Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Yoko (on John's 70th Birthday)

John Lennon would have turned 70-years-old last Friday.

I'm just barely old enough to remember when he was murdered. John's was the first rock star death to have affected me in a way I could comprehend, "Oh, somebody great has died." I'm not sure, as a seven-year-old, how much I knew about the Beatles' legacy. My parents weren't fans (which is pretty shocking for a two people born smack in the center of the baby boom years); their music wasn't played at our house, but it was so omnipresent it didn't need to be. John was a cultural icon whose influence had already been felt throughout popular music as he was standing on the precipice of middle age. And then he was gone. There's really nothing more I can say about a man who quite literally changed history, so I won't. Instead I want to talk about Yoko, his widow.

Growing up in the years after John's death, Yoko Ono was, more than anything, a punchline. A succubus. A witch. The person responsible for breaking up the Beatles, leading half its creative head down a path of drugs and ultimately turning him into a house husband. I had never heard her music nor seen her art, and I was taught to dismiss her as a caterwauling non-talent. It pissed me off, and I stealthily defended her, though I didn't exactly know what she had done, aside from wedding a Beatle. What I didn't know then was that I was getting my first taste of feminism. Yoko wasn't as "stand by your man," kind of gal or rather she was, but she was more a "stand with your man" as equals and co-creators. That scared people.

Cara from The Curvature wrote a wonder three-piece feminist analysis on Yoko (which you can read here, here, and here) that delves deeper into her history that I ever could:

"The common story of women manipulating their male partners comes from the perception that these women are not supposed to do anything with their time except think about their man. It simultaneously ignores and depends upon the fact that women would of course not have to manipulate their husbands if they had equal power and autonomy in the relationship. Because Yoko had, on a personal level, equal power in her relationship with John, the assumption simply was that she could have obtained an equal status in no way other than manipulation. John couldn’t have enjoyed being a househusband. He couldn’t have just respected Yoko as a person. She couldn’t just be financially smarter than him. And god, he couldn’t possibly have actually liked that dreadful music and art of hers! The only explanation was that somehow, she had to be tricking him."

I would see this trope played out again after Kurt Cobain's death, with Courtney Love pegged as Generation X's Yoko. It's almost jokingly easy to draw parallels. And for someone still trying to navigate her was through feminism's third wave, when we were supposed to be past all this witch-hunting, it was a sobering reality that we hadn't come as far as we thought.