We are living in the wake of a nationwide call-to-arms. Powerful women, armed with an extensive lineage of formidable voices, have finally claimed the stage to expose the vicious reality of sexual harassment. I feel privileged to witness a movement dedicated to the protection of women’s rights everywhere; above all, I feel privileged to acknowledge the powerful women whose voices were suppressed. Bearing this in mind, we have a social responsibility and a moral obligation to salute these women who experienced all forms of sexual harassment. Although women everywhere have suffered the repercussions of an unsafe or uncomfortable work environment, women involved in mainstream media have been the figureheads of the movement. Perhaps it’s because people feel passionately about shaping the media they consume; perhaps it’s a well-intentioned cry for an end to an era built upon silenced women’s backs. Regardless, women in entertainment serve as the paragons of #Me-Too.
Hollywood is experiencing drastic change, whether it be the downfall of legendary producer Harvey Weinstein, or the alleged vilification of so-called “good guys” like Aziz Ansari. We are eager to eradicate all the villains illuminated in this scathing light of truth. Momentarily, it feels like we are unfathomably capable, like Hollywood has the capacity to be truly renewed. Although it is indubitably difficult to allege any person in power of crime or misconduct, this surge of energy brought forth by women everywhere has lessened the burden. Harvey’s out, and so is Kevin Spacey, but I implore: what about Woody Allen? What about the artist whose work we so admire, whose work ushered in a new era of art? Do we reprimand them now; can a separation of artist and art endure public scrutiny? Does Artist X deserve a rigid dichotomy between their character and their craft? Most importantly, I wonder, what about the culture? For me, an avid audiophile and lifelong devotee to the sex-crazed era of classic rock and roll, I am left to ponder the inevitable death of a culture so integral to the music I love.
I was welcomed into the world twenty-seven years after Led Zeppelin played to a crowd of over 17,000 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Tickets were $8.50, and the repertoire included enduring smashes like “Black Dog” and “Over the Hills and Far Away”. My first word— “fish”—proved to be an ironic contradiction to my hatred of the band of the same name. I was learning my ABCs to the tune of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”; Keith Richards was as integral to my upbringing as Elmo or Barney. I distinctly remember my elementary drive to school, humming “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” before I even knew Paul Simon by name. It would’ve been impossible for me to grow up without the rhythm of Guns N Roses or The Eagles pulsing in my veins; before she had me, my mother was enveloped in the heart of the record industry for thirteen years. From 1986 to 1999, my mom pursued a career with Capitol, Electra, Geffen, and EMI Records. Although her love of rock and roll and her seemingly infinite capsule of crazy tales from “on the road” have always been integral to my perception of her, I didn’t come to realize the hardship she faced in the industry until I was forced to reconcile my own acuity regarding the music I cherish. My mother had a front row seat to the violating and oppressive culture of music in the 1980s. She worked as a liaison between the irrepressible voices and guitars of a generation and the media. Naturally, with topical concerns about the press and their influence on the media we consume, I was curious about her take. Over the phone one night, I called her with a simple question: how integral is sex to the culture of rock and roll? I knew it couldn’t be an easy question, but I also didn’t anticipate such a convoluted answer.
She paused for a moment; I could hear her exhale a breath I didn’t know she was holding. “Well, [sex] is just completely part of it,” she said, “[Music without misogynistic undertones] is like saying… I don’t even know. Music wouldn’t have existed without that.” Certainly that must be true, I thought. Music and its surrounding culture go hand-in-hand; rock couldn’t have existed without the enviable glamor of rock stars. It’s why we idolize legends like Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. As a society, we’ve always considered the lifestyle of a rock star to be a necessary evil; we choose to forgo our disapproval of the infamous “life on the road” in exchange for perennial jams. This culture was founded upon cocaine, groupies, and late nights, and still we all hum along to the Stones’ “Shattered” in the car. Yes, Stevie Nicks’ almost suffered brain damage from excessive coke use, but have you heard Rumors?! Yes, John Lennon beat Cynthia, but could you imagine the world without “Strawberry Fields Forever”? I certainly can’t. But maybe I should. As a feminist, is it necessary for me to extinguish my envy for the glamorous, hardcore life of a rock star in exchange for a clean conscience? How many women and men suffered at the hands of the music I love?
My mother still blasts the Stones in the car. She loves Elton John. She drums her fingers on the steering wheel when Aerosmith comes on the radio. My mother has always been a feminist icon to me; I have always intrinsically visualized my mother as a voice for women. She is powerful and commanding; her presence in and of itself feels like a demonstration. I admire her inherent knowledge that she is entitled to her own voice. I wonder if that voice I know so familiarly was birthed from necessity.
I asked my mother about her experience with misogyny in the workplace. “This shit’s been going on forever. I mean… it’s still going on, but it was a lot more overt when I was going through the ranks,” she quipped, “I remember when I was working and Guns N Roses put out an EP that was called “Live Like a Suicide”, and it was basically… The cover of that EP was very offensive to women, and I remember having to be the representative who had to defend their right to put this really offensive album cover out. It was a first-amendment, freedom of speech situation. We had tons of protests, and the record company… you know… everybody boycotted it. It was a problem. And that was… God… that was probably in 1986, maybe?”
I imagine my mother faced with this crossroads, an intersection of her identity as a strong woman, and her equally powerful desire to have a fulfilling career. I thought I was familiar with the discography of Guns N Roses, but I’d never heard about this EP. Maybe it was some sort of cover-up, or maybe we as a society choose to ignore bouts of misogyny. That’s why #Me-Too is so revolutionary; it is calling attention to the inexcusable crimes of misogyny in all fields of work. We are no longer permitted the affordability to ignore an inexcusable culture. We are no longer given the right to self-delude; this movement calls for no separation between art and artist. If all art is semi-autobiographical, as Richard Morgan claimed in his opinion piece on Woody Allen’s reputation, then there cannot be a distinction. Misogynistic work is not a symptom of a bad culture; it is part of the illness.
So here I am, at a crossroads. I am still fascinated by the illustrious life of rock stars. I am still enchanted by this culture: a culture defined by $8.50 Zep tickets, heroic guitar solos, and words that moved a generation. But do not mistake my enchantment for acceptance. Rock and Roll is fundamentally constructed upon a legacy of objectification and corruption. Women, just like my mother, suffered in some way or other at the hands of men in the industry. Maybe at the time, the profuse misogynistic EPs and myriad of hushed sexual harassment allegations were a necessary evil. Maybe music couldn’t have survived without the oppression of women. We all face this junction: it is our right to lambaste this gross demonstration of misogyny, or to accept it and move forward. Regardless, this cannot be 1986. Women are empowered like never before, and the world is ready to hear us. But as we ponder the voices of our generation, let us bear in mind: the song remains the same.