As the saying goes, women hold up half the sky, and yet womanhood has never been easy. Women have always strived for freedom and agency, the right to be heard and express themselves, and have been resourceful because no other options were available. Women have long struggled for equality, suffrage, control of their own bodies and safety; this beauty and strife archived through the artistry of the written word. While the commemoration of the world’s women requires more than a month, for Women’s History Month, NYXT honors women whose affirmations have made our lives more vibrant outside of the shadows of men.
Kim Gordon is the idea of the consummate New Yorker derived from the city’s downtown music scene at its height. The kind of New Yorker we all wish we were, the kind we move here to try to be. Former guitarist and bassist for Sonic Youth, one of the most influential rock bands on the edge of the millennium, the writer, director and producer never walked anywhere without clearing a path behind her so that more women could follow. From Courtney Love to Yoko Ono, her frequent collaborations with other female artists showed a need grab hold and uplift those struggling below.
Chronicling her life as the titular “Girl In a Band,” she talks at Strand Bookstore of writing not just as a thought process, but as catharsis, elaborating how she fashioned a career in defying the status quo, not just of the consumerism of the 1960’s but challenging the notions of who and what women could be. In a personal moment, Gordon touches on struggles with disordered eating, noting it’s a physical manifestation of “how far women will go to please other people” and the importance of defining one’s self, as she rallies for the safety and equality of all women.
Essayist, poet and recent MacArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine’s most recent work, “Citizen: An American Lyric” threads a connective loop between her love of tennis and its superstar, Serena Williams, the greatest living athlete today, the objectification of her Black womanhood in a very White sport, with the murder of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in his own neighborhood, the idea that Black people are told they don't belong in any space where they exist, racialized institutional violence, and the small acts of dehumanization endured in between.
Reading before National Book Foundation’s National Book Awards, an organization headed by its first Black female and youngest executive director, Lisa Lucas, Rankine’s words actualize an atmosphere of small spaces and how racism creates distance between colleagues and strangers. Her quiet meditations show the specter of racism causes a continuous spiritual violence both stinging and numbing, a destructor not just with a noose or a whip, but with indifference and suspicion.
Laurie Anderson has always been defined by her ability to deviate. Avant-garde to the core, some of the earliest performances of the experimental musician, songwriter, inventor, artist and director were being confined to a block of ice while playing a violin, yet her essence has always had a pop edge. Towing the line between accessible and unorthodox, Anderson forged a career on the unexpected. As a songwriter and artist, she breathes warmth into lyrics that blur the separation between man and industry, giving life to the ghost in the machine. With her breakthrough song, “O Superman,” an omen weaved inside a sonic pattern which she describes as a sinister sounding “prayer to God,” you may mistake her being overly serious. But Laurie has always been very aware of life’s absurdities, for who else would imagine a symphony made for dogs with herself as orchestrator?
“You know, I have this fantasy that I’m playing a concert and I look out and the audience is dogs,” she said, and thus, “Heart of a Dog” was born. Just before midnight on a cold night in Times Square, itself an epicenter of NYC’s absurdities, onlookers came out to witness Laurie play one of her musical inventions, the tape-bow violin, at dog-friendly frequency while humans could enjoy with special headphones. Pups were even encouraged to partake in audience participation and bark along with the electro-symphony. Anderson provides inclusivity in the notion of the healing power of music that’s more than just quirk.
Women have always been explorers of themselves and the spaces in which they exist. Through writing, experiences have been made universal; music and books have served as poetry that amplify whispers into screams. We listen in unison in hopes that the next generation will be lifted up.
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