. Sure, there may be speculation about the words being repeated—woman in chains—a metaphorical picture of the world we live in and the struggles one undergoes just because they're a woman. To all women: It's a tough, dangerous world out there but you don't have to make it that way. Be strong, speak out and protect yourself from anything/anyone who maliciously tries to take advantage of you any which way. Remember one thing: You're a human being too. Make it count, make your life count, and best of all, make YOU count!

What is your interpretation(s) of the song? Tell us in the comments below!