Monday, July 19, 2010

Lilith and Feminism -- Or Something Like It

The Lilith Fair passed through my town this week, and although I didn't go I've been reading reviews and looking at photos from those who did. I feel a weird sense of obligation to write about Lilith, even though it was never my thing. The cliquishness, the exclusion of tons of great artists because they didn't fit the "Lilith mold" plagued its early years, and while recent shows have included far more artists from a diverse spectrum of musical styles, the image of Lilith and a folky, white girl-fest is hard to erase. And there's this.

During a press conference with McLaclan and and a handful of Lilith performers, a reporter from MS Magazine asked the dreaded "F-word" question:

"While the media had been scrutinizing McLachlan’s feminist identity for years–”Is she, or isn’t she?”–I still believed that Lilith Fair was an act of resistance. (Brandi) Carlile’s feminist rhetoric seemed to naturally lead into the question I had come to ask: “Who here identifies as a feminist?” I got a long pause, followed by nervous laughter. Finally Carlile spoke, “I don’t know, it means something different that it used to.”

McLachlan herself went on to say, "It’s a tricky question, because it’s been redefined and I think we all define feminism to a certain degree. We all define femininity. I think we’re able to have a little more balance. There’s still fights to be fought. There’s still inequality, absolutely."

To her credit, she said some smart, insightful things during the rest of the interview, but the F-word question dodge is depressing, to say the least, and too common a trope for women in the entertainment world. Also, that she equates feminism with femininity, or femininity with being a woman (you can identify as a woman and not be "feminine), makes me roll my eyes. But I think a lot of the problem lies within the entertainment industry itself, and its denizens not wanting to be pigeonholed as "women artists" (even when you're fronting one of the biggest celebrations of women as artists). I'm barely old enough to remember Patti Smith saying something like, "I ain't no women's lib chick," while at the same time making some of the most powerful music I'd heard in my short life. The good part of me wants to give those artists a pass, and let the work speak for itself, but I look forward to the day when the F-word is no longer taboo.

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