The Many Facets of Tori Amos

When I bought American Doll Posse, I honestly

Tori

 didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a “tori-phile”, my only real exposure to her was from the ’92 album “Little Earthquakes.”

Since the late 1980s Tori has been around.  From the not-so-popular synth rock band ‘Y Kant Tori Read’ to her solo career that skyrocketed with “Little Earthquakes”, Tori has made sure that her voice and music have had a constant presence.

The release of her 9th album, “American Doll Posse” presents a unique view of Tori, and indeed of an individual person. As it says on the description on her main site, American Doll Posse“After centuries of being dismembered, literally and figuratively, by the ruling patriarchy the feminine essence has reassembled to take back the power.” The album introduces Tori as several characters: Tori, Clyde, Pip, Isabel and Santa. The CD booklet goes on to give a ‘self-written’ intro by each character and different songs on the album are performed vocally by different characters. For example, Isabel is interested in documenting events and people (she’s on the front cover, with the camera.), and the first song on the album “Yo, George” is her song.

Dark EnergyPip (my personal favorite) is the darkest member of the group-both in appearance and in lyrical content. Her voice has a significantly different accent from the others, as illustrated by the song “Teenage Hustlin'” (definitely a favorite of mine!)

Yet, despite the different voices it’s clear that the overall effect isn’t one of distinct voices who have nothing in common. We can all identify with Clyde’s songs, with Tori’s, with Pip’s, Santa’s, and Isabel’s. And that’s the point.

As the description of the album suggests, individual facets of a woman’s personality has indeed been seperated from others. The most glaring example-The Spice Girls. Each woman in that girl group represented something-“Baby Spice” represented ‘innocence’ and immaturity while “Sporty Spice” represented an athletic woman. Yet none of these personality characteristics blended-Baby was Baby, Sporty was Sporty, etc. They were one sided. To imagine the different personalities coming together in one person to form a more complex human being was an impossibility. As Dafna Lemish noted in “Spice World: Constructing Femininity the Popular Way”, the movie presented an interesting dilemma. “[in “Spice World”] When the girls try humorously to take each other’s roles through appearances they discover how uncomfortable they are and revert back to their exaggerated uni-dimensional ‘selves.'”

In addition to that women are parceled out as ‘house wives’, ‘career women’, ‘cheerleaders’, or ‘one of the guys’ (among manyothers). For a woman to be a multi-dimensional human being is simply unheard of. But we are. And that is what makes this album so wonderful and worth having.

“American Doll Posse” is indeed a treasure chest. It’s an album you’ll want to spend several hours with. Between the lyrics, the beautiful images, the music and the vocals, you’ll want to come to a deeper understanding of it, Tori herself, and maybe even yourself!

A page of the CD booklet
(“Beauty. What is that to you? A) Architecture B) the lighto on the water turning it into aquamarine C) another woman’s face or hair or figure that you quietly crave for 30 seconds. Passion. Are you passionate about anything? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Stop. Don’t turn away. Stay a while. Let’s look closer. No. You are not allowed to find the faults first, not in my game. We will find the Beauty first.”)

american doll posse

(from left: Clyde, Isabel, Tori, Santa and Pip)

Without sexiness, can she sell?

 It’s funny how things many of us know to be true, aren’t so widely known among widely respected media sources—take for example CNN.

Last Thursday, an AP story appeared on CNN with the headline If You’re a Female Singer, You’d Better Be Sexy.”

Um…duh? Where was this AP writ‘niqueer when the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” came out? (Or for that matter, the creation of MTV.)

The article continues to point out that women like Melinda Doolittle from “American Idol” could not possibly be successful due to her “matronly” appearance. On the other hand, women such as (and I quote) “‘America’s Top Model’ Avril Lavigne” and “blonde stunner Carrie Underwood” among others are going to be more successful. 

Again—where is anything in this article new? Exposé’s are supposed to expose something unknown, not ‘expose’ something that is obvious.

But seriously, this article isn’t all bad. On a positive note, it does remind us that our culture is one where sex sells. And yes, women with figures like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are unquestionably going to be seen as more desirable as well as talented (though some of these appealing women may have little actual talent…cue The Spice Girls…and more recently, The Pussy Cat Dolls. Really, it isn’t the music that made these groups popular).

The article continued to be very negative towards the idea that women lead singers could be anything but attractive. They asked country star Gretchen Wilson if a frontwoman with so-so looks and sex appeal could get a record deal and she replied, “they can’t.”

While the negative attitude is understandable, it’s not the way things have to be. Those of us who listen to music, buy CDs/songs on iTunes and have an interest in what music we hear are active consumers. We have agency and an ability to act on our interests. For us to take what the media empire gives us and not question what we’re getting is unacceptable.

And despite the fact that the modern front woman still looks—for the most part—thin and sexy, there are beautiful exceptions.

One needs look no further than Beth Ditto.
The Gossip

Ditto isn’t your average front woman. Not only does she not fit into the image set by tight-short-wearing Shakira, she’s also an out lesbian. And she’s outspoken. Her songs aren’t about sweet summer romances—they’ve got a message that comes straight from her political viewpoints.

Though The Gossip is US based, they weren’t really embraced in the “land of the free” ‘till Britain found them.

Love her or hate her, Ditto is the antithesis of the “only hot women can be successful in music” idea. Ditto is attractive—in a way that suits her. She commands power and does thing her way. And I’m positive she isn’t the only one.

If you’re sick of perpetuating the idea that ‘only the hot survive’ look for artists who defy the conventional beauty standards. Look for women who are what they are and do what they want despite what’s ‘expected.’ The search can start from your local music scene. Or it could branch out into the bigger indie/underground music scene. But keep looking. And remember to ask the question–who’s defining ‘sexy’ anyway?😉

And keep the music alive! Remember it’s about the music—not the image.

P.S. I final note–Kelly Clarkson also of “Idol” fame, spoke out recently about her experience with sexism within the music industry. And her new video from the upcoming album isn’t half bad. I judged her too quickly (I judge everyone on “American Idol” too quickly….I don’t like the show…).
At any rate, Yay Kelly!🙂

and p.p.s.–what’s with the cheating kick Hollywood is on? Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood and Kelly….wtf?

In the Midst of Packing…

I’m ’bout to graduate from the wonderful college that has been my home for the past three years and start anew in a completely different spot. And currently am in the middle of packing and scrapbooking (so I can put all the crap that I like in one place and throw away what is not needed. I’m insane, I know.)

So tonight I won’t be able to do an entry, and I apologize for missing last night as well. I promise to make it up to you!

I’ll leave ya’ll with a few of my favorite pics that I’ve taken in the past few weeks, and maybe give you a glimpse of who I am!🙂pretty!Yay Free Hugs!

Carrboro ARt


(you may need to turn up the volume. I don’t know how to make youtube videos. and that was the first I’ve made–of myself–so it’s less than stellar. )

Feminism Friday: What Do I Wear?

“Yes I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread?
For you, your friends, your father, Mr. Ed.”

“Me and a Gun” Tori Amos

It’s easy for guys to laugh at movie scenes where a woman character is getting ready to go out and throwing clothes all over the room in order to find something Who needs brains when you have thesesuitable to wear.

It’s a little harder for women to dismiss scenes like that, because for many grrrls and women, those scenes are reality.

Like it or not–women are judged on what they wear. Guys are too, of course, but very differently. Guys don’t have cleavage, for one thing. You’re not going to find men sporting shirts that say “who needs brains when you have these?” When the word “modesty” is mentioned, that isn’t normally a word associated with male styles. It’s associated with what women wear and how they present themselves.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t wear many halter tops, short skirts, or short shorts. I can normally be found in jeans and a T-shirt. But I’m surrounded by other college-aged women who do dress in short dresses, skirts and revealing tops.

In Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti (the founder of Feministing.com!) talks about what it means to be attractive. Current beauty standards found in magazines, on television and billboards, are mostly unattainable.

“But it’s not just looks that make you ‘hot’–beauty standards are a whole other conversation. It’s about being accessible–to men, in particular. To be truly hot in this never-never land of tits and ass, we have to be constantly available–to be looked at, touched, and fucked. Sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. We’re only as hot as our willingness to put on a show for guys.”

Valenti goes on to discuss the portrayal of women in magazines such as Maxim, and some of the other more obvious ways that women are pictured being available.

In looking up images for this blog I visited CosmoGirl-a magazine I once read. Here are a few examples of their summer wear fashion suggestions:

 

This is What a Cosmo Girl Looks Like

Here’s some images from the Cosmo, the parent site (and magazine):

An ad for CosmoCosmo Woman

Outside of the pretty obvious age differences, there aren’t a whole lot of differences in what is being sold in these images.

And this is interesting.

Isn’t CosmoGirl supposed to be for young women–teenagers and younger, really–while Cosmo is for adult women? Wouldn’t the experiences of the two different age groups be…well…different?

Why, yes.

It’s pretty obvious with the pictures from Cosmo and CosmoGirl that there’s a fair amount of eroticization within the pictures. Especially with the CosmoGirl photos. When I saw the picture of the girl leaning backwards with a dress that barely covers her, I was shocked. The image clearly plays off of childlike innocence. The color white tends to be associated with innocence and purity, and her disheveled hair is reminiscent of a young child coming in from a long day of playing outside. Yet the posture is anything but innocent. She is clearly available.

Girls and Women are being sold several different messages.
1. The ideal woman should look like media-perpetuated images
2. To be considered attractive, a woman should look sexy and available.
3. To be considered a good woman, she should be a virgin. Because if she isn’t a virgin, she’s a whore.
4. Because she dresses in an available manner, she can’t be taken seriously as anything but a piece of ass.

These are only some of the messages we’re being sold. And I do believe there is a difference in reception based on the age of the person getting it.

An adult woman has had a good deal of experience to help identify what she sees in ads and media with what she knows. A teenage girl is at a completely different place altogether. Sexuality may be something she’s interested in, and if she is, she’s being fed so many conflicting messages that it seriously is unhealthy.

In schools teens are being taught abstinence only education.

In their homes, through the television, movies, magazines, teen girls are being taught that anything-but-abstinence is the norm.

There isn’t really an in-between. And this is a problem.

It’s also important to recognize agency. Just because a girl dresses in a fashion similar to the models in CosmoGirl or Jane doesn’t mean she’s dressing like them because that’s what the models wore. Some women like dressing that way. But does that mean they have to be dehumanized because they like short skirts and halter tops? (and what right does the person judging them have to dehumanize someone based on their dress?)

Does that mean a woman singer/front-woman who wears dresses and likes random acts such as crowd surfing should be expected to know that crowd diving will lead to harassment? (And what gives the people in the crowd the right to harass that woman?)

Men who ask for modesty are usually placing the blame on the woman. The way “modesty” works in regards to women is that women should dress properly so as to not fluster the men who might look upon her. This is often reflected in the way a rape victim is received.

“The outfit argument is one that never seems to get old. It’s been around forever, but it may be the most bizarre victim-blaming tactic of them all. Here’s the idea: if you’re wearing something that could be considered ‘slutty,’ like (gasp!) a skirt, you were asking to be raped. Or you were teasing those poor guys who just can’t help themselves (they learned that in abstinence ed, remember?). This never made sense to me on so many levels, but I imagine that guys must find it pretty insulting. It basically means that they’re just big, dumb animals unable to control themselves within one hundred yards of a miniskirt. I don’t know about you, but I think we should give men some credit.” -Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism

I completely agree with Valenti here. For men to think that women should dress modestly to keep them from turning into deranged animals is completely ridiculous.

The way we dress is a lot more complicated than that scene in movies would have you believe.

There’s a lot more at stake than just looking nice.

 

 

 

Guitar Goddess

Lita FordWhile pop culture has (for the most part) embraced women musicians–especially as lead singers–it hasn’t so much embraced the women guitarists.

As Evelyn McDonnell noted in “She’s in the Band”, female lead guitarists have remained few and far between. Perhaps, McDonnell suggests, it’s because guitarists are expected to display a virtuosity and bravado not normally included on the list of desirable ‘feminine’ qualities.

“…guitars are the ultimate symbol of rock phallocentrism,” McDonnell says. And it’s a fact. (Watch “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix and look closely at his style of playing.)

While women such as Tina Weymouth (the Talking Heads) and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) began paving the way for more inclusion of female bassists, a mixed gender band with a female guitarist continues to be unusual.

“Boys like the things they do to seem real hard like it takes a lot of strength to control them. But I tell you, guitar-playing’s not hard. I mean, they’re just little strings! I don’t know why guitar playing is considered a masculine art, except it’s just been appropriated that way. It doesn’t require any great strength or some male brain pattern. In fact, it’s sort of feminine. That’s why I wish more women would play guitar, because there’d be more variety in the sowhoa Lita!und of rock music.” –Ivy Rorschach
After the Runaways disbanded, Joan Jett and Lita Ford both went on to make careers for themselves.

Through her musical talents and some connections in the rock world (for example…Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne), Ford was able to make her way onto the charts. One of her first singles to reach the charts (she had had some in previous years, but they hadn’t hit the charts) was her duet with Ozzy- “Close My Eyes Forever” (#8 on the US Hot 100).

Though Ford had released two other albums (Out For Blood and Dancin’ on the Edge) before her self titled album in 1988, it wasn’t until that self-titled album that she was noticed and felt comfortable with where she was at. She had switched managers and began working with Sharon Osbourne.

Ford’s music was that of 80s “hard rock” (honestly, genres have changed quite a bit…thus the quotes.) She did play guitar and began making a name for herself as a rock guitarist.

The quote I brought up earlier, by the Cramps guitarist Ivy Rorschach is an important quote because it so beautifully captures the way certain instruments are gendered. If you look back in history you’ll note how various instruments have been gendered male and others female. Pianos have been an acceptable form of musical expression for women, and eventually flutes were added to that list, but for a woman to play something like a trumpet was unusual. And so it remains with rock music. The gender divisions are definitely still there.

Failing to recognize women guitarists such as Ford, Chrissie Hynde, Kat Bjelland, PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell can normally be attributed to a)ignorance that the bands exist (Not everyone is familiar with Babes In Toyland!) and b)a culture which continues to perpetuate the idea that gender divides and when men are good at one thing, women aren’t supposed to be good.

Yet, listening to any of the artists above, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to music than gender. Believe it or not, women can pick up a guitar and play, just like a guy can. Playing a guitar does not require a male body, it requires dedication, practice and above all else, passion.

Women like Lita Ford should not only be recognized as a great talent among the guys that filled (and continue to fill) the world of rock, but serve as an inspiration to grrrls and women everywhere: pick up that guitar! If he can do it, then so can you!😉

all hail the queen of noise

The Argument for a (gay) Tamagotchi

OMG IT’S GAYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!“Guess what, guess what?” my 9-year-old sister says excitedly over the phone.
“What?” I ask.
I’m getting a Tamagotchi!” she pauses and asks, “Did you really have one?”
I answer yes, I definitely had a Tamagotchi when I was younger. Then she continues,
“Could it get married?”
I admit that I don’t remember and so she continues-
“You can connect two tamagotchis and if a boy one and a girl one hang out more than once, they can get married and have children and–”
“That’s heterosexist,” I say, unable to help myself.
“What’s that mean?”

Like the good sister that I am, I explain what I mean by the term heterosexist. And then offhandedly say “they should make gay tamagotchi’s!” Needless to say that sparked some debate to the point where my 12-year-old sister found it fit to intervene and tell me that I am crazy.

One of the first things the 12-year-old told me (we’ll call her S. and the 9-year-old will be E.) was that maybe an adult line of tamagotchis should be made and that could include gay tamagotchis.

That argument strikes me as part of the problem that homophobia continues to be so rampant and part of why schools are not as safe as they should be.

Gay Penguins? Gasp! Not in *MY* library….When “And Tango Makes Three” hit library shelves, parents threw a fit.

When teenage boys were “traumatized” after “accidently” finding The Whole Lesbian Sex Book, the father the father sued the city for the pain and suffering they experienced.

As an older sister I can understand that children shouldn’t have to be exposed to everything. Rated R films are rated R for a reason. Television shows on FX are rated TVMA for a reason. There’s also a reason the ads for ‘Girls Gone Wild’ doesn’t come on until certain hours of the night.

But to pretend that gay people don’t exist leads a child to blatant ignorance. A British band, Skunk Anansie (disbanded in 2001), released a song in 1995 called “Little Baby Swastikkka”

The lyrics:

Who put the little baby swastikkka on the wall
Who put the little baby swastikkka on the wall
It wasn’t very high couldna been more than four years old
That’s who put the little baby swastikkka on the wall
….
You rope them in young
You rope them in young
So small, so innocent, so young
So delicately done, grown up in your poison

Skunk Anansie in the video “Twisted (Everyday Hurts)” Essentially what Skin, the lead vocalist, captured here is what is still continuing to be a problem.

Parents teach their kids that it’s OK to discriminate based on color or religion. And I say this as if it’s really obvious, like a parent telling their kid straight up something like “Don’t play with any black kids.”

And that is not always the case. It’s subtle. Kids like spying sometimes. They can overhear racist/homophobic language in conversations between parents and other adults. A parent can make an offhand comment that isn’t directed at the kid and it can still stick with the kid for a long time.

Today when I was out at Weaver Street Market, a little boy was running and fell down. His dad came and picked him up. The little boy was wimpering, near tears and as the father picked the kid up he said, “Come on, you’re tougher than that.”

If that had been a girl, I wonder would the father have said that? Many parents continue to enforce gender roles on their children. Again this doesn’t have to be an obvious “Wear a dress because you’re a girl”…it’s as simple as buying the girl a dress and giving it to the girl…

I think it’s time for the parents that think it’s better to keep their kids in the dark about certain things (read: gay people) to wake up and smell the chai.

This homophobic attitude is closely related to part of the gender problem. Boys are being taught to be tough and when they aren’t they’re sissies, wimps, etc. Young boys are being bullied because they don’t fit in with these masculine traits. (I highly suggest viewing Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes…it’s an awesome documentary and talks about the view of masculinity found in hip hop…but the view of masculinity in hip hop was definitely NOT created in a vacuum. It is everywhere.)

Parents that pretend gay people don’t exist (except around the time PRIDE comes around and they decide to involve their young children) and start opening their eyes, minds and hearts.

And to those of you parents who are raising your children with the recognition that gay people do exist and that they are people just like any of us, I salute you.

(If for some reason I end up a parent, I would aspire to be like you. And my kid would also go to local music shows and have T-shirts supporting local bands.

Because that would rock.)

A gay tamagotchi (well actually several. Because otherwise the sole gay tamagotchi would feel very, very lonely!) would be a great thing because it would introduce to children that the world isn’t straight and narrow and confined to boxes.

It’s exciting, diverse and…well, doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

And if you ask me, that’s what makes life fun.😉


“Little Baby Swastikkka”-Skunk Anansie