Yesterday, news broke that Joanna Newsom would appear in the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice. Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear, in response to the news, decided to make a sexist comment about the basis of Joanna’s success: he attributed it to her relationship with Andy Samberg, thereby belittling her agency and her independent accomplishments. The joke perpetuates the sexist notion that women cannot achieve success on their own merits without men aiding them. His “joke” occurs in the context of patriarchy, a worldwide system of oppression against women created by men to perpetuate male supremacy and which as a system ensures that men are seen as more human than women. (The combination of many systems of oppression, including classism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, cissexism, etc. is called the kyriarchy and demands intersectional analysis; gender is not the only axis of power.)
Ed deleted the tweet, but still decided to defend it by arguing that he would have said the same thing about a man who married a female SNL actor. But context matters and being “an equal-opportunity hater” is obviously an aggressive expression of privilege. “Equal opportunity-haters” don’t actually exist (because there is this thing called kyriarchy and social conditioning) and even if they did, their jokes do not occur in a vacuum! We live in a culture which prioritizes the experiences and humanity of some people more than others, over and over and over again. And it’s always about gender, race, sexuality, ability, citizenship status, etc.! It’s always about that! I promise! And seriously, if he would say this about both men and women, where are his comments about male musicians (like Brendan Canning and M83) who are scoring big-deal Hollywood movies? His joke relies on the tired slut-shaming trope that women sell their bodies to men in order to succeed. Slut-shaming, as a societal force, doesn’t work against men: so once again, context is key for this joke.
I want to be clear, though, that Joanna has a lot of privileges herself: she is class-privileged, she is cis, she is white. And even though white, cis, able-bodied, class-privileged, straight men have most of the power in the world, white, cis, able-bodied, class-privileged, straight women have the second most power. People who experience multiple, intersecting oppressions have more constraints put on their paths for success and opportunities than those who have more privileges under kyriarchy and that is why Inherent Vice is a movie all about white people. That context matters, too.
* N.B. I tweeted at him and decided I need to disengage (at least for now) and not look at what he said back to me because I get into too many conversations with white, cis males who continually deny their privilege and wrongdoings and I need a break from that, especially one who initially just said “Oh, please” to me when I called out his sexism. He responded to littlerunawaybunny and said that it was about nepotism, not sexism and condescendingly gaslighted a valid concern about what he said by saying she and other fans were in a “tizzy.”
Update: I checked back and saw some of the things Ed is saying on twitter and it is the same, boring hackneyed stuff people say when they are called out and uncomfortable. First, the “you’re all taking the Internet so seriously thing.” Second, the “you’re all so sensitive and easily offended—it was a joke” thing. Third, the “all feminists have no sense of humor” thing. And lastly, the depressing and unfortunate “I refuse to see beyond my own experiences, so I’m going to keep denying my privilege and sexism in general.” Talk about tired tropes.
Rachel is leaving Blessing All the Birds, the blog she started with this fabulous post—a post which opened my eyes to the possibility of seriously writing about Joanna’s music and her media image and which allowed me to form wonderful friendships and correspondences with so many on tumblr. Rachel, in particular, has become an amazing friend and I am constantly in awe of her intellect, her heart, and her passion. She was gracious enough to invite me to the blog over two years now and I cannot thank her enough for the opportunity and for her continued support.
I, Melissa (the one who usually gets this blog into trouble), am not leaving, even though I will always feel a pang of regret and disappointment that things have turned out like this. To to be frank and open concerning my feelings about all this, the person I am is that I have always been a polarizing figure, so continuing to write on this blog to a vocally and united hostile audience is really nothing new to me (although people hating my blog so viscerally does, of course, affect me deeply). There are people who love what we write on Blessing All the Birds and yet, I admit it’s becoming harder to be uplifted by them. I do not understand how this became so personal and I do not understand how people expect me to sever feminism from its political context. A rampant and inveterate criticism of the blog has actually always been that we are feminist and that “it’s just about the songs, stop boring us with your wider analysis and your politics.” And that, honestly, is pure, unadulterated malarky. Everything we do, every move our bodies make is politicized. Literature has to be liberated from the ivory tower and exposed as political. When Joanna literarily sings of abortion, that is inherently politicized and that’s important.
There are absolutely things I have said on here that I regret and am mortified by (for example, I used to sincerely think only women had uteruses, which is not at all the case), but what was said the other day does not embarrass me in the least. I firmly believe that no one is free from kyriarchy (an intersecting system of oppressions like racism, cissexism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.) and that it deeply and complexly affects all our interpretations of everything and that it creates abortion stigma, which is something we every day have to strive to unlearn. I just wanted to call attention to that system and show how although we are autonomous and free to interpret a song however we want, we are constrained and that that constraint is so deeply saddening and dangerous and that that constraint is what I fight against every day as I think and practice feminism. The post was an attack on the system which frames all of us, including Joanna’s corpus. It is a political question and concern that was not a personal attack in any way. But, of course, how can people not take politics personally? For me now, I am taking criticism of us to heart because what is said about our words is often in no way political. And that hurts very personally. No one is under any obligation to respond to us politically, but it would make me feel less sad.
More generally, the problem with the Internet is that online debate has a problematic and dangerous anonymity and no matter how much Rachel and I have tried to personalize ourselves, it has done little to help. When I “debate” with somebody on here, I do not know anything about their beliefs, their ethics, their values, their age, their geography. That is a depersonalization I have always been uncomfortable with about this blog, but I always have opted to just say what I wanted to say because otherwise nothing will have been said. I do not know most of you and you do not know me. It’s imperative to remember that you do not know me.
On a more positive note, I cannot wait for Joanna to release new material. Hopefully when new songs are released, there will be more submissions to the blog and shared discourse. I love this blog and I am proud of how it has helped me even more deeply appreciate Joanna’s music and I cannot wait to experience new Joanna and new feminist analyses with all of you. To the future!
[Question in reference to this post about “Baby Birch” and abortion.]
The point of the post on abortion stigma was to display how problematic interpretation, taste, attraction, and thought is in kyriarchy. We are taught and socialized from birth by the media, by literature, by education, by government, by the justice system, etc. to only value white, cisgender, straight, thin, able-bodied, Christian, rich men. Everything we do and say and think is a part of that system and even acknowledging that we are so limited and framed by a system of many oppressions is radical. But, of course, that does not mean we do not make choices and that we are not autonomous. For example, I know I do not want to engage in capitalism at all, but the only way to not engage in capitalism at all would be to live in the woods, off the grid and how in the world has capitalist education prepared me for that? Is there a course I missed at public school about hunting and tracking animals and deserting your entire life? So, I make choices about how to engage with capitalism and at the same time, it must be said that I have many more choices than most people. Some people do not have the privilege to decide to say “hey, I’m not going to shop at Walmart” because that is the only store in their damn town as a result of years and years of unchecked capitalist hegemony. Hence, the limited choices issue I was talking about.
More importantly, acknowledging that those who are not white, cisgender, straight, thin, able-bodied, Christian, rich men matter and have value is even more radical. Every day for me is a process of unlearning all I have been taught by kyriarchy and and every day is a process of learning about how it operates and to liberate myself and others from it. Yes, people can interpret things (especially Joanna Newsom songs) any way they want (as mentioned in my initial post), but I was just drawing attention to the fact that we are socialized and conditioned by many forces. To name a sort of trivial example in my life, I am super critical of heteronormative narratives about romance, but yet, I eat that stuff up (Downton Abbey, anyone?). I am queer and yet queer romances do not excite me in the same way heterosexual ones does. And do you know why that is? It is because I have been conditioned since the time I was born to think like that. I have been conditioned to see my worth only in relation to heterosexual relationships. I cannot help that I feel like this, but I hate it and recognizing this was such a huge, AUTONOMOUS step for me. Liberation from kyriarchy means that people will have full autonomy over themselves and we are absolutely not there yet.