Meet Amanda Palmer

Warning: This blog contains nudity that is quite sexy and empowering to women, nevertheless, some may find it offensive.

A few weeks ago I promised that I was going to introduce my readers to some “good for the soul” feminist music, so here I am, with someone awesome for you all to meet – her name is Amanda Palmer. And believe me, you want to know her.

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I have to start out by saying, I don’t really know jack about “feminist music” – my Pandora has been on my Counting Crows station for about two months now, and I am fine with that. But after my fellow blogger posted  The Beyonce Bowl 2013 I started thinking about the importance of female powered music  – while I loved seeing the all-girl band and reunion of Destiny’s Child at the Superbowl, these aspects were ruined for me by the intense sexualized content of the entire show. What Beyonce was wearing, the way she was dancing, the fact that she (literally) stripped on stage, were all direct reflections of what I am SO sick of seeing in the media, and that’s a sexualization of women that has been created by a male gaze.

Today I was reading Patricia Hill Collins and she made the point that although we don’t think about musicians as “intellectuals,” they are part of our culture’s knowledge production and dissemination. I would venture to guess that everyone reading this post has heard of Beyonce and can sing a lyric to at least one of her songs, while only a small percentage have ever heard of Collins, let alone read her feminist theories. What we listen to and see on TV effects the way we think about the world, and how we see ourselves. Girls all over America saw a strong, beautiful, talented woman during the Superbowl half-time show, but a woman who, like most mainstream performers, was representative of the pornographic quality that the media demands from participating women.

I refuse to believe that’s as good as it gets. I refuse to believe that in order to be a successful musician that you must be sexualized. And that’s where Amanda comes in.

When I first found Amanda she was still in the band The Dresden Dolls, a two-part group consisting of her (piano and vocals) and her ex-lover Brian Viglione (drums). They sounded like a darker, more intense version of The White Stripes, but when I listened closer, I realized they were touching on subjects that I had never heard in the music of Jack and Meg. The realities of street harassment, rape, gender socialization, partner violence, alternative sexualities, and even vibrators were all woven into the duo’s obvious musical talent.

Parents be warned - this album contains real talk
Parents be warned – this album contains real talk

Today Amanda is married to writer Neil Gaiman (he’s written many fantastic books and graphic novels, but you might know him best as the author of Coraline), and has been producing music on her own since 2008. Although I love the songs she made with Brian, I think her solo work is even more beautiful, and her fight against the music industry has helped made her work SUPER accessible.

In fact, you can listen to all of it on her website,  any time you want and in its entirety. She understands the reality that most people download music illegally or share it with their friends, and she skips all frustration by making her entire discography readily available. Also on her website is her blog, which she uses to stay in daily contact with her fans. Amanda is a VERY prolific blogger – I know because both her music and blog are available as an app, so she’s in my pocket every day, talking about the oppressions women face and finding solutions with how to deal with them. The blog was also where Amanda recently informed fans that her upcoming tour was cancelled – a close friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer and she wants to be with them as they go through chemotherapy. While her career is important, her friend is more so, and the blog allowed her to communicate this – not only did she not lose any followers, she gained a huge community of support for what she and her friend are facing.

Not all of Amanda’s songs are overtly feminist – some are about love found or love lost, female friendships, and motherhood – but EVERY one of her songs talks about the realities of life from a woman’s perspective. Although there’s a lot to love about Amanda, I think that the relatability of her music is the best thing about her. I can identify with her down-to-earth portrayal of women WAY more than I can with a Lady Gaga song talking about going to a club and getting drunk! As far as good role models go, she’s someone I would want my daughter or sister to listen to, because she has great insight and solutions they could use in their life.

It was suggested that my disdain for Beyonce’s performance could be a result of “slut shaming,” that is, hatred directed towards behavior that goes outside of the “norm” that females are supposed to be pure and chaste. As far as that goes, I actually think that the “norm” of female sexuality as it appears in the media is quite the opposite of this, and that Beyonce fit right into viewer expectations of a sexualized female. As you can see from the photos below, Amanda is no prude, and no stranger to not only being revealing on stage, but naked. So what’s the difference between her performance and Beyonce’s?

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 "The time I save on body hair removal, I devote to revolution!" - Amanda Palmer
“The time I save on body hair removal, I devote to revolution!” – Amanda Palmer

For me, the difference is that I always feel that Amanda is 100% in control – of her life, her music, and her body. I never feel that there is a man behind the scene pulling the strings OR that she is out to impress anyone but herself (and maybe Neil Gaiman). Furthermore, there is a message in her music, a strong, empowering, and feminist message, that is interested not only in equality for women, but for anyone who has ever been oppressed because of their sexuality – namely the queer community. I see Amanda there with her tits out and I can almost hear her thinking, “Yup, this is me. And I look great. But I am a commodity for NO ONE – this is MY body and I am doing exactly what I want with it.” It’s quite a different feeling then  when I heard two days after the Superbowl that Beyonce’s rep was trying pull “unflattering” photos of the performance from the web. Because women don’t sweat when they dance – apparently.

Amanda Palmer is an inspiration to me every day, but she is only one of many great female artists. Until we learn to value these types of performers in our culture, we are stuck with Beyonce at the Superbowl and Call Me Maybe on the radio, and that’s not a world I want to live in. So who are your favorite female artists? Share them so I can finally get my Pandora away from the Counting Crows!! musics future

Videos to watch immediately:

The Killing Type – my all-time favorite right now!

The Oasis Song – Upbeat tones, but talking about date rape and abortion – you won’t be able to forget this one.

Coin-Operated Boy – The Dresden Dolls song about the delights of a vibrator 🙂

Double Rainbow – NYC Halloween 2010, the Dresden Dolls delighted their audience with a musical redention of the popular YouTube video “Double Rainbow.”

Creep – A ukelalee version of the Radiohead classic!

6 thoughts on “Meet Amanda Palmer

  1. I’ve never heard of Amanda Palmer but she sounds like an amazing and empowering female artist! I would just like to clarify, that my praise of Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl was in the broad spectrum of her all female ensemble and her talent, although I realize now that most Americans were primarily focused on her beauty and body that are highly sexualized through the male gaze. I wanted to highlight the positive aspects of the performance and focus on how Beyonce as person, rather than performer, is empowering outside of her music but I understand that her music defines her and it’s almost impossible consider them separately. I whole heartedly agree that there are so many other female artists that represent everything a woman can and should be that should have been up on that stage instead of her, but those women go unrecognized in our patriarchal society. It really is a shame that artists like Beyonce allow men to stand over them and pull the puppet strings. I listened to a few of Amanda Palmer’s songs and I really liked them and everything she stands for. I wish all female artists had her confidence and knowledge to take control of their art and make it their own. This is a great post and I can’t wait to learn more about other feminist musicians!

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    1. I think that everything you chose to draw attention to in your blog was awesome – especially the all-female band which I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else! However, I thought it would be valuable to explore the other side too. I’m really glad that you wrote The Beyonce Bowl, because it opened up a lot of dialogue, as well as chance for me to personally explore how I feel about various female artists. I think and hope that the path Amanda Palmer has chosen to take in music will be followed by future female performers – she’s going to be a great resource to new and upcoming artists. I also think that it’s important to draw attention to performers like Palmer, because like you said, they often go unrecognized in our patriarchal culture. During my early teen years I thought all Q101 was the height of the music industry…imagine by sheer joy when I realized this wasn’t so!!

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  2. I’ve been following the Beyonce debate on the blog for a bit, and I figured now was a good time to chime in. While I think it is good to have a variety of female role models in the media, I think it’s important to consider that Beyonce actually is COMPLETELY in control of herself, her image, and her business. To assert that she isn’t in control because she plays into the sexualization of women in the music industry seems like a stretch. Consider that because Beyonce is a pop artist who is internationally known, she can get her messages of female empowerment to a lot more people than Amanda Palmer. Beyonce made the decision to continue her a career as a pop artist, that wasn’t a decision that was made for her or really even forced upon her. And she has completely owned herself and her image for quite some time now. She fired her own father so she could have control over her business decisions. For years she kept her relationship with Jay-Z incredibly private, and very much established herself outside of his shadow. She has been quoted time and time again emphasizing how important it is to be a financially independent woman. If that isn’t empowering then I don’t know what is.

    I think it’s very problematic to put such a negative light on Beyonce’s sexuality. I grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and her early solo work, and it made me feel awesome about being a woman and also showed me that it was okay to embrace my body and sexuality. I don’t think there is anything wrong with her making these decisions to be a sexy woman and put that image out. The fact of the matter is, she is the one making these decisions. If feminists are going to nit-pick and focus on her sexuality instead of her talent, is that any better than what the sexist media industry does? We’re focusing so much on her body that in a way it’s objectifying in it’s own right. On that note, I’m just going to present this Beyonce quote for consideration:
    “Women have to work much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don’t get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter. Because lets face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what’s sexy and what’s feminine and that’s bullshit. At the end of the day, it’s not about equal rights, it’s about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves.”

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  3. Hannah–while I like your post, I was a little saddened by by your admissions that you don’t know much about feminist music. Start by googling “riot grrl.” Search out Kathleen Hanna. And dig out some Patti Smith. And keep rockin!

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    1. I am saddened by it too, and I was hoping that this blog would encourage readers to share some of their favorites! I read Just Kids last year and I LOVE Patti Smith, but I had never heard of Kathleen Hanna! Thanks for the suggestion!

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  4. While I agree that there are aspects to Beyonce’s music (and her earlier work with Destiny’s Child) that can be empowering for women, I think a lot of what you are saying shows evidence that you are a woman who has has A LOT of experience with feminism. Your education has enabled you to think about Beyonce in a way that many without your background would not consider. The problem for me is that Beyonce is one of at least 20 pop stars that I can think of who has the same (or at least VERY similar) image and message – you say these perfomers reach more of society than Amanda Palmer, and obviously there is no debating that! What I am doing is asking WHY? If this type of image is what is accepted (and expected ) from the music industry as you say, it’s a question worth pursuing. For me the answers lies in the American media’s sexualization of women – while there are positive aspects to Beyonce, this still exists as a major part of her image. Futhermore, her peformance was obviously catering to the male gaze – and isn’t it sick that this is the image consistently fed to teenagers? While you say you gained empowerment from her as a teenager, I think there are many others (myself included) who looked at her and thought, “Borring. Gross. Where are the women like myself?” I write about Palmer and hope that others share their favorite feminist performers in the hope that we can give these girls a choice of what to listen to – for those who feel empowered to Beyonce, keep rocking out! For the others who are tired of the same old thing, try out Amanda!!

    And PS LOVE the quote from Beyonce – how could not she not feel that way after all the experience she’s had in the music industry? However, I haven’t seen anything or heard anything to seperate her in my mind from women who defintiely aren’t in control of their own music or image. It’s about SO much more than her body or what she wears – it’s the whole act and it’s place in our culture.

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