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There I was hanging out with my six year old when we stopped to watch a music video. When POW I’m watching through the eyes of a little girl. I practically had to catapult myself off the sofa to shield her from the screen. I know, I know. Bad mommy. Should have known better. Hey, it was a misfired attempt at the work/life balance thing that only exists in a Sheryl Sandberg fairytale about leaning in

I do not consider myself to be prudish. But holy Catwoman how did we get here? All movements have unintended outcomes. I understand this. I just don’t think any of us coming of age in the shadow of the women’s movement saw the total misogynistic, over-sexualization of pop music today. We are lost in a vulgar sea of overexposure thinly disguised as artistic expression. Who knew we’d be living in an era of whorecians.  Somewhere Betty Friedan is angrily waving The Feminine Mystique.   

The worst part of it is is that I’m to blame. It’s true. The Madonna of the ‘80s and ‘90s? Loved every incarnation and video. Cher too. Especially her roles in Moonstruck and Mask. Somewhere it all went a wee bit too far as it did in Cher’s, If I Could Turn Back Time music video where she straddled a cannon on the USS Missouri with her ass taunting hundreds of slap happy crazed sailors.

I think we have become a nation of Saturday Night Live Sally O’Malley’s. This was Molly Shannon’s hysterical satire of a woman who couldn’t stop herself from announcing, “My name is Sally O’Malley I’m proud to stay I’m fifty years old and I’m not one of those gals whose afraid to tell her real age. And I like to stretch. And kick. I’m FIFTY!”  

I distinctly remember cracking up and thinking to myself this is Madonna stripped of her celebrity running around a stage and strutting her stuff. Do I really need to see Madonna in a thong on the red carpet in 2015? No, I do not. Madonna, I adore you, but unless you’re on a beach in Rio, even your tight little butt cheeks have reached their expiration date for public display. 

This past June my mother, my sister, and I went to see the Divine Miss M. otherwise known as Bette Midler at the United Center in Chicago. She is an ‘artist’, no wait, let me rephrase that, an ‘entertainer’ we adore. 

Bette started performing with Barry Manilow in the belly of the bathhouses in the ’70’s. Light years before Absolute Vodka ads were regularly placed on the back of The Advocate or it was cool to dance on The Ellen Degeneres Show. She got her big break on The Tonight Show. Years later she was honored to be Johnny Carson’s very last guest where she sang, One for My Baby, (and One More for the Road), a palpable performance where she and Carson were barely able to keep it together. 

Her trademark bawdiness and political humor combined with her ability to sing her heart out is a rarity.

So there we were the three of us and one guy sitting on our aisle with his wife donned in his Blackhawks jersey like it was a protective suit of testosterone, when Bette strutted out to belt out an audience favorite, Stay With Me from The Rose, a film in which she played Janis Joplin. She was about halfway through when she stopped dead in her tracks and spoke directly to the audience…

“Well, I can get plenty of men. That was what I used to say when I first started singing this song. …Well, that was then and this is now. Because the most wonderful part about music is that it evolves as you change it changes with you. Especially if it’s a song you’ve known and loved so many, so many years. And then you get a little bit older. Things happen.Things that you never expected to have happen. Things, random things out of nowhere, you know, and I just cannot get over it. The number of people that I knew and loved who have fallen by the way side.Their lives and memories to me like ghosts like phantoms you know hovering over me like a lovely misty cloud. And sometimes you must say but, but you left me behind. Maybe that’s what this song is about. You left me behind. And maybe this time, this time I should be the one to go away…”

All of a sudden the connection to this moment was like a shot straight to the heart. This was and is exactly how my mother felt given my father’s death after 50+ years of marriage. Her reprise was transcendent. I personally have not experienced that level of emotion at a concert before. It was as if she was singing to us and whoever she had personally lost collectively at once. 

I have no idea how younger (and not so young) women are going to seize the future. All I know is that evening, everyone in the United Center was able to appreciate the real McCoy. 

This is how you roar.


* “I am woman, hear me roar” is a lyric from the song I Am Woman by Helen Ready and was widely associated as an anthem for the women’s movement in the early seventies.

This is the full version from her show in LA. The quote in the post is taken from her Chicago show. 

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