Warning: This blog contains nudity that is quite sexy and empowering to women, nevertheless, some may find it offensive.
A few weeks ago I promised that I was going to introduce my readers to some “good for the soul” feminist music, so here I am, with someone awesome for you all to meet – her name is Amanda Palmer. And believe me, you want to know her.
I have to start out by saying, I don’t really know jack about “feminist music” – my Pandora has been on my Counting Crows station for about two months now, and I am fine with that. But after my fellow blogger posted The Beyonce Bowl 2013 I started thinking about the importance of female powered music - while I loved seeing the all-girl band and reunion of Destiny’s Child at the Superbowl, these aspects were ruined for me by the intense sexualized content of the entire show. What Beyonce was wearing, the way she was dancing, the fact that she (literally) stripped on stage, were all direct reflections of what I am SO sick of seeing in the media, and that’s a sexualization of women that has been created by a male gaze.
Today I was reading Patricia Hill Collins and she made the point that although we don’t think about musicians as “intellectuals,” they are part of our culture’s knowledge production and dissemination. I would venture to guess that everyone reading this post has heard of Beyonce and can sing a lyric to at least one of her songs, while only a small percentage have ever heard of Collins, let alone read her feminist theories. What we listen to and see on TV effects the way we think about the world, and how we see ourselves. Girls all over America saw a strong, beautiful, talented woman during the Superbowl half-time show, but a woman who, like most mainstream performers, was representative of the pornographic quality that the media demands from participating women.
I refuse to believe that’s as good as it gets. I refuse to believe that in order to be a successful musician that you must be sexualized. And that’s where Amanda comes in.
When I first found Amanda she was still in the band The Dresden Dolls, a two-part group consisting of her (piano and vocals) and her ex-lover Brian Viglione (drums). They sounded like a darker, more intense version of The White Stripes, but when I listened closer, I realized they were touching on subjects that I had never heard in the music of Jack and Meg. The realities of street harassment, rape, gender socialization, partner violence, alternative sexualities, and even vibrators were all woven into the duo’s obvious musical talent.
Today Amanda is married to writer Neil Gaiman (he’s written many fantastic books and graphic novels, but you might know him best as the author of Coraline), and has been producing music on her own since 2008. Although I love the songs she made with Brian, I think her solo work is even more beautiful, and her fight against the music industry has helped made her work SUPER accessible.
In fact, you can listen to all of it on her website, any time you want and in its entirety. She understands the reality that most people download music illegally or share it with their friends, and she skips all frustration by making her entire discography readily available. Also on her website is her blog, which she uses to stay in daily contact with her fans. Amanda is a VERY prolific blogger – I know because both her music and blog are available as an app, so she’s in my pocket every day, talking about the oppressions women face and finding solutions with how to deal with them. The blog was also where Amanda recently informed fans that her upcoming tour was cancelled – a close friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer and she wants to be with them as they go through chemotherapy. While her career is important, her friend is more so, and the blog allowed her to communicate this – not only did she not lose any followers, she gained a huge community of support for what she and her friend are facing.
Not all of Amanda’s songs are overtly feminist – some are about love found or love lost, female friendships, and motherhood – but EVERY one of her songs talks about the realities of life from a woman’s perspective. Although there’s a lot to love about Amanda, I think that the relatability of her music is the best thing about her. I can identify with her down-to-earth portrayal of women WAY more than I can with a Lady Gaga song talking about going to a club and getting drunk! As far as good role models go, she’s someone I would want my daughter or sister to listen to, because she has great insight and solutions they could use in their life.
It was suggested that my disdain for Beyonce’s performance could be a result of “slut shaming,” that is, hatred directed towards behavior that goes outside of the “norm” that females are supposed to be pure and chaste. As far as that goes, I actually think that the “norm” of female sexuality as it appears in the media is quite the opposite of this, and that Beyonce fit right into viewer expectations of a sexualized female. As you can see from the photos below, Amanda is no prude, and no stranger to not only being revealing on stage, but naked. So what’s the difference between her performance and Beyonce’s?
For me, the difference is that I always feel that Amanda is 100% in control - of her life, her music, and her body. I never feel that there is a man behind the scene pulling the strings OR that she is out to impress anyone but herself (and maybe Neil Gaiman). Furthermore, there is a message in her music, a strong, empowering, and feminist message, that is interested not only in equality for women, but for anyone who has ever been oppressed because of their sexuality – namely the queer community. I see Amanda there with her tits out and I can almost hear her thinking, “Yup, this is me. And I look great. But I am a commodity for NO ONE – this is MY body and I am doing exactly what I want with it.” It’s quite a different feeling then when I heard two days after the Superbowl that Beyonce’s rep was trying pull “unflattering” photos of the performance from the web. Because women don’t sweat when they dance – apparently.
Amanda Palmer is an inspiration to me every day, but she is only one of many great female artists. Until we learn to value these types of performers in our culture, we are stuck with Beyonce at the Superbowl and Call Me Maybe on the radio, and that’s not a world I want to live in. So who are your favorite female artists? Share them so I can finally get my Pandora away from the Counting Crows!!
Videos to watch immediately:
The Killing Type – my all-time favorite right now!
The Oasis Song – Upbeat tones, but talking about date rape and abortion – you won’t be able to forget this one.
Coin-Operated Boy – The Dresden Dolls song about the delights of a vibrator
Double Rainbow - NYC Halloween 2010, the Dresden Dolls delighted their audience with a musical redention of the popular YouTube video “Double Rainbow.”
Creep - A ukelalee version of the Radiohead classic!