I was about 19 when I first heard a Patti Smith record. It was Horses. I remember sitting there, very taken by the sound of her voice, this ferocious delivery. Later I was struck by how literate her lyrics were, how intellectual and political. I loved how, in her songs, she talked about anything other than the love in her heart for a man. And I loved her image: this non-glam look with the chopped-off hair, looking like a skinny boy. She was the complete opposite of the images that were pumped into me as a child, of what I was supposed to aspire to as a woman.
She is a soldier. She will not be defeated. I look at today’s charts, at the women who are selling the most records, getting the most column inches, and I’m terrified by how so many of them are controlled by a male corporate idea of what women and rebels should be. When some teen-pop singer is taken seriously as a rebellious figure, we have a huge problem. I’m just glad that Patti is still willing to get up there and fight for what she believes in. It makes me feel less alone. – Shirley Manson
Whether you like her music or not, Patti Smith still cuts a distinctive, empowering figure in the creative world. Never less than entirely herself, she has stubbornly endured the decades, the changes in musical fashions and her own personal tragedies to remain an inspiration to generations of female (and male) musicians, poets, writers and artists – yet there is still no-one else anywhere near like her.
I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.
These are the words of Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old Pakistani schoolgirl who was, horrifically, shot in the head on her way to school last week. Why? Simply because this brave young woman is an outspoken advocate of education for girls – in a part of Pakistan where the Taliban have closed all girls’ schools and forbidden their education.
As I read Malala’s remarkable blog posts (originally published by the BBC – at the age of 11 – under a pseudonym for her own safety), it really brings it home to me how lucky I am, and how much I, as a woman, still take for granted about acquiring knowledge and educating myself. I may not have enjoyed school for a variety of reasons, but at least I had the opportunity of a formal education – and the freedom of choice to decide what to do with it afterwards. Yet there are so many the world over who still do not have these chances.
I have every admiration for Malala; admiration for her strength and her commitment to what she believes in, despite the obvious danger she has faced as a result. This young woman should be just beginning to really live her life, should be enjoying her education and her teenage years – she should not be lying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life because of the actions of a group of people who can’t see beyond their own twisted beliefs.
I wish you well, Malala – you are a strong, brave soul and I hope you pull through to get the education you so passionately desire.
Back in 2000, sixteen year old Bill Magee wrote to the singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, asking her if she could possibly pen a few lines in support of his high school’s gay-straight alliance. Much to his delight and amazement, he received a lovely handwritten letter from her a few days later – and this gorgeous paragraph is part of that note:
All I know is I want my friends to be good people, and when my friends fall in love, I want them to fall in love with other good people. How can you go wrong with two people in love? If a good boy loves a good girl, good. If a good boy loves another good boy, good. And if a good girl loves the goodness in good boys and good girls, then all you have is more goodness, and goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A person who loves is a righteous person, and if someone has the ability and desire to show love to another – to someone willing to receive it, then for goodness sake, let them do it. Hate has no place in the equation; there is no function for it to perform. Love is love, and there will never be too much!
This just seems so simple and so obvious and so right to me – and to many others – but this opinion is still, sadly, by no means universally shared. There are still young people in many places who are not only having to deal with all the difficulties that adolescents everywhere face, but who are also the targets of vicious homophobic prejudice and hatred on a day-to-day basis, just for trying to be who they really are.
It is deeply saddening and disheartening to know that this sort of hatred is still going on. But the fact that there are more and more people out there who just want their friends and family members to be happy and to be loved, whoever it is they love (and here is a very endearing example of that), is something that gives me hope for the future.
Because Fiona Apple is right: it is not about hatred and fear. It is, instead, about loving and being loved without being afraid of bigotry. It is about the simple goodness of love, whoever it is you love.
And it is always about happiness, whoever you are.
Today is International Women’s Day, which celebrates the lives and achievements of women around the world. So today – and every day – I am celebrating all the amazing, inspiring and wonderful women in my life. Women I know and love. Women who have an impact on my life every day of every week of every year.
I am celebrating my strong and determined mother.
I am celebrating my talented, witty and intelligent sister.
I am celebrating my younger female friends, who approach living with an awe-inspiring passion, joy and strength.
I am celebrating my older female friends, some of whom may be retired but who most certainly are not retiring in their zest for life.
I am celebrating all the female artists, writers, poets, film-makers, musicians and DJs I know – all of whom fill my life with art and music and inspiration.
Many, many thanks to all the amazing women (and one male ally!) who let me photograph them and their placards at Saturday’s Slutwalk London – this slideshow represents a tiny fraction of all the photos I took, but every image has inspired me in some way…
(BBC News website report on Slutwalk London here)
Note: It has been pointed out to me that the first picture in the slideshow sequence doesn’t seem to be showing – will try and fix that as soon as I can!
Update: As of 15/06/11, the slideshow appears to be working correctly again – let me know if there are any more problems with it!
Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard… (X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ 1977)
Like many punk fans of all ages – and although I never met her – I was genuinely upset to hear of the untimely death yesterday of the former X-Ray Spex vocalist Poly Styrene at the age of only 53. Tributes have been springing up all over the internet to an inspirational, much liked woman from fans and fellow musicians alike. Ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine was one of many who tweeted a poignant memory of her friend:
Much like The Slits’ inimitable Ari Up, who died last October, Poly was not afraid to speak her mind. A feminist and a supporter of Rock Against Racism, she wrote fiercely impassioned songs about consumerism and the environment – the lyrics to early single Oh Bondage, Up Yours! were about “being in bondage to material life. In other words it was a call for liberation” she told punk chronicler Jon Savage.¹
Call it street harassment, call it eve teasing, call it public sexual harassment – call it what you want, but it is a huge (and hugely under-reported) daily problem for a frightening number of women from all around the world.
And street harassment has an impact on all women. It doesn’t matter how a woman is dressed, what she looks like or how old she is; women of all ages, all ethnicities and all backgrounds have experienced street harassment of one form or another, often repeatedly, day in and day out. The continuous bombardment of what is a disturbing form of aggressively sexual objectification can (and often does) ultimately result in physical and/or sexual assaults on women.
Aside from the obvious trauma such assaults cause, street harassment can also lead to psychological harm to women, making them nervous, wary and hypervigilant in public spaces, especially after dark – and, particularly in the cases of women who are survivors of rape, abuse or domestic violence, it can trigger upsetting and difficult PTSD-type symptoms such as flashbacks and panic attacks.
Today is the 100th International Women’s Day. Last year, I wrote about why IWD is still of vital importance around the world – and very little has changed worldwide in the intervening twelve months. Despite the widely-held (and erroneous) belief that feminism is no longer necessary in our society, British women, too, are still waiting for full equality and safer lives:
“The fact that 700,000 people will experience domestic violence in the UK… that there are sex slaves imported daily to this country who live lives of abject terror, that equal pay is still not a reality nearly four decades after the act enshrining it was passed, that the conviction rate in rape cases still hovers around 6.5%, that only 12% of the UK’s boardroom seats (as compared to Norway’s 32%) are occupied by women, are just a small smattering of reasons why women’s rights should remain a priority even here in the UK” – Mariella Frostrup in The Observer
Shocking though those close to home facts are, there is also much to be positive about today. Many countries celebrate IWD as a national holiday, meaning that we can celebrate the remarkable contributions so many women have made to societies all round the world…
Oh, and by the way: it turns out that – rather unexpectedly – 007 himself, James Bond, is actually a feminist. No, seriously. Who’d’ve thunk it?!
Happy International Women’s Day!
Most people, when they hear the name Mae West, think of old Hollywood movies and a brassy bottle blonde delivering comic double entendres in a studied drawl. In fact, there was a lot more to Mae than innocently smutty remarks (although she made those into a cinematic art form – most famously replying to the comment “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” with a knowing “Goodness had nothing to do with it” in the 1932 movie Night After Night).
A woman way ahead of her time, she was a multi-talented performer and a very successful and highly controversial playwright – her first play (entitled, with admirable brevity and decades before Madonna, simply Sex) led to her arrest and brief imprisonment during the highly moralistic 1920s. Beginning her career in vaudeville, she became a smash hit on Broadway for both her acting and her plays before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where she became a huge success, again for her acting and writing.
Her distinctive and naughty style attracted the attention of the censors, and her early Hollywood performances were apparently partly responsible for the creation of the so-called Hays Code, which tied the American film industry into a narrowly defined moral outlook for more than thirty years. It was in order to circumvent this new code that Mae developed her now-famous facility with double entendres, a facility that turned her into an icon and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
On Friday November 18th 1910, a group of about three hundred suffragettes from all over Britain travelled to Westminster to protest outside parliament. They were protesting because they were justifiably angry that the government of the day had decided not to give any more time to debating an important bill which would have finally granted the vote to at least some of Britain’s then wholly disenfranchised women. This bill was, admittedly, a compromise, but it was seen as being a necessary starting point in obtaining the wider female suffrage that many groups up and down the country like the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst, had long been campaigning for.