Flame-haired American songstress Tori Amos turned 50 this month. Fifty years old! Above is her video from her first solo album, 1992’s Little Earthquakes, for the single Silent All These Years. The simple piano accompaniment throughout most of the song is very characteristic of Amos’ early works, and I actually really enjoy the vintage feel of the music video. When I think about Tori Amos entering her fifth decade, I think about the talented female musicians today, and the debates about feminism in pop culture. And there sure are a lot of talk about the feminism label amongst female musicians these days.
I have always held an affinity for strong, arty, female musicians probably because I myself am arty and love music. During my youth in addition to Tori Amos I loved PJ Harvey, Björk, and Lauryn Hill. Then I went on to love Lou Rhodes of the electronica duo Lamb, Alison Goldfrapp of the British outfit Goldfrapp, Róisín Murphy of Moloko, and Fever Ray of The Knife. More recent female-fronted music loves are Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Canadians Claire Boucher of Grimes and Megan James of the Canadian Polaris Prize nominee, Purity Ring.
Yeah, I’m aware that the “strong female musician” brand has proliferated within mainstream music. Now we have Beyoncé singing proclamations of Single Ladies, Taylor Swift selling her nerd-girl-blossomed persona, Rihanna hold the uncomfortable dichotomy of victim versus empowered woman, and Lady Gaga appear nude for the sake of wacky performance art. But are these ladies truly the strong female as they tell us they are? That is open to a lot of debate and controversy, as well as the confirmation that, in reality, it is rare for someone to seem strong all of the time. For the record, all these artists have been quizzed about their take on feminism, perhaps except Rihanna, with all falling short of declaring their belief in gender equality. Even PJ Harvey and Björk, matriarchs to the older strand of feminism, don’t consider themselves feminists.
Tori Amos herself, whose music is interpreted as being very feminist, doesn’t seem to have any quotes attributing herself to being a feminist as well. And though I definitely see myself as a feminist — someone who believes in gender equality, not superiority, as the term can be mistakenly interpreted — I do think that the debate about whether it’s important that celebrities publicly identify themselves as being feminist as kind of tiresome. As much as I think it is ridiculous that these rich, powerful, and successful women either have a mistaken view regarding what feminism is about, or are afraid of the label of feminism, I do think that continuously berating the Beyoncés of the world for eschewing their belief in gender equality is obsessive, rather than progressive. OK, it would be nice if more female celebrities out there felt that it wasn’t career suicide or divisive to their fan base for carrying the feminist label, and that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were not the only feminist mascots in pop culture today. (We still love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler after they declared themselves as feminists, don’t we?) And yeah, some female celebrities — ahem, Taylor Swift — seem to invoke feminism only when it is convenient for them, which only makes Taylor seem truly confused. But there are more important issues than focusing on all those celebrities out there who do not want to be publicly affiliated with feminism.
“Tell [young women] that our momentum is huge. Keep it going. Don’t stop here and fight about why you’re calling yourself a feminist or not. Don’t get into these bitchy little fights about who does what, where. Because the women who marched and fought so we could vote, they didn’t do it so we could sit around bickering about what we called ourselves. Move. Forward. Move forward. Decide you’re equal. Don’t take anything less. And don’t stop.”