Archive | July, 2011

Your Musicology Is My Mythology Featuring: Tori Amos

26 Jul

Until I read this Bitch Magazine article in defence of the Tori Amos fan, I had no idea that she wasn’t cool. Apparently, liking her music remains a “forbidden and dorky love”, comparable only to playing D&D or voluntarily watching The Craft.

What the fuck? was my initial thought. Tori is amazing. The girl taught herself how to play the piano by age four. When she started out, she did show tunes in gay bars and survived on the contents of her tip jar. She sings about masturbation, mermaids and MILFs. She is ginger and friends with Neil Gaiman. What the fuck more do you fucking people need in a fucking rock star? Fuck!

But then I read on. And apparently, the real problem with liking Tori Amos is that her lyrics are too ‘pretty,’ whilst simultaneously causing discomfort by addressing taboo topics and being laced with something too assertive to be stereotypically feminine. “In rock music, there tends to be two types of women granted the stage: tough girls and nice girls.” And Bitch Magazine journalist Sady Doyle explains it more thoroughly in her personal blog:

Over here, we have Taylor Swift. She is fulfilling one of the fucked-up Acceptable Woman archetypes: Permanent girl-child, weirdly virginal no matter how many famous dudes she dates and writes songs about dating, white-dress-clad, sort of a permanent bride waiting for her lifelong heterosexual marriage which is the only thing you can really envision for her, Has A Lot Of Feelings but saves the really venomous ones for (a) girls whose boyfriends she wants to steal, (b) girls who steal her boyfriends, and (c) occasionally boyfriends. Depoliticized, only ever speaks about private concerns, anti-feminist or a-feminist, a giant child, strangely impossible to sexualize (even when she’s talking about “things that [another girl] does on the mattress,” she sounds like a sixth-grader who’s not quite clear on what Mattress Things consist of, but knows they’re DIRTY and girls who do them are GROSS). Acceptable, culturally, for these reasons.

AND OVER HERE, on the OTHER END of the spectrum, we have Ke$ha. Who, yes, looks exactly like Taylor Swift in the process of incurring the world’s worst hangover. Permanently offensive, permanently blitzed, always as loud and rude and inappropriate as she can possibly be at all times, frankly and hugely and inappropriately sexual, confrontational, vulgar, mean, covered in glitter and puke and possibly her own urine, out for attention and doesn’t care who knows it: Ke$ha occupies the whore/bad girl end of the Girl Spectrum, on which Taylor Swift is of course the virgin/good girl at the opposite end. You would think the whore/bad girl would be less acceptable, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not true: She’s still depoliticized and anti-feminist or a-feminist, she still reserves her hostilities for other girls and the disappointing boys she’s dated, so we have room for her. If only because we need someone to publicly vilify and disassociate ourselves from.

It’s a false dichotomy that many of us are familiar with. ‘Bad’ girls get a reluctant kind of respect because they display traits we honour in men, like strength. And ‘nice’ girls are admired for the traits we associate with femininity, like sweetness. But where does poor Tori fit? Tori, who is a Nice Girl but also a Strong Girl, openly defiant but vulnerable. Tori, who might sing about fucking, but she’s singing about fucking butterflies. A woman who’s shaved everywhere you’ve been, boy, but also thinks it’s a sorta fairytale. She is a fiery, soft round peg that doesn’t seem to occupy the square holes of the Madonna/Whore complex.

Well, according to Doyle, the media opinion of Amos formed years ago, forces her into a shadowy third category: the hysterical female.

As a society, we encourage girls and women to be emotionally accessible, and in touch with their feelings; we say that it’s an innately feminine trait. We say it, that is, until they have feelings that make us uncomfortable, at which point we recast them as melodramatic harpies, shrieking banshees, and basket cases.

But Tori Amos’ music is neither melodramatic nor lunatic – at least, I don’t see it that way.

Take Playboy Mummy for example. It’s a song written in response to her miscarriage. “And then the baby came before I found the magic how to keep her happy.” God, I can’t even begin to imagine how much guts it must have taken to write and record that song, to sing to the daughter she lost, to lay herself bare when she performs it live.

Perhaps Tori Amos’ music has never had the potential of widespread appeal because it speaks almost exclusively to women. And that’s one more thing I wanna talk about.

Amos estimates that “one in three women who comes to my shows [has been] raped or sexually abused.” And formal studies support these numbers; Deborah Finding surveyed 2,000 Tori Amos fans for her 2009 thesis, and found that the rate of sexual assault in the fanbase “was enough to support the statistic that one in four women has suffered sexual violence.” Tori Amos is an outspoken victim of sexual violence herself; after releasing Me And a Gun, the chilling a cappella recount of her own rape, she decided to co-found RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the first national support network of its kind in the States, due to the letters she received from other victims of sexual violence.

These letters were from people who had felt completely alone until hearing her music in solidarity with their own experiences. One of these people was Shannon, who founded Pandora’s Project, an online organisation which provides support and resources of survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and Pandora’s Aquarium, an online community named after a song by Tori Amos of the same title.

When I was 19 years old and starting to come to grips with my own rape, it was the music of Tori Amos that brought me comfort. If I felt painfully alone, I would listen to her Little Earthquakes album on repeat; there was nothing more comforting than feeling like someone understood.

Tori Amos is among the most powerful, inspiring and effecting voices of our time. She has an extremely devoted fanbase – a point I suppose I’ve only gone and underlined. Now I’m sure that the majority of these fans don’t buy her music because of some perceived life-changing nature of her songs. They don’t raise her to cult status because they are feminists, or queer, or socially ostracised or even because they have been abused. It is because she is talented, and her music is brilliant. But seriously – who can honestly say that Katy Perry’s Ur So Gay changed their life? Shouldn’t that MATTER?

We named my childhood dog after Tori Amos. And I hope you realise that’s more flattering than it sounds.

The Misogynistic Hashtag

19 Jul

Call me Ishmael, but my problems don't just end with the fail whale

Twitter, I love you. You had @me at #hello. You link me to brilliant news and amazing like-minded people, helped me follow the student protests and today’s Hackgate, and you are one of my all time favourite expressions of narcissism. (Remember that time I was on your front page? That was fun for everyone.)

But Twitter, you can be really, really sexist.

For those of you that may not be familiar with what a trending topic is, it is a way to group certain terms on Twitter, often preceeded by a hash (#) to make them more easily searchable. If enough people are discussing something, these hashtags will become ‘trending topics.’ It can be a pretty cool feature — Doctor Who commentary usually trends, and it sometimes alerts you as to which celebrities are about to appear on talk shows (or which ones have just died…). But the cool thing about these hashtags is also the problem: they are the most popular conversations on the social networking site. And as one blogger points out, “Sometimes when you try to peer into a hive mind, you end up stung by hundreds of misogynist bees.”

Offensive trending topics of the past have included #stopthatthatsgay and #rulesforgirls.

By far the worst I’ve ever seen was last year’s #ItAintRape, which I won’t even dignify with a link. At the time of writing, one of the top hashtags is #youknowuasideline, which looks a little like this:

It’s true that Twitter forces you condense information into 140 characters, but it’s somewhat difficult to defend these with the ‘oh-but-there’s-a-lack-of-contextualisation’ excuse. According to Bad Reputation, “if you ever share a train carriage with a stag party you may well overhear some of the same sentiments.”

The flagrant misogyny of most of these trending topic hashtag tweets makes me furiously angry. But I don’t find them shocking. I think Germaine Greer is wrong on lots of things but right on this one: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” Well, now we have a handy index in our Twitter sidebar

Now, I don’t think that Twitter’s trending topics are reflective of a universal and perpetual ‘hatred’ towards women, but rather an effect of society’s tired old belief that the two binary genders are separate, unequal and cannot be reconciled. However, trying to promote understanding through dialogue usually ends in a #ragequit (for me at least), as people are inherently defensive of what they have been conditioned to believe. It is also close to impossible to have any kind of productive debate in 140-characters or less.

Bad Rep has a pretty decent theory that explains why Twitter’s sexist (-racist-homophobic-ableist-ageist-etc.-etc.) trending topics feel out of place next to your Twitter stream.

Sorry everyone, I know you don’t want to hear this, but Twitter is people with misogynist views, at least if the trending topics are anything to go by. I would hazard that Twitter might feel like a feminist space that has been invaded by these ‘orrible ‘ashtags because you follow feminists. But we’re in the minority, just like in Real Life.

It’s much easier to craft your own media bubble online than offline, but it’s basically the same thing. If you read the Guardian, and hang out with other people who read the Guardian, then Guardian-y sort of opinions are going to appear to be the norm. Whereas the norm, in circulation figures at least, is actually the Sun. And then the Daily Mail.

Also, they have an excellent answer to why Twitter is the way it is: Because the web encourages people to be shitheads. Have you ever been to text-based chat site Omegle? You’d think that, given this amazing tool, which could use anonymity to free users of prejudices like class, race, gender and age, people would finally be able to make some kind of profound, tangible connection to another human being, as equals. Well, no, it seems like they can’t. Because humanity is a dick.

It’s easier to be an asshole to words than to people.” Just look at Facebook’s reaction to Japan winning the women’s World Cup against the US, or take a look at Openbook. That people are bigoted or misogynistic when they have the safety of their monitor to hide behind is no ground-breaking story.

In regards to Twitter, use of the hashtag itself may also encourage cheap shots at minorities. As Bad Rep asserts, “It’s a joke, and there’s an age-old link between cheap gags and crude gender stereotypes.” Through comedy, people often voice more controversial opinions than they might otherwise. When I was featured on the front page of Twitter, it was not for my left-leaning tweets, or my keen observations of the books in or near my house – it was for a joke about hipsters, and one which in some lights belittled the experience of the Chilean miners. (A miner faux pas, you might say… Sorry.)

I actually think that feminists have a strong enough presence on Twitter to dominate conversations like #menmarrywomenwho. But it’s also important to remember that people are no more ignorant on Twitter than they are on any other social media platform, or high street, or train carriage. Flaming everyone who posts a derogatory tweet is a waste of time.

It’s a symptom. You’re treating a symptom, and the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head, as they say. So my thinking is, why not cut off the head?

Of the human race?

It’s not a perfect metaphor.

…And maybe Doctor Horrible isn’t the perfect mouthpiece to illustrate my point.

Basically, misogyny wasn’t invented by Twitter. It may be perpetuated in that forum, but the real problem is much bigger than that. Sexism is a global problem, not just confined to the Twittersphere. As well as undermining women, it reflects unfairly on men, it divides us, and sadly it’s not going to go away soon.

Just remember folks: you are what you tweet.

Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Morrissey

14 Jul

Oh Morrissey. Ohhhh, Morrissey. Good old Mozzers. Morrissey ya the more I love ya. England’s favourite lachrymose lyricist has been receiving quite a bit of media coverage lately. ‘Veggie-Mad Morrissey Searches Fans For Meat.’ ‘Morrissey Bitten By Dog.’ ‘Throwing out his own fans – has Morrissey finally lost it?‘ Lost what exactly, his faith in impartial journalism? “There were times when we could have killed him…”admits The Quietus, while The Guardian criticises his “dodgy new material.” This charming man seems to be the joke of the music industry at the moment. But that joke isn’t funny anymore.

(Just kidding.)

So what difference does it make?

Oh, it makes none. Morrissey is still the tits, and he always will be. He fronted The Smiths, called David Cameron a silly twat, and he still rocks out at fifty-two. Also, t.A.T.u covered one of his songs – which is pretty much the greatest honour known to man. He is a bad-ass veggie and also AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO REALISES HIS NAME SOUNDS LIKES ‘MISERY’ LOL ISN’T THAT FUNNY?

Morrissey’s songs transcend the waspish put-downs of critics and even the pretension of his own public persona; they range from the visceral to erudite contemplations of the human condition. You can mock his diva pretensions all you like, but his music is always going to be played by under-appreciated seventeen-year-olds with The Queen Is Dead posters on their walls, and you are always going to secretly listen to William, It Was Really Nothing and wish that they’d played it while Kate Middleton walked down the aisle.


What is the real problem with prostitution?

7 Jul

Someone once told me to always open with a joke before getting to the heavy stuff, so here goes! “How do you make a hormone? Tell her a misogynistic joke.”

Basically, Amsterdam was amazing. It was full of canals, cyclists, and coffee shops selling cannabis (or ‘jazz cigarettes’ as my friend Dawn calls them, adorably). And it also boasts the infamous Red Light District, which is one of the main tourist attractions and puts a whole different spin on the idea of window shopping.

Prostitution has enjoyed a long tradition of tolerance in Amsterdam. Like marijuana, the Netherlands’ approach has been to legalise the trade and impose regulations. However, my feelings about the RLD are conflated. Even just putting the human body on par with a product (even cannabis…) is problematic.

In ‘Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment in Legalized Prostitution,’ Sullivan asserts the liberal feminist stance that sex work has the capacity of reducing women’s bodies to a basic commodity, and unconsciously aids in the institutionalising of the rights of men as purchasers of these bodies. Its normalisation has the potential to gravely undermine the workplace equality many women have strived for, and I can totally see this.

On the other hand, I think we have had more than enough of society policing what women do with their bodies. Here in the UK, Nadine Dorries is pushing for abstinence education for girls only (ugh) in schools, and abortion rights are under attack yet again (there is a pro-choice demo this Saturday though). If you want to make prostitution your chosen career, I don’t see why the hell you shouldn’t.

It is all too common for the media to dehumanise and attack sex workers. Do we all remember that vile Richard Littlejohn piece from way back, on the murder of the five Ipswich women? He argued that in their field of work – their work as“disgusting, drug-addled street whores” – “death by strangulation is an occupational hazard” and “in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.”

That the lives of these women were so one-dimensionally dismissed disgusts me to this day, and it is disgusting, disturbed men like Littlejohn that are the real issue surrounding the sex trade. The problem comes from dehumanising and oppressive societal attitudes and the relentless focus on these women’s trade which dismantles their worth as human beings.

It’s a tricky issue, but Amsterdam and the RLD seem to have prostitution spot on if it’s going to be done at all. Sex workers have their own union, access to police protection, and there is a significantly reduced threat of violence and sexually transmitted diseases.

I don’t think I’ll ever reach a concrete conclusion myself, but has created a handy chart to show the spectrum of feminist reaction to the sex trade. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts too.