Feminism Friday: Vilifying Yoko Ono

I’m not going to lie.

Once upon a time I knew very little about Yoko Ono or her music/art…. Yet I did loathe her.

Why? A variety of reasons. I knew little about the Beatles, yet I was partially informed that it was because of this woman, this outsider, that the Beatles broke up. She destroyed them as a band and then afterwards continued to ruin the name of the Beatles. A video by the German band Die Ärzte entitled “Yoko Ono” in 2001 didn’t help anything either. Though not specifically about her, I managed to come away with a very bad image. In the 46 second video the band members step into an elevator and the pulley that keeps the elevator going up/down Snaps. So the band plunges to their death with the last word being Musikgeschmack–which to me sounded like the elevator literally hitting the ground (sorta like an onomatopoeia that you find in comics…like *wap!* or *pow!* or *wham!*…you get my meaning…:) With what little knowledge I had about the Beatles and Yoko Ono, my mind connected the elevator’s plunge and crash with the influence that Ono had on the Beatles.

Fast forward to last summer. I read a huuuuge biography on the Beatles by Bob Spitz. Why’d I read it? No particular reason, to be perfectly honest. My knowledge of classic rock has never been very developed and I saw the book and figured…why not? So I read the book and was overall extremely impressed. It was actually one of the first biographies I’ve ever read and it definitely set the bar. The entire career of the Beatles was very well researched. Spitz, for the most part, did not put any speculation on any part of the book where there was not backup information to support it. He showed each member of the Beatles in an honest way-where people tend to think of the members-such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney-in exaggerated terms where they are musical heroes who could do no wrong (minus leaving the band!)-Spitz acknowledged every aspect of each member’s character. (John and Paul’s in particular.)

Yet upon finishing the book I was more convinced than ever thJohn Lennon and Yoko Onoat the break up of the Beatles was brought on by Yoko Ono. I couldn’t look at the pictures in the book that featured Ono without shaking my head and thinking “WTF? How could she?” I even told my younger sister that Yoko Ono had been a horrible person and broke up the Beatles! (and it didn’t help that I thought she was absolutely insane based on some of the descriptions of her projects–such as her piece called Cut where she basically sat on the stage and let people cut off pieces of her clothes. ‘Twas honestly far too strange a thought for me.)

And this was all last summer!

How times change. My vision is now a lot less clouded by judgment and a lot more aware of the gender divisions that exist within the world and in popular culture. As I mentioned in my blog about fairy tales and the Disney interpretation, women tend to be vilified–especially the women who think for themselves and attempt to gain any sort of power within their own lives.

When people think of the Beatles, people tend to think of a classic rock legend. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr–any reflections of them are (for the most part) positive.

As Gillian Gaar notes in She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll, “Given the reverence accorded to the Beatles, it was not surprising that Ono’s Liaison with Lennon placed her directly in the firing line for near-universal condemnation and scorn, especially when it became obvious that Ono was not afraid to speak her mind and refused to remain in the background as had the other Beatle wives.”
Yoko Ono herself fet the impact. “…when we got together, it was very confusing for people. The avant-garde world spoke of me as if I’d died: ‘That’s the end of Yoko’s career!’ And of course, in the rock world, people saw it as the end of John’s career. So in that sense, it was not a very good move for either of us. But we weren’t saying, ‘Oh this is a disastrous career move, but regardless of that we’re getting together.’ We were too busy being in love and never thought of it from that angle,” she said (Hymn To Her: Women Musicians Talk)

As a result of these perceptions, there were problems when she tried to obtain songwriting credits on songs she later co-wrote with her husband.

Esquire ran an article on Ono with a blatantly racist headline: “John Rennon’s Excrusive Gloupie.”

Instead of being looked at as an artist in her own right or even a person, Ono was treated like a manipulative woman whose only intention was to break up the band.

Other than the avant-garde world, no one talked about her career as an artist. Like how she confronted her father at the age of 13 and told him about her intentions to be a composer (he was supportive of his daughter but dubious–there were few women composers and he thought genuinely that women were not meant to be composers, only interpreters, of music). No one discussed how her discovery of avante-garde was thanks to a teacher at Sarah Lawrence University, upon discussing with that teacher about the sounds that she would hear from the sounds of birds in the garden early in the morning and how those songs were impossible to translate into notions. No one talked about her path to success within the world of the avante-garde.

Instead they focused on her as a destructive influence on John Lennon.

She got him to marry and take her last name? *gasp!* the sheer terror chills the bones!

John Lennon actually listened to her when she talked about feminism and took what she said to heart? *gasp!* how could he?!?

He became a househusband? What self respecting man does that?

All of these topics became topics of discussion and ridicule. Yoko Ono, instead of being looked at for her achievements became an object of contempt despite the obviousness of John’s love for her.

It’s important in situations such as this to see all the factors behind such impressions. What is it that made us loathe Yoko Ono? Who told us that hers was a destructive influence on John? And–more importantly–why are we focusing on her as a destructive unit in the first place–why aren’t we focusing on her as a human? Why aren’t we looking at her as we would look at John Lennon–someone with a solid career in the art world who has carved her way to success?

Even today, when people think about Yoko Ono they often think of a strange woman who got involved with something she shouldn’t have and thus broke up the Beatles. This phenomenon is far from exclusive to Yoko Ono.

A common theory on the death of Kurt Cobain was that it was either a)Courtney Love that drove him to it or b)He wasn’t murdered and it was actually Courtney Love who killed him and set it up to look like a suicide.

I ask any of you who may believe that theory to look at Courtney Love in a more realistic way: look at her as an artist, look at her achievements and look at her as a person. Yes, she’s done crazy stuff, but what rock artist hasn’t?

If you’re going to say that Kurt Cobain’s death was influenced by Love, you better have a REALLY good reason to say so. And there has to be a lot more logic behind it than the oft-observed analogy: Men:Heroes as Women:villains.


“In the beginning there was music. Two sounds playing with each other and generating energy have created the Universe. In the new millennium, we see that women rockers have come a long way. We are now seeing the world dancing to our songs and our music. One day, we will come together and the world will be as one, and a better place for all. Till then, sisters, let’s keep rocking!” –Yoko Ono, 2002.


9 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: Vilifying Yoko Ono

  1. thinking girl April 27, 2007 / 12:46 pm

    I love this post, thank you!!!!

    I know little about Yoko Ono, but I’ve always thought people were too harsh on her, and that she was quite interesting. Thanks for letting me learna little bit more about her!

  2. Bec May 5, 2007 / 2:29 am

    All so true. Have you seen the awful, shoddily researched film “Kurt and Courtney”? I did, hoping to learn something about the two artists I love, but realized it was just basically a big Courtney Love witch-hunt! The (male) filmmaker pretty much accuses Courtney…on film…of killing Kurt. With NO evidence. Ugh, it was so stupid. But kind of worth watching just for the laughs.
    I agree about Yoko. Also, fans of both John Lennon and Kurt Cobain who insist that their wives ruined them are basically just accusing their heroes of being dumb, easily manipulated pawns. So they’re not really fans are they?

  3. Pop Feminist February 26, 2008 / 5:14 pm

    Totally. The Beatles’ relationship to feminism through discourses surrounding yoko and much more is an overlooked aspect of Beatles scholarship.

  4. Tom September 26, 2008 / 11:45 pm

    The woman coming from the outside makes a convenient villian, as in the cases of Yoko and Courtney Love, but I think the desire to have someone to blame for the hero’s downfall is the root cause of the anger directed at them. Fans of Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett often have the same anger towards Mike Love and Roger Waters that you see directed toward Yoko and Courtney. It’s just not an epic tale unless you have a bad guy.

  5. Dan November 23, 2008 / 10:12 pm

    One thing to consider is that had John not loved her he probably would not have made the songs he did and sung them as he did. Being in love changes you and the one you love changes who you are.

  6. zooeyibz November 24, 2008 / 5:42 am

    What especially sticks in my craw about the whole thing is the simultaneous positing of the Beatles as godlike and helpless. I mean, if they were so fucking amazing then how could a mere woman have brought them to their knees? It’s Samson and Delilah stuff and – as ever – the woman is utterly to blame. What nonsense.

  7. Toni May 5, 2015 / 4:48 pm

    You can’t break up a happy home..I think John was finish with Cynthia……and moved on to yoko…but I will say this………he should have been a better father to julian….and for that lack of parental devotion I do disrespect him.

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