Rhythm and Soul: Female Empowerment
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:10
When I originally planned my column for this week I decided to highlight my favorite kinds of world music. However, in light of the recent sexual assault complaints I thought I might shift gears and look at some music that is particularly empowering for females.
The wonderful thing about the late 20th century is that it churned out strong female lead singers such as Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell. These women sang about revolutionary concepts, including pre-marital sex, drugs and social problems, paving the way for modern day strong females such as Amy Winehouse, PJ Harvey, Florence Welch and Norah Jones, who take equally powerful approaches to female issues.
These women have helped other women for decades to get through the most trying times in life and continue to have resounding values today.
Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is an enduring anthem for women who feel like musically trashing their ex-boyfriend. Its subdued start escalates into a passionate chorus about how self-absorbed the subject of the song is – he even thinks this song is about him.
If old school female empowerment is not your scene, Amy Winehouse takes a bold approach to female empowerment in her song “Tears Dry on Their Own.” In pop culture, women can often be portrayed as needing a man to help cheer them up after heartbreak. Amy Winehouse clearly breaks away from this tradition and sings about how she is in control of her rebuilding process and she lets her tears dry on their own with no help from anyone.
PJ Harvey is another female singer who truly brings strength to the forefront of her music. “Rid of Me” has often been interpreted as feminist with lyrics such as “Tie yourself to me, no one else, no, you’re not rid of me.” While these lyrics might come across as a little stalker-ish, they really highlight how a woman who gets cheated on plays her revenge. She basically argues, and rightly so, that women aren’t just objects you can “get rid of.” This was reminiscent of Gloria Allred’s assertion at the press conference on Monday about the sexual assault complaint, that “These are not potted plants – these are young women. They have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.” I think Allred and Harvey might have a thing or two in common.
Patti Smith essentially redefined the woman’s role in the music world. Until the late 60s, when Smith became active, women were the coiffed soul singers in immaculate mini-dresses, or the backup singer with a tambourine. With the rise of Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell the culture shifted towards women writing their own music and having “controversial” values, but Smith was the one who broke down the barrier, marrying art, punk and social issues into one fierce musical canon.
Smith’s “Piss Factory” or “Glitter in Their Eyes” may not be the most musically perfect pieces – in fact, they are far from genius – but they exhibit a social consciousness that women hadn’t expressed in music. It revolutionized the woman’s role and options in the music world, lending flexibility to later acts in the modern period.