Katy Perry is Billboard's Woman of the Year... But Who is RetroPop's Woman of All the Years?

Katy Perry and Hildegard von Bingen

Hey there and welcome to the PENULTIMATE edition of RetroPop, oh you lovers of pop music/historical lady writer mashups! It’s hard to believe we’ve been comparing the women of Top 40 radio with the likes of Jane Austen and Maya Angelou for two months now, but it’s time for us to pull ourselves together and face reality: A lady can’t RetroPop forever. You wouldn’t believe the dirty dishes piling up in my kitchen sink.

And so, in this wistful state of mind, I pondered what to cover in these last few posts. That’s when I came across the news that Billboard has named Katy Perry their 2012 Woman of the Year, and it got me thinking….

Katy Perry Fireworkd Dance GIFI’m pretty comfortable with good old K-dawg being given such an honor. First of all, I believe seeing Katy Perry: Part of Me in the theater (in THREE DIMENSIONS!) this summer was actually a highlight of my LIFE as I totally dug watching her power through dance-y/sexy/amazing world tour performances despite mucho personal dramz; Secondly, KP has already had seven singles chart across the Billboard Hot 100—five of them from her latest record alone; Thirdly, the way she dances really funny with the hopping around and hand-scoopy arm-outey things at the end of the video for “Firework”; Fourthly, cupcake boobs; Fifthly, DID YOU KNOW SHE’S ONLY BEEN AROUND THE POP SCENE FOR FIVE YEARS?

Yes, please, somebody give this girl an award. She’s still just an industry toddler and yet I can’t imagine a world without Katy Perry. I mean, what music would I play when I put on my makeup otherwise?

Mazel tov, KP, for being named Billboard’s Woman of the Year for 2012. But for RetroPop purposes, who is the Woman of ALL THE YEARS?

So far in the oeuvre of RetroPop, we’ve touched on, yikes, some really great contenders. You know I have a bit of a thing for Virginia Woolf. And then of course the Brontës have provided endless RetroPop entertainment. Jane Austen is a no-brainer, Mary Shelley is a champ, and I wouldn’t want to go up against Sylvia Plath in any competition. And, while all these women have added a special something to the female canon, I can’t honestly say that any one of them or any of the others we’ve discussed so far stand out as the clear bestest of the bestest of the best from all the rest.

For that lady, we’d need someone who really shook things up in a number of areas, whose genius was unquestionable, whose influence was so darn influential… you get the point. And so, let’s go back, back, further back then we’ve ever gone in RetroPop… back to Medieval times (the era, not the contemporary “dinner & tournament”) and let’s tip our cupcake bras in honor of the amazing Hildegard von Bingen!

I was checking out this Judy Chicago installation a few weeks ago called The Dinner Party, which is sort of large and hard to explain if you aren’t familiar with it, unless you want to read the whole curator’s run-down, but let’s just say the short version is that it’s a big table where each of the place-settings honors a great feminist from history. For each of the place settings there is a little write-up in the accompanying booklet and when I stopped at Hildy’s plate and read her biography I thought, “Now THERE’S a woman.”

Hildegard of BingenHer slightly more succinct biography from Fordham University goes thusly:

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a remarkable woman, a “first” in many fields. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard, known as “Sybil of the Rhine,” produced major works of theology and visionary writings. When few women were accorded respect, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first composer whose biography is known. She founded a vibrant convent, where her musical plays were performed.

On top of that, she was named an official saint just this year, in what was regarded by some as a real victory for feminism.

Now, I’m not a Catholic, nor am I German, but from my totally subjective-yet-attempting-to-be-objective point of view, this lady who was an accomplished composer, playwright (she wrote what’s believed to be the oldest-surviving morality play, doncha know), visual artist, naturalist, political and religious adviser AND visionary… well, she had it all. She even has her own Last.fm page! Want to check out her jams?

Now you may not find a lot to identify with in Hildy. And you may not even agree that she is a feminist figure. To that I’ll repeat what Jone Johnson Lewis has to say about it:

Today, Hildegard of Bingen is celebrated as a feminist; this has to be interpreted within the context of her times.

On the one hand, she accepted many of the assumptions of the time about the inferiority of women. She called herself a “paupercula feminea forma” or poor weak woman, and implied that the current “feminine” age was thereby a less-desireable age. That God depended on women to bring his message was a sign of the chaotic times, not a sign of the advance of women.

On the other hand, in practice, she exercised considerably more authority than most women of her time, and she celebrated feminine community and beauty in her spiritual writings…. Her visions have female figures in them: Ecclesia, Caritas (heavenly love), Sapientia, and others. In her texts on medicine, she included topics which male writers usually did not, such as how to deal with menstrual cramps. She also wrote a text just on what we’d today call gynecology. Clearly, she was a more prolific writer than most women of her era; more to the point, she was more prolific than most of the men of the time.

Wow, all that and she had a really, really, really, really, reallllly great name. If you have an alternate suggestion for RetroPop Woman of All The Years though, let’s hear it! Only two more chances to sound off with RetroPop!

Previously: RetroPop: Britney Spears and Virginia Woolf– CAUGHT ON TAPE!; RetroPop: Criminal Intent with Sia and David Guetta’s “Titanium” and Anne Sexton’s Romantic Murder

by Brianna Goldberg
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12 Comments Have Been Posted


Does anyone else remember Katy Perry's song, "I Kissed A Girl"??? Isn't that song everything feminism should be against? She is advocating the practice of kissing women for the enjoyment of an audience.
Since I am not the most eloquent with my writing, I will let http://artattheauction.blogspot.com/ clear it up:

"Katy Perry's boyfriend shouldn't worry; she's not going home with a GIRL. Furthering that line of thought is the idea that this encounter is somehow "innocent", and thereby not threatening to the accepted heterosexual relationship. Had her loss of inhibition led to her kissing a boy, the song would probably be a more angst-ridden tune.

And that is the kind of attitude that is absolute crap, that allows men to find two women engaging in sexual acts "hot" as opposed to "threatening" or "disgusting" when two men are engaging in the exact same behavior. Because as long as "bi-curious" women treat their homosexual liaisons as "cute" and "innocent" and "not threatening", as long as these women get hot and bothered and then return to their boyfriends and insist that there is nothing wrong with it, these girls will be doing a disservice to every gay person who seeks to have their relationship considered on par with a straight one."

I just think Katy Perry should be taken for what she is: someone who wants attention and who will do most anything to get it.


While at community college I learned about Hildengard of Bingen at a music appreciation class. We listened to her song "Ave Maria"( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm6qeyB1scI ) and I was so deeply touched by the song. After community college I went to a 4 year school. When asked to write a paper about "theater" I asked to write mine on Hildengard of Bingen, because her religious plays (she is the earliest female playwright whose scripts still survived.) Luckily my professor allowed it because I got to learn about this Renaissance Woman in the Dark Ages. One of the books that I used for my paper was Hildengard of Bingen: A Visionary Life. It has information about all the facets of her writings. The interesting thing about her is that near the end of her life she had to make a call about wither a dead man was forgiven of his sins, or not by the time of his death. She had to help determine if he should be allowed to have a proper christian burial. The people in charge of her order were very upset at her for doing such a thing and she got in HUGE trouble, but didn't back down. Okay full circle time.

I think it is very interesting to pair Katy Perry with Hildengard of Bingen because of the fact that both of them had conservative christian backgrounds. Both of them have "strayed (whatever that means)" from the path according to popular beliefs of that time. The free thinking of Hildengard took a risk and publishing her findings of the healing powers of nature and music while being a woman, and Katy Perry for stating that she still deep down feels very "religious" but isn't afraid to lose a part of herself that is very sexual, and silly.

Sorry if this is poorly written, I literally typed it up super quick. I am SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW!


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Kate Perry

Loved the article on Woman of the Year and HvB. I gotta say that I have KP's song “Wide Awake”. Maybe not inspirational, but hey, I appreciate the sentiment in the chorus:

I'm wide awake
Not losing any sleep
I picked up every piece
And landed on my feet
I'm wide awake
Need nothing to complete myself - nooohooo

Isn't this what we all need form time to time, when we fall down...

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Katy Perry is Billboard's Woman of the Year... But Who is

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