Feminist Friday – Cyndi Lauper

I love Cyndi Lauper. Ever since the release of her first solo album She’s So Unusual, I’ve been enamored by her.  My little 8 year old self wanted to be Cyndi Lauper in 1983. Her hair was amazing. She wore two different earrings. Her clothes were fantastic! She jumped and danced, and sang, and was everything I imagined possible for myself. (Which is not to say I wanted to be a singer. On the contrary, I believe in 1983 I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice. Who had one side of her head shaved, pink hair, and wore twirly skirts.)

This made my 8 year old head explode.

A couple of weeks ago I was flipping through the channels on a Friday night and came across the PBS show, Women Who Rock. (I hope this gets released to Netflix, or as a DVD, or winds up being replayed, because it was a really awesome collection of influential women in music. They missed a ton, but no documentary ever gets everyone included.) Cyndi Lauper hosted the program and reminded me how great her commitment to women is.  From Rolling Stone, (bold emphasis is mine)

How did you get involved with the Women Who Rock documentary?

I always have been saying [the Rock & Roll Fall of Fame] should include women. I was in Cleveland and I took my cousin’s son to see it, because he wanted to see it, and they asked if I wanted a VIP tour and I said “Not really, because you don’t really include women in your curation here.” There’s hardly any women, and I feel funny walking this kid around, explaining who the women were who were around at the time. The curator looked at me and it just so happened that there was a young woman who was trying to get them to do an exhibit of women in rock and they came to me, maybe because of that. You know, everybody grows and hopefully it will be more inclusive. I’m really glad they included the women they included.

I had an argument with a well-known, not a rocker, a folker – I wouldn’t call him a rocker – and he was inducted. But he was a part of the rock & roll culture, I guess. And he was telling me he was going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they were going to induct Elvis. And I said, “What about Big Mama Thornton?” And he said, “She’s a blues person,” and I said “Yeah, but she made that song popular and now it’s a rock song.” And I said “And also, what about Wanda Jackson?” And he said, “There were no women in rock.” And so it’s fortunate, at this time at her age, she is finally being acknowledged for the work she did. She was always a rocker and she still rocks.

Did you feel a kinship with other female musicians who were kind of coming in around the same time as you back in the Eighties?
Well I had my alter-image, Madonna [laughs]. No matter what I did, there she was, and no matter what she did, there I was. And it wasn’t similar and it was never intentional. We inspired each other. I am inspired by her because she still does it and she looks great and I’m always on a diet, I can never keep a diet, but she looks fantastic, she always does, so that’s inspiring.

Do you think having her around made you raise your game as an artist?
No, in the Eighties I was really heartbroken that they would pit us against each other. Because I’ve always believed sisterhood is a powerful thing and I just wanted to have a friend in the industry. Another rocker. But they always isolate you when you become popular, when you become famous and then you’re isolated all of a sudden. Nobody can get to you, I guess because everybody wants to get to you.

I LOVE that she calls out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I love to hear other women talk about the absence of women in spaces that are presented as definitive curations of our history. (If we don’t talk about their absence I don’t think a lot of people even recognize that something is missing. It gets on my nerves that a separated exhibit was created – I mean, there are women in rock. There are LOTS of them. Why not just include them, instead of carving out a special place for them? It’s kind of a chicken and egg argument, but one that I think should be wrestled with. If we don’t carve out space for women and other historically unrepresented groups, they get buried under the bias of those who tell the story. But when we carve the space out, are we also saying that they don’t deserve space in the popular narrative? No, but…it goes in circles. Sigh. For another day…) I love that she talks about sisterhood. About the benefit of support from other women. I don’t think these things get said enough. I hear, “I’ve never had an easy time being friends with women. I don’t fit in. Most of my friends are men. They’re not as [insert whatever stereotype you would like] as women,” A LOT. It’s rare (I think, anyway) to hear women talking about supporting other women. In the PBS special she talks very specifically about how she has actively sought to surround herself with other women in the industry. That she’s hired them, sought to work with them, and offered support when she could. I love it.

And of course, I love her music.

Your weekend assignment: Have fun!

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