Girl Power has been dealt blows this week. Members of Pussy Riot, the Russian radical feminist punk-protest band, were handed two years in jail for their anti-patriarchal performance in a Moscow cathedral. The disproportionate sentence quickly drew international opprobrium with the court lambasted for its backward, dangerous approach to freedom of speech. It also exposed Putin – once an entertaining narcissist often pictured brandishing an uzi on a horse, in the buff harpooning a frog etc – as a vengeful megalomaniac who deserves wider scrutiny and shame than previously thought.
Closer to home, we have the latest episode of Misogynists In Power. After Julian Assange’s Evita moment, Republican politician Todd Akin and Bradford West MP George Galloway revealed themselves to be sickeningly wrong-headed. “The female body has ways of shutting [their reproductive organs] down,” said Akin, referring to something he calls “legitimate rape”. Apparently they didn’t teach science in Akin’s school. Or basic humanity. George Galloway’s galling comment that “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” followed his suggestion that one of the women accusing Assange “woke up to him having sex with her again – something which can happen, you know”. Not in our universe, George.
It is any wonder that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police?
Just over twenty years ago Tori Amos became the first well-known female singer-songwriter to speak up about her own experience of sexual assault, in her 1991 song ‘Me And A Gun’ (it was inspired by a rape that occurred when Amos was 21). At the time, it was shocking. It was even criticised by some as being self-indulgent and attention-seeking (Jesus wept). A few years later she co-founded RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, which provides a free help line in the US that connects callers with their local rape crisis centre. It would be impossible to estimate how many women have been directly encouraged to report rape by Amos’s actions.
The singer celebrates her 49th birthday today, so it’s an apt time to salute her potency. Since the release of debut ‘Little Earthquakes’ twenty years, she has brazenly tackled topics that many writers avoid: Christian patriarchy, sexuality, gender, guilt, shame, miscarriage and motherhood, couched in her swelling, filigreed piano rock and sometimes sweet, often acerbic vocals. She pulls up the music industry on its sexism and patriarchal structure without fear; a vanguard, paving the way for female artists to be received equally to men.
She’s also funny, playful, peppy, sometimes twee, and takes risks in her work, such as her classical crossover ‘Night Of Hunters’ and the concept album ‘American Doll Posse’. It’s empowering to marvel at her bravery, particularly as political courage in music has been dormant for so long. But perhaps it’s the timeless strength of Amos’s core message – “don’t be silent” – that accounts for the ardent dedication of her fanbase and her career longevity. And today, it seems, we need it more than ever.