With absolutely no hyperbole, I would argue that showers, hot, steamy, and full of fragrant bodywash, rank among the greatest inventions of humankind. Of course, given the political season we’ve endured – one needs to shower frequently as the mud and general sliminess still pollute the atmosphere.
One of the grimiest and most incendiary comments came during the third presidential debate. The insult “she’s such a nasty woman” was growled from a formal podium. Other than the sheer weirdness of that as a line in a presidential contest – it was uttered in such a crass & disgusted tone. Oddly enough, it resonated with women throughout the country who had been similarly dismissed with a caustic phrase. Suddenly, there were bumper stickers, coffee mugs, tee shirts all proclaiming the owner was a “nasty woman”. Apart from my delight in the entrepreneurial spirit that transforms an insult into a dollar, I am uncomfortable with the idea that anything about a woman/human being is nasty.
To me “nasty” connotes smutty and filthy, perhaps uncleanable? Is that a word? I’d rather him to have come out and called her a “bitch”. It would have been less demeaning. Most of the references to nasty women seem sexualized to one degree or another – and given that I believe consensual sex is glorious and light-filled even in its steamiest, most exotic variations – not a word that works.
This isn’t a political commentary — however, should you care to discuss my views on the “Imperial Tweeter,” which is the absolute most perfect name — we can have a long talk later. Suffice it to say that as a woman, a mother, and a feminist — there are issues.
I’ve never been uncomfortable with the concepts of equality — and gender bias is, on its face, ridiculous. Yet, growing up as a “southern lady,” who still generally has a hanky in her laptop bag — my bona fides occasionally have been questioned. Back in college, several friends completely rejected the patriarchy — and loudly protested against the notion of makeup, lingerie and high heels as trappings of our imprisonment. To me, that was just as nonsensical as expecting me to be barefoot, pregnant and standing in the kitchen. When I have on the perfect lipstick, my legs looking 6 feet long in a pair of five-inch heels — I like how I feel. Conversely, there are times when an old well-washed button down and bare feet are what make me happy. The more serious barb came from an old love, who would swerve right given any opportunity. Attending some stuffy corporate function as the token liberal escort, I heard my companion remark to some guys, “well, you know she’s a sensible feminist.”
Wait — what? That’s what he was saying to people about my deeply held views on equality. The rather too long ride home was testy as I tried to understand what he meant….. In general, I’m considered sensible, even reasonably bright as a person, didn’t realize that was a gender thing. As I prodded and questioned, more pointedly than my usual style, I realized what he meant. My feminism was “sensible,” because it didn’t make him uncomfortable. After that bit of “consciousness-raising,” I took care to voice the discomfort I felt with casual sexism, I realized that it was important for my girls to hear me speak — to hear my voice, to throwback to the 2nd wave.
This election season has given plenty of fodder to any and all discussions of misogyny, body shaming, racism, ageism, xenophobia — and we could write a book. Most likely someone will — or several someones. However, for me, one of the most interesting dynamics arising from the smoky rubble of American electoral politics has been the “good girl gone bad” scenario. When even the Fox news anchors, blonde and never threatening — are painted “bad,” for asking questions or preferring a grope-free work environment. I am going to take a big leap and assume after 75 years at Fox, neither Megyn Kelly nor Gretchen Carlson could be called liberal feminists — yet in challenging Donald Trump and Roger Ailes they crossed a right-wing Rubicon. As bad girls, will they serve only as “poster Barbies” for the old boys club? Or perhaps, find a new voice that can challenge and remake conservative thought to include women?
As you know by now, my mind lives in its own little hyper-linked world and as I thought of my bad girl party, I wanted some company. We should add enough so we could at least play 3-on-3, and I’m thinking either Megyn or Gretchen could easily dunk on me. Hey, it’s not all tea & toast in feminist analysis.
You know the biblical story of Esther, yes? A heroine, part Cinderella and part Joan of Arc — she’s strong, feisty and impassioned while Haman, the villain is deliciously evil and gets his just desserts (and I shouldn’t do that pun, but I have friends that make the best hamantaschen at Purim). She is not the bad girl in the story, empowered though she is. The bad girl remarkably does nothing, yet sets in motion the entire sequence of events.
Vashti, Queen of Persia, was renowned for her beauty and grace. Art of the ancient world being scarce, I can say that in the eyes of the pre-Raphaelites she was stunning. Xerxes, the king and more or less hero is proud of his “woman”. Being a man of great assets, he loves to show them at his parties allowing guests to marvel at his wealth and good taste. At one such event, he commands a servant to tell the Queen she must show herself to the guests — walk the catwalk as it was.
Maybe, she’d done it before with no complaint, maybe he’d never asked so presumptively — who knows? Remember, the story isn’t hers — Xerxes, in a fit of rage, banishes Vashti — deeming her a traitor to the realm, aka a bad girl.
Moving from the traditional to the fictional, let’s talk about Margaret Mitchell’s quintessential bad girl, Scarlett O’Hara. Had the book been about ‘Scar’ O’Hara, Gerald and Ellen’s spirited son — it would have been a Horatio Alger story set against the collapse of the antebellum South. Yet, Scarlett, in defiance of every expectation, survives and even prospers amidst the chaos — and that is enough to be labeled ‘bad’. Set as she is, against the righteous Ellen and Mammy and darling Melly — Scarlett’s actions fuel outrage and gossip. She finds that despite becoming caretaker for an increasingly large commune, her success cannot insulate her from spite and judgement. By telling herself that after she and hers survive, she will become the “great lady,” her mother was, or the beloved steel magnolia that Melanie represents — her tragedy becomes that she sees herself, and her accomplishments as failures on a yardstick crumbling in the ash heap of history — ie, gone with the wind.
Our last player seems like a “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” or a Pecos Bill character of the olden days — yet, she and her sister were as real as Cornelius Vanderbilt or Benjamin Butler. Victoria Claflin-Woodhull-Blood-Martin and her sister Tennessee are among the early suffragists — yet they were deemed bad girls, even by the “unmaidenly, man-hating” women wanting the vote. Victoria and her sister actually did sell snake oil for a while and worked as faith healers. Eventually their fame brought them to the attention of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had a thing about doctors. So, Tennessee was intimately involved in his health — and supposedly he did propose to the horror of 5th Avenue. Meanwhile, Victoria was using the stock tips garnered from the financier to establish the first woman-owned stock trading company. Of course, there wasn’t one listed on the NYSE until 1967. In 1869, the colorful but controversial General Ben Butler had her speak about women’s rights to a congressional committee which garnered her enough notoriety and enough backers that she ran for President in 1872. She nominated Frederick Douglass for her running mate, although he didn’t seem to be aware of the fact. She actually was on the ballot in several states although no votes cast for her were counted.
One of the things solidifying Victoria’s bad girl niche was her promulgation of the philosophy of “free love”. Perhaps quaint today, she opined, “I want the love of you all, promiscuously. It makes no difference who or what you are, old or young, black or white, pagan, Jew, or Christian, I want to love you all and be loved by you all, and I mean to have your love.” Living her truth, at one point she was sharing a house with her husband, her ex-husband, and her lover. However, what doomed her acceptance wasn’t free love, but her expectation that it was an equal playing field. She felt women could make their own choices which drew the ire of such notables as Henry Beecher (self-righteous minister of “that” family). Unfortunately for both of them, the right reverend Beecher behaved like a televangelist of today — and “comforted” young women in his flock. Being Victoria, she called him on it in her newspaper. Thus, she spent election day in jail — charged with sending obscene materials through the post. Considered too fast to be a feminist, she becomes an expat, returning to the US to run for president in 1892, falls in love with cars, becomes an ambulance driver in WWI — and brings new meaning to living the life you love.
Why does this matter? None of it is new — it’s been a topic of conversation for more than one (or 300) generation(s). Not so ironically, as I was finishing this — I was reading Trainwreck: The Women we love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle. She looks at women’s history through its outliers, such as Charlotte Bronte or Billie Holiday or even Lindsay Lohan. Her comment relating to what it takes for women to become famous, “the expansion required to make oneself heard and seen by the public is deeply at odds with the basic female work of getting and staying small”. The presidential campaign brought home to me that it’s not about being a “nasty woman,” it is about not being silent. It is about not being well behaved and taking whatever is dished out to “keep the peace”. It starts through teaching my daughters and their friends, boys & girls, that equality is not a gift granted it’s a birthright. We comprise half of the population, apologizing for our place in the world is saying that we don’t have one and that’s nonsense. In the course of life and my work, I’ve run into so many amazing, vibrant women – silent for fear of stigma, or waves or being the “bad” mouthy one. Watching them stifled, suffocated by unspoken words – I marvel at the energy, the innovation, the raw, visceral power that could emerge into the world if unlocked. Why not try?
- Girls with Guitars (Wynonna Judd) — it’s a cute song → but watching what the family Judd has been up & down in the press over the years — over things that have ridiculously little to do with talent — the song becomes kind of kick ass — and despite the tragic love of KY basketball, I do enjoy their talents!
- Express Yourself (Madonna) — if there’s a poster child for “putting it all out there” — Madonna is it. Love her, or hate her — she has stayed relevant and true to her own sound, even as it evolved and she discovered her inner Brit — to this day, Borderline will see me turning up the volume and scaring small children as I sing…..
- Run the World (girls) (Beyoncé) — was there any doubt that one of Queen Bey’s songs would be here? I’m old school and like a lot of Destiny’s Child stuff too — what I really love about this woman is how she controls her own look/sound/marketing/billing — it may be type A, but it is her type A.
- The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me (Robert Preston in The Music Man) — ok, what’s not to love? The heroine is a librarian, Marian to be specific. Her racy literary taste fuels the gossips and piques more than Professor Hill’s musical interest.
- The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane (Ames Brothers) — When I was a little girl, I loved this song. It had the cool punch line — after all the stuff in the song, it turned out they were talking about a baby… so funny when my Dad pulled out his old vinyls. Yet, one more “ick-ness” to be laid at the feet of the Orange Man — as he talked about the physical characteristics of his daughter, Tiffany — not such a cool song anymore.
- The Bitch is Back (Tina Turner) — I have a friend who does not like covers. However, Tina’s version is perfection — her smoky growl amps Elton’s lyrics to the stratosphere!
- Perfect (Emma Blackery) — this British vlogger stands out from the millions on the strength of her lyrics and sheer musicality — this song is one of those that you sing, while pumping your fists, and amusing the cars in the next lane. “The most powerful thing you own is your…/Voice/Scream above the noise/That you’re perfect as you are/Even when times are hard/You are brave/And even if they say/That you’ll never go far/’cause you’re “dumb”, “skinny” or “scarred”/You’re perfect the way you are.”
- Bad Reputation (Joan Jett) — As much as I relish the music, additionally, I have so much respect for any of these older rock divas — mostly since going through the 70s/early 80s as a female breaking into the business it wasn’t easy — in fact it was often twice as hard and they were subject to demands on their bodies that compromised their sense of worth.
- True Colors (Zedd & Kesha) — Very different from the Cyndi Lauper song — Zedd’s song is called, a “moody, gothic, electro ballad” showcasing Kesha’s fantastic range. Yet, despite the 30 year distance — the more things change…. Despite testimony alleging 10 years of abuse by Dr. Luke (not an MD), Kesha was instructed that the contract with Sony superseded any personal difficulties she was having with her producer — and that if she recorded at Sony, she would have to work with him…. “All my life, one page at a time/I’ll show you my, my true colors/No, no no no I won’t apologize for the fire in my eyes/Let me show you my, my true colors, it ain’t no rainbow”
- She’s a Rebel (Green Day) — “She’s a rebel/She’s a saint/She’s salt of the earth/And she’s dangerous” — aren’t there times when you really need to be the one holding the grenade?
- Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)– for the longest time, “Breakaway” was a mother/daughter anthem as we ran to games, practices, recitals, and other suburban routines. Never having watched Idol, we just liked her voice. Years later, as she gracefully handled all the body shaming that comes with celebrity — this song seemed à propos for us as well as for her: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/Stand a little taller/Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone/What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter/Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone”
- He Thinks He’ll Keep Her (Mary Chapin Carpenter) — As the song starts, it sounds like it’s another riff on the “dreams of the everyday housewife” theme — and yet, it’s really a song about moving beyond being taken for granted towards finding one’s own voice
- The Road’s my Middle Name (Bonnie Raitt) — true confession — there’s a tiny little part of me that wants to be Linda Hamilton in Terminator — buff, with a dog & jeep — able to cope with any danger to my girls.
- Raise your Voice (Sister Act) — in the Broadway incarnation of the Goldberg/Pesci comedy, this is the anthem about finding and using your voice, because that’s basically why it was given to you….
- Extraordinary (Liz Phair) — a song released to mixed reviews as some called it “authentic” and others “sickeningly effervescent”. That sort of echoes how it strikes me — there are days when I’m singing along, rebelling against the world — and then days when it’s “meh”, and I hit the skip button.
- Not Ready to Make Nice (Dixie Chicks) — in the chaos leading to the Iraq war Natalie Maines dissed President Bush for our headlong rush into conflict — as odd as it seems in an age where the current president is accused of being a “spy” and a presidential candidate was accused of being a co-founder of ISIL, oh & let’s mention Ted Nugent — the Dixie Chicks were banned from the radio, there were CD burnings, they got death threats! This song was part of the band’s “comeback”, which was more fizzle than fame.
- Womankind (Annie Lennox) — an album called “songs of mass destruction”, needs to have a song on this list, yes? She has always been fiercely free, and this album is no exception, up to and including Nadirah X doing a rap interlude that kills on this track!
- Till It Happens to You (Lady Gaga) — initially a lot of folks dismissed Lady Gaga as just another Madonna wannabe. Over the course of the past several years her vocal range, song choices and compositions have established her as a dominant voice in music. This song, dedicated to assault victims — became especially poignant as she performed it at the Academy awards in front of a sea of women who’d survived and become free.
- Something That I Want (Grace Potter) — one may not think a Disney song belongs on the list, yet let me tell you a bit of a story. Originally, the story was called Rapunzel, as of course it was the story of said princess. Yet, high on the success (ratings & promotional) of things like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jake the Neverland Pirates — the executives felt it should have a less “princess-y” title, hence Tangled. The amusing part is Rapunzel has become one of the best loved characters in the Disney universe.
I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute. ―-> Rebecca West