Carrie Fisher is More Than Princess Leia

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This piece originally appeared on Inspirer.

Actress and author Carrie Fisher reportedly suffered a “massive heart attack” on a flight from London to Los Angeles Friday afternoon. She was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, where her brother, Todd Fisher, told Variety she is currently out of emergency and in ICU, in stable condition, though “there’s no good news or bad news.”

News of the episode sparked an outpouring of support on social media and in the press. A common thread in all the discussion? Star Wars.

Identification of public figures is an important part of reporting. It makes sense to note that Fisher is most well-known for her role as Princess Leia — it gives the general public an iconic, familiar role to put a face to the name. It makes sense to lead with that, but not to make it the entire focus.

In the nearly 40 years since Fisher became an overnight icon as an outspoken princess with a memorable hairstyle, her resume has expanded to cover multiple fields. She has written four novels, three memoirs, two plays, and two screenplays, including the screenplay for the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of her first novel, Postcards from the Edge. She has acted in several other films, from Hannah and Her Sisters to When Harry Met Sally.

In the 1990s, she was considered one of Hollywood’s best script doctors (a writer brought in to rewrite or polish an already existing script), having worked on films like Hook, Sister Act, and The Wedding Singer. Her autobiographical one woman show Wishful Drinking was adapted into both a memoir and an HBO special.

Having suffered bipolar disorder and addictions to cocaine and prescription medicines, her activism around mental health and addiction has been recognized by multiple organizations, most recently Harvard University.

I shouldn’t have to list the contents of Carrie Fisher’s resume here. I shouldn’t have to remind people that she has done more in 40 years than don a pair of cinnamon roll hair buns and a white dress.

If we were talking about her co-star Harrison Ford in this situation, I’m fairly certain media outlets would not be focusing on his role as Han Solo. The overwhelming amount of tweets would have more than photos of Indiana Jones. Fisher doesn’t deserve to be reduced to a single role. She doesn’t deserve press coverage including a still of her as “slave Leia” — a degrading outfit she has vocally spoken out against — in their articles.

Women are reduced to singular roles, relationships, and images again and again and again. Women are constantly identified as someone’s wife or girlfriend, a single line summarizing their entire career, a former sex symbol. It isn’t lost on me that this time last year, Fisher was making news after a New York Post writer wrote a misogynistic opinion piece that if she was unhappy about people commenting on how she’s aged, she “should quit acting.”

Fisher is just one recent example. This is not unique; it is not special. It just shines yet another light on a problem. Women are more than one singular identity. It’s about time we started acknowledging it.

Pat Benatar: ‘I’m Proud, So Secure and Even a Little Arrogant When It Comes to Being a Woman’

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This piece originally appeared on Inspirer
by Desarae Gabrielle and Carrie Courogen

New York native soprano Pat Benatar came crashing onto the rock and roll scene ready to change the landscape of the male dominated music industry. Four time Grammy award winning Benatar kick-started her lengthy list of accomplishments by being the first female artist to be played on MTV — performing her hit “You Better Run” on August 1, 1981 — later becoming one of the most heavily featured artists on the network. Benatar was among the wave of female pioneers who took the Top 40 singles chart by storm – 15 of her songs were featured on the chart which included popular singles “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “We Belong,” and “Love is a Battlefield.” Benatar’s first single “Heartbreaker” propelled the rock star to platinum status with her debut album In The Heat of the Night.

After a tour date at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, co-headlining with Melissa Etheridge, we spoke to Benatar about her history in rock music as a feminist, her memoir Between a Heart and a Rock Place, her inspirations and more.

What was it like to be the first woman played on MTV?

Thrilling, odd, crazy and fun. We had no idea what was about to happen — we thought we were just doing another performance video that would be shown on TV. The idea that the video would be played 24 hours a day — was unfathomable. In one week, our lives were forever changed.

Did you feel any sort of pressure to play to the changing landscape of the music industry or play to that video star persona?

Absolutely not, we were part of that emerging landscape. We were creating the video star persona organically, we were just being ourselves.

Getting control of your career and fighting the over­-sexualization of your image wasn’t an easy thing to do. What was that battle like?

The struggle to take control of the image was difficult. When it was my idea, it worked, but it was very limiting and became tedious. But of course, by that time, the record company had a winning combination and fought hard to keep it, we fought constantly and bitterly for the rest of our time there.

Catch A Rising Star was a place where a lot of comics got their breaks. What attracted you to it as a singer?

I was living in Richmond, VA playing in a local band and going to school. I had read an article in the New York times about Catch, it mentioned that up and coming singers could audition there as well. I missed New York so much and wanted to go home, it was the perfect excuse.

How did The Zinger shape your transition into rock and roll from a more lounge ­inspired style?

The Zinger was such a campy production, it really was more musical theater than rock and roll. It didn’t really have much of an influence on my future career. Working with young songwriters at Catch, helped me find my voice. And of course, meeting my muse, Neil Giraldo, putting the band together and working side by side was the most important factor — the catalyst that propelled everything forward.

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How do you think your career has influenced your daughters’ endeavors?

As for our youngest, Hana, who is the singer songwriter, she was born feisty! I’m sure some of it’s genetic, but she is a highly motivated, talented, tornado. Her genre of music is vastly different from ours. Our oldest daughter, Haley is a designer. I think — I hope– both of our daughters witnessed the power of hard work and commitment from both parents. They certainly saw first hand what can be accomplished as a female. They are both very smart, confident, kind and talented young women.

You were nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance eight times are tied for most wins in the category. The category merge in 2005 came with a lot of scrutiny on both sides of the argument. On one side, there’s the idea that distinguishing male and female vocals is sexist and they should be judged together. But the other side is that, since the merge, only six women have been nominated, even though there’s certainly not a lack of outstanding female performances each
year. What are your thoughts?

This is always such a difficult topic. I have mixed feelings — I hate the idea of being singled out as a “Female Rocker.” It defeats the entire argument that we are all the equal. At the same time, the sheer number of males versus females will always tip the scale. Because of the era grew up in, it’s hard to shake that nagging rub, that being separated, labeled as “female” in some way is a slight, a way to subliminally suggest inferiority. It’s interesting, because personally, I don’t feel that way at all. I’m proud, so secure, and even a little arrogant when it comes to being a woman. I wait for the day when that feeling permeates everything!

How has your self­-identification as a feminist influenced your career and the ways you’ve given back to the music community?

Yes, definitely. Mentoring young women is where my heart is. Having two daughters has made it my mission.

What about the music industry would you like to see change, from a feminist perspective? Why were you reluctant to write your memoir Between a Heart and a Rock Place?

There has been so much progress in the music industry, but the old prejudices and ideas still exist. Old habits die hard! Thankfully, we now have laws and legislation to protect us, for the most part. There is still much to be done. I do feel confident that women today, are very aware and take a strong, passionate stance about their rights. I thoroughly enjoyed writing Between a Heart and a Rock Place. I was a little reluctant to write it because of the time necessary to get it done properly. I only said yes because they promised I’d have help. The co-writer, Patsi Bale Cox, came to me and said, ”You can do this. You should do this. It needs to be in your own voice.” So I did. She helped me organize the stories and all my thoughts and then she pushed me “out of the nest.” In the end, she was right and I loved every moment of the process.

You were on the We Live For Love Tour with your husband Neil and singer Melissa Etheridge through the summer. You chose to continue to play in states where anti-­LGBTQ laws were passed, such as Mississippi and North Carolina. Why is that?

Neil (Spyder) and I have been staunch advocates for LGBTQ rights for 37 years. We felt that we could better serve the community by continuing to support them the way we always have, by standing in defiance, to those who seek to squash their rights. We discussed this with Melissa and she agreed.

What social issues inspire you to try to make change in the world?

Hunger, children’s rights, the elderly’s rights, women’s rights, animal rights, racial and sexual equality — we don’t have enough time. We all have the ability to make changes in the world, everyone has the power to do good.

If you could give your 25­-year­-old self advice, what would it be?

My 25-year-old self? You are about to begin an amazing adventure, do not be afraid! Listen to your gut, it’s always right. Be kind, be loving, be smart. All you have at the end of the day is the people you love and who love you, and your integrity. Lighten up and try to have a little fun along the way.

To read our full interview with Pat Benatar, order Inspirer’s fall issue here!

Some thoughts on being a female runner

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This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

I really wish this was the only message of its kind I got over the past few days, but it isn’t.

Three women who went out for runs in the past two weeks didn’t come back. All I can think about — and, apparently, all many of my friends, family, and loved ones can think about, too — is how easily that could have been me.

Running is, for the most part, a solitary sport. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I can count the number of people I run with on one hand, and that’s by choice.

A running partner is a big commitment, at least, it is to me. You have to gel on an unspoken level: who sets the pace, who chooses the course, who moves behind when the path narrows. You have to know whether they’ll push you or force you to pace yourself or match your speed and endurance. You have to trust them enough to be okay with being around them when you’re bare and incredibly vulnerable — no makeup, just out of bed, sweaty and smelly, running on fumes. You have to be comfortable enough with them to know that most of your time together will be shrouded in silence.

Suffice to say, I run alone most of the time.

I run early in the morning, usually around 6:30 a.m., but in my 13 years of running, I’ve been out on a run practically every time of the day — 5 a.m., 3 p.m., 10 p.m., you name it. I run by the East River and the Hudson River and the outer loop of Central Park. I run busy New York streets and quiet suburban ones. I run my old cross country route through my hometown’s wooded park; I run the secluded trails of Central Park. I run in double layers of leggings and fleece tops and jackets and I run in spandex shorts and sports bras.

I am always afraid.

I am always afraid, even when my mother sternly tells me to stay away from the trails if I’m by myself and I laugh it off and tell her to stop being paranoid. I am always afraid because I’m neurotic and anxious and that’s just my nature. I am always afraid because things happen, because solitary women anywhere, doing anything, are always targets. I am always afraid because the female jogging victim seems like such a regular phenomenon that I don’t know why there aren’t actually statistics to source about how commonplace attacks on them are.

Sometimes I am more afraid than others. Sometimes I cut runs short or run faster than I can handle or just don’t run at all. Sometimes that fear quiets itself to just a very slight whisper, sometimes it only exists in the habits I’ve formed, like how I swapped my weightless iPod shuffle for a much heavier iPhone, because what if something happened?

You know what? I’m angry. I’m so, so angry, and this isn’t the first time I’ve said so. I’m angry because these brutal attacks keep happening to women and I’m angry because I’ve been criticized and made fun of for being upset. I’m angry because people have gone so far as to create an entire sub-reddit to mock my fear. I’m angry because this doesn’t happen to men.

All of this anger and fear, even if it usually just exists on a subconscious level, is exhausting. I’m tired. I want to walk out the door one day with nothing but my keys and just go. I want to know what that sort of freedom feels like. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is the Female Empowerment Album We Need

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This piece originally appeared on Inspirer

The year is 2016, A.L. (“After Lemonade”). Years from now, our children may ask us where we were the moment Beyoncé unveiled her second surprise album in the form of a short film, possibly getting the most people to stay home on a Saturday night since the early days of SNL, before DVR and Hulu were things.

It’s easy to joke about Beyoncé, the cultural phenomenon. It’s easy to joke about anyone with that much power and that much control over their public image. It’s harder to talk about Beyoncé, the artist. It’s harder to talk about the deeper issues she tackles, the way she uses her power to shed light on topics that aren’t discussed in a meaningful manner in mainstream media.

Lemonade asserts Beyoncé’s position as reigning queen of the music industry, not that anyone really debated that. Musically, the album demonstrates mastery of a variety of styles, proving that the artist — and more importantly, black women in general — can handle any genre, be it rock and roll or country or soul or pop. But the cultural implications of Lemonade are what we really need to talk about.

Beyoncé has made a career out of being able to seamlessly blend well-crafted pop with empowering themes, and over the years, they’ve evolved: “Independent Women Part I” gave us “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” which became “Run the World (Girls),” and bled into “***Flawless.”

Lemonade — both in short film and album form — pulls no punches with continuing this evolution and tackling even more difficult, but important cultural and political issues: Black Lives Matter, intersectional feminism, female independence. More than anything else, these themes of female empowerment onLemonade are what Beyoncé addresses better than anyone else right now.

We’re at peak pop culture feminism right now. Women musicians have been singing empowering anthems for years, but it’s just now that people are really starting to pay attention. It’s also just now that some artists think making a song have a feminist slant is just as important as making it have a catchy hook.

Beyoncé isn’t trying to please people’s expectations that she blatantly be a feminist, though. She’s not trying to fit in; she’s not writing feminist songs to be trendy, and that’s why she does it so well. Her words are genuine and powerful. She’s not giggling about the media gossiping about her being a serial dater. She’s not shaming women in a pseudo-empowering anthem about curvy body types.

Instead, she combines her lyrics with words of Somali poet Warsan Shire to make statements about the societal difficulties of being a woman, misogyny, and the predicament of being in a relationship with a man who may be uncomfortable with such a powerful partner. Between songs, she delivers spoken word verses meditating on these topics:

I tried to change, closed my mouth more, tried to be soft, prettier, less awake. Fasted for sixty days, wore white, abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex, slowly did not speak another word.

But the way she so assertively addresses female empowerment stands up on the songs themselves, the songs that will be played over the radio for everyone — not just Tidal subscribers — to hear. She delivers “Hold Up,” vilifying a cheating partner and handles a baseball bat in a way that’s more gleeful than that time Carrie Underwood smashed in the windows of her cheating boyfriend’s 4×4.

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Because when Beyoncé does it, there’s deeper significance: she’s reclaiming the angry black woman trope by doing so. She acknowledges the stereotype — “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” — and moves past it. She makes it clear that her feelings are valid, that any woman’s feelings are valid, and to reduce an angry woman to a stereotype is unacceptable.

“Don’t Hurt Yourself” takes the anger up a notch, but proves that she’s not playing around. It drives home the point of being confident in your power, knowing your worth, and never backing down to please someone else:

I am the dragon breathing fire
Beautiful man I’m the lion
Beautiful man I know you’re lying
I am not broken, I’m not crying, I’m not crying
You ain’t trying hard enough
You ain’t loving hard enough
You don’t love me deep enough
We not reaching feats enough
But I leave your love, I f*cks with you
‘Til I realize, I’m just too much for you
I’m just too much for you

She addresses income inequality by bragging about her wealth and status just like any man would. Women are still fighting for equal pay. Women have been made to feel like we should make ourselves smaller, like we shouldn’t show off our accomplishments, like we shouldn’t speak too loudly or draw too much attention to ourselves. Women are still being made to believe that we’re not worth asking for more. Beyoncé makes it a point on “6 Inch” to reject that notion. Your net worth may not be $450 million, but you “work for the money from start to finish” and you’re “worth every dollar and worth every minute.” Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not.

And this theme of working hard and fighting for the best for yourself is continued on “Formation,” which was the topic of about a million think pieces when it was released in March. While the overlying significance of the song is its role as a black power anthem, it’s still making a strong feminist point. Beyoncé reclaims sexuality and power, singing about men in a way that most men sing about women:

When he f*ck me good, I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, cause I slay
Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay

She opens up the possibility of reaching the level of revolutionary financial influence of Bill Gates to women, particularly women of color (who are the most discriminated women in America): “You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making — I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.” Hear that, America? The future is female.

It’s incredibly easy to joke about Beyoncé being Illuminati or being a queen or question how she’s human. It’s easy to say that Lemonade is empowering AF and call it a day. It’s harder to talk about the deep meaning beneath the swagger. It’s harder to talk about how her lyrics have the ability to open up public discussions that are long overdue. And it’s time we start.

Listen to Lemonade exclusively on Tidal
Track List:
1. Pray You Catch Me
2. Hold Up
3. Don’t Hurt Yourself
4. Sorry
5. 6 Inch
6. Daddy Lessons
7. Love Drought
8. Sandcastles
9. Forward
10. Freedom
11. All Night
12. Formation

When You Say You’re Not a Feminist: A College Crash Course

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.
Hi, everyone. My name is Carrie and I am a feminist. (This is the part where you all go “Hi, Carrie!”)

I’m here today because I’d like to talk about feminism. I’m not here to talkto you all through an open letter. Open letters are tired. Open letters talk down to people. I’m here to talk with you, kind of like a breakout group from a college lecture. I am here to teach your recitation for Feminism 101.

Before we get started, I’d like to call attention to a few details:

First, I am not an expert or a scholar on this complex subject. I’m not perfect at understanding all of its nuances. I’m a student, always learning, just like you, but consider me TA level — I’ll refer you to more sources throughout class, and I hope you’ll do some more digging on your own. But, I’m happy to give you the freshman year basic first seminar rundown while we’re all gathered here.

Second, it’s come to my attention that someone here doesn’t think that they’re a feminist, and they think that’s okay. To each her own, I guess, but… no… no it’s not the same. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. You’re entitled to your opinion, but your opinion is wrong. Well, at least, it’s wrong because you are woefully uninformed. Let me explain:

I think we need to start with a very basic, broad, sweeping understanding of what the word “feminist” means. The go-to 21st century definition is provided by renowned scholar Beyoncé Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her TED talk entitled “We Should All Be Feminists” (which is also the title of her book on the subject), she states: “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

That’s just skimming the surface. We haven’t even begun to talk about how nuanced inclusive, intersectional feminism is, but we’ll get those complexities later.

Amanda, I hate to single you out from the rest of the class, but you raised your hand and gave your opinion, so here goes: I’m concerned when you say you’re not a feminist.

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for equal pay. I think if a woman is doing the same job as a man (and just as good of a job), she should be paid the same.”

Amanda. That makes you a feminist. (Or, at least, it kind of does.) Would you agree or disagree, class?

“If this were the early to mid-twentieth century, I would be a feminist. But this is no longer the first wave feminism. We are currently in what is called the fourth wave of feminism. I don’t want the things that these feminists are fighting for. And further explaining it won’t change my mind.”

I’m sure most of you here have either read Ngozi’s incredibly overarching and broad definition of feminism before, or at least listened to the ***Flawless samples. She used it just a few years ago — definitely still in the 21st century, still the same kind of feminism.

Amanda, you could call what you wrote an opinion piece, but that’s a stretch. To write an op-ed, you have to present an argument. You have to present what exactly it is you oppose, which you flat out refuse to do. That’s no more effective than a 5-year-old arguing with her mother that she doesn’t like broccoli “just because.” This makes it too easy for critics to poke giant holes in your already porous argument.

On the subject of women being domestic and nurturing, you acknowledge that it’s okay to want to have children and stay at home and be a housewife. It’s okay to ask for a traditional marriage or to take your husband’s last name.“Feminists wouldn’t have you believe these things.”

Please tell me what so-called feminists told you this, and I’ll speak to them personally. Because that simply isn’t true. What’s so rad about feminism is that it acknowledges the rights of a woman to do whatever she wishes to do with her body, her time, and her life.

Class, here’s the sitch: Feminism is about the right to choose. Feminism means you have the choice to stay at home or to have a career and that whatever you choose is your choice, not one forced upon you, and one that is 100 percent okay. Feminism is “good for you, bad for me” — believing that all women have the freedom to make their own choices, even if they’re not the ones you would make.

“Listen carefully when I say that you are not called to submit to any man but your husband. And women are not lower than men. I will agree with feminists on that. But I do believe that the man is the head of the household. The man is to be the provider, protector, and leader of his family. That is a lot of pressure. And I don’t understand why feminists want to take it on. Why would you want that?”

Again, Amanda, you confuse your personal opinions with the goals of an overarching ideology. Women shouldn’t have to submit to any man, regardless of whether or not he is her husband. Let’s get that straight real quick.

You don’t have to understand why women would want to be the head of the house. You don’t have to do that yourself. Some women are natural born leaders and would gladly take on this role. Feminist ideals allow women to make work a choice, in theory at least. (Side note — that doesn’t take into consideration the women who aren’t forced against their will to work, but have to choose work, even if they don’t want to, because they can’t afford not to.)

Feminism is about so much more than choosing work instead of motherhood. Feminism is about so much more than getting equal pay for equal work. Feminism, Amanda, is about so much more than your sheltered, middle class, white, cis-gendered female life.

Class, I would like you all to know that by saying that you are not a feminist, you are saying that you do not care about

Proudly stating that you’re not a feminist spits in the faces of women everywhere, past and present, who have fought to give you the rights and the opportunities you have today.

Feminism is behind every single one of the facts listed above. I know I threw a lot out at you, but that’s just a starter list. There are a slew of other issues you should familiarize yourself with. Feminism is what fueled women’s gains in striving for equality with men around the world. Feminism calls for an end to the atrocities against women that we still see today. Feminism, like it or not, is exactly what gave you, a woman, the opportunity to write what you wrote in the first place.

It’s okay to admit how problematic your statement was. It’s okay to admit you’re wrong. I admit I’m wrong all the time. You’re uninformed, and that’s sad, but there’s always time to learn. Take it from Jane Fonda, a woman we now look at as a feminist icon, who wrote a Lenny Letter this week about her complicated journey to understanding feminism and identifying with it. I think this section can really help clear things up for you:

“[Feminism] is not about replacing one “-archy” with another, it’s about transforming social and cultural norms and institutions so that power, violence, and greed are not the primary operating principles. It’s not about moving from patriarchy to matriarchy, but from patriarchy to democracy. Feminism means real democracy.”

Amanda, I’m asking you, young woman to young woman, to do some research next time. Think before you speak. If you’re still convinced that you don’t care about any of the above and if you still think you’re not a feminist, then I guess I just can’t help you. As J.D. Salinger once wrote, “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”

Class dismissed. Please feel free to reach out with any questions and I’ll do my best to fulfill some office hours.