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….
I’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.”
Her 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!