Monday, October 14, 2013

On Strong Women

the infamous album
I want to start with the admission that the first CD I ever got was Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.  It's attached to some fond personal memories.  I was wakened in bed by my partner with the CD in hand as an "anytime present," then went downstairs to find an actual CD player all set up!  And I'm still overly fond of the album because of the association.

I loved that she was political yet beautiful, and that she used the SNL forum to make a political statement.  Her aim, well above the fluff of pop music, made her admirable.  I wished I had been brave enough to shave my head.

BUT...

She makes a grave mistake in her letters to Miley Cyrus.

Don't give me that look.
It's a mistake that Anna Gunn also makes in her concern for the hatred raining down on her Breaking Bad character, Skyler White.  I love Anna Gunn.  I love that she's such an excellent actor who has the chutzpa to write for the New York Times about the type of hate mail she's getting.  And it's outrageous that she's getting personal attacks for the action of her character.  And she totally deserved that Emmy but I think she deserves it because, boy oh boy, I hated Skyler White with a passion.

Gunn suggests, in her op ed piece, that Skyler is hated because people can't deal with a strong woman, because "Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female."  I think it's something else.

First of all, by contrast, who doesn't love Deb Morgan from Dexter?  And she's an incredibly strong woman.
Go, Deb!

Both Sinead and Skyler project the voice of reason.  They're sensible.  Their views are clear and steadfast.  And they're going to cram them down our throats, dammit.  Skyler had a "looking-down-her-nose-at-you" quality going from the pilot.  I love strong women; I just hate arrogantly judgmental people.

And Gunn says a man wouldn't be hated for the same thing.  Well, imagine Skyler's same words and tone and gestures from a man.  I believe he would be an equally hated character, except few would threaten to kill the actor.  That's a different issue which does stem from misogyny.  But he'd definitely be called a dick, and people would bond over how annoying he is.  The character that comes to mind immediately is Dr. Mark Craig from St. Elsewhere, but there are many others, like Ricky's dad from American Beauty, or Warren Schmidt, or Richard Hoover from Little Miss Sunshine, or earlier episodes with Doakes from Dexter.  They have good intentions about how to keep everything running smoothly, but they're total assholes about it.

The gender difference here, is that, I'd say, more men than women can pull off arrogant and condescension by allowing a certain amount of self-mockery in the picture.  They exaggerate their arrogance.  I'm thinking Barney from How I Met Your Mother or Jeff Winger from Community.  This is that one arena where many women really don't have a sense of humour.  We're not allowed to balk at outrageously arrogant and judgmental comments masquerading as "motherly advice."  We wouldn't dare crack a smile with Skyler gunning us down.

Back to Sinead O'Connor.  Her message was good advice.  Absolutely.  But the words and tone convey a problematic attitude.

Here's what concern and compassion might look like from one female musician to another.  This is what I might have said...
Enjoy your body and the power it brings, but I'm concerned that it might backfire on you like it has to many other women in a similar place.  I know you're a strong woman, and can likely manage a few dirtbags along the way, but the music industry is insidious and has tragically destroyed the lives and careers of many gifted women over the years.  Never hesitate to call on me if you somehow get stuck in a bad place.  I've travelled these roads before, and I might be of help if you ever need it. You're a talented woman, and I hope you the very best.  In solidarity...
Here's part of O'Connor's message...
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent. The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think it’s what YOU wanted.  None of the men oggling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled.  You have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you...
That last line is right up there with "You have such a beautiful face, you really don't need to wear all that make-up, dear."

Sent privately, it's a, "You'd better change your behaviour, young lady," type of scornful message.  But as a public letter, it says, "Look how wonderful I am." with a dash of "I'm still really angry with this business, and I haven't quite gotten over it, and it's easier for me to just take it out on you."  It's not just a letter to Cyrus, but to the entire music industry.  And there's a vanity about it all in the public admonishment, as well as some contemptuousness seeping through.  

I know she meant well, but I also know I wouldn't have been grateful if I had received that letter.  I might have even written a rebellious rant like Cyrus did.  It would probably start with the words, "Who the hell do you think you are?"  The key problem with their tone and attitude is that O'Connor and Skyler negate the agency of the people they're trying to help.  They disempower the very people they propose to help.  They're not talking to them as their equals, but as their superiors, and we can smell that a mile away.  It's not a show of strength; it's impertinent and presumptuous.  And we want to totally take them down for it!   

3 comments:

  1. The music business is a business of profit. You were expecting something different?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiAuXRK3Ogk

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  2. Marie, you should never make an admission like that except in the presence of counsel.

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