Wanted: Dead Role Models

I seem to be in the habit of misplacing my role models. Most notably Ani DiFranco and most recently Amanda Fucking Palmer.

I used to love Ani. I started listening to her when I first questioned my sexuality (of course!) and found a home in her music. She gave me someone to identify with in a dichotomized world of gay and straight that let me fall through the cracks. She introduced me to feminism. She made me see and hear and understand. Let me make an
attempt at poetry 
i will forever be grateful for your presents in the past.
you gave us fierce feminism,
queer visibility,
you gave me visibility
by never deigning an answer to the dumbest of all questions
- "in or out?"
you simply didn't give a fuck,
taught me I didn't have to either
and my first timid steps into bravery will forever be indebted to you
most of all. 
but then one day i looked up from learning to be strong and you were gone
on closer inspection i found your out had disappeared into a seeming in
and no one asked you to clarify
because a man
and birth
does not make you any less part of us, damnit.
some women felt betrayed like some always do
but you hadn't lost me
i would never revoke your membership
in the little plastic castles that you single-handedly built for us 
so when you said
"feminism isn't about equality, it's about reprieve"
i was impressed at first by your mellowness
tried for years to decipher the message.
but I should have known
that when you take a breath what you really do
is relax
and let go. 
I get it that you needed a break
you fought long and hard and mostly alone
but did you have to figuratively bury our cause under a pile of dishes?
are you still "willing to fight"?
you could have told us it's time to take over
and we would have, willingly, and sent you into retirement with a grand ol' celebration
but you went quietly, you went quiet
and now reprieve has become retreat.
when you do raise a voice these days it doesn't sound familiar anymore
and I've lost yet another role model
not to patriarchy
but to the comfort of your own home.

Amanda Palmer impressed me with her abandon at everything she did. Her fight to make her music hers. To defy the system. Her struggle to make her own place in a world that belongs not to the weird but to the mainstreamed. Her music was intense. Sometimes it broke my heart, sometimes it put it back together. And it all just became one awesome nerdgasm when she married one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman.

While I came late to Ani I was an early adopter when it came to Amanda and equally I thought I'd stick around forever. Then she began to irk me, only slightly at first, during her kickstarter campaign. Her plugging on twitter became a bit too incessant for me (I know a lot of people would disagree with me so keep in mind that this is just my opinion based on my feelings). She was retweeting all the tweets of people saying they had contributed to her campaign and I don't like my stream getting cluttered, especially not by such non-information.
While I was glad for her that her campaign was so successful I didn't like how she handled it. When she surpassed her goal by miles I so badly wanted her to pay it forward by giving to smaller campaigns. To at least stop plugging hers and give some of her traction to others. (As someone who has run a mostly failed indiegogo campaign I know how hard it is for someone with much less traction. And yes, I can admit to being a bit bitter about it, sure.)
So I unfollowed her during the campaign. I refollowed after a while, thinking it would've gotten better after the kickstarter campaign was done. Ended up unfollowing again. Just couldn't relate to her tweets anymore. Back then I was still convinced I didn't have to like what she tweeted to like her music. I had funded the kickstarter right at the beginning and while I considered downgrading my bid during the campaign I didn't.

One day the album arrived in my mailbox. I tried to get excited and put it on right away. The sad truth is, I didn't make it all the way through and I haven't tried again since. In fact, when she played Vienna last night I didn't go. We sold our tickets. Didn't even much mind the monetary loss.
I used to be so grateful that Amanda always played Vienna. I'd brave the impossibly unwitty Austrian audience, get over my slight anxiety of crowds, take an extra dose of my ADHD meds I could concentrate and drag myself out of the house so I'd get to see her play. It makes me sad that this isn't the case anymore. Even her decision to play the last three stops of her tour while she was actually too sick to sing angers me a tad. Yes, cancelled concerts are a huge disappointment to fans. But while others apparently don't seem to mind this, I wouldn't go to a concert where the person I want to listen to has no voice. I'm not paying 30 Euros (60 since it's two of us) to hear and uninspired crowd do karaoke. And while I can imagine the reasoning that she didn't want to disappoint her fans by canceling I do take offense in not canceling a concert when you can't give it your all because you're sick. Because that way people who are not up for a half-assed karaoke concert can actually get their money back from the organiser. The impression I got was that AFP now considers herself "larger than life" - as in the crowds should at least be happy they get to see her on stage.

But the thing is, I came for your music, your voice - both literally and figuratively - and I can't hear it now.

There's others. Tori Amos, for instance. I wasn't a Tori fan to begin with but by falling in love with someone who says Tori's music saved her life I obviously investigated. I didn't connect with every song, some I still haven't even listened to, some I've listened to but I still don't understand, some have touched me deeply and grown into favourites of mine. And suddenly I had a closer look at one of her concerts here in Vienna and saw that she had work done. Tori Amos - who once spoke out about the importance of being yourself - not aging with grace! Apparently, she had decided that to her being herself meant not looking like herself anymore. I didn't know how to wrap my head about it. I could sense Finn's disappointment. I still love Tori's music today. But occasionally, when I see a photograph of her, my feminist heart will shudder a bit.

There are people like Neil Gaiman and John Irving whose writing I've always liked but they're not role models to me. Aaron Sorkin is a writing genius but he also has some issues when it comes to writing female characters so no.

It feels like I'm a child with a handful of balloons trailing behind me and one by one they tug free of my grasp. At first I don't notice because I'm having fun and the others make up for the pull of one balloon lost but then I turn around and most of them have flown and blown away. Life has at least been kind enough to tie one single balloon to my wrist - like a parent that knows its kid will let go and then have a tantrum. It's my first balloon and it sticks around because it's tied to me. All the other ones I picked up on the way, sometimes so many that they could almost lift me off the ground. But no one's been smart enough to tie them down. So again and again I find myself empty handed with no role models to hold on to, with nothing giving me the impression that I could fly. Except that one that is Joss Whedon, my brightly shining star of a role model. Extraordinary storyteller, excellent writer, feminist.

How odd is it that the best feminist I know of is a man?

I figure if I want to avoid disappointment I'm going to have to find role models in people who are already dead, because people change and people evolve and I get that and support that. But I'm also holding on to that last balloon like crazy.

Creative Commons License
an attempt at poetry by andie katschthaler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Very well said. I've tried to write this post for years now but I've never managed to find the words or not write a whole dissertation, so Kudos to you!

    In case of Tori (because I "know" her best) I just feel it's very hard to get over one's own interpretation of her words.
    When I first found out or suspected she had work done, quite frankly, I was shocked and disappointed. I had never thought she'd do something like that. but in fact, I don't recall her ever saying anything about not having plastic surgery. Not in so many words. I always interpreted her words to mean that in some way. Even if I read some quotes from interviews today, I still find it hard to believe they would come out of the mouth of a woman who had work done.
    So in reality, Tori Amos never disappointed me. I disappointed myself by putting her on that soap box, not really listening but making up my own meanings to her words. I could've just seen her as the flawed human being she is. That we all are. But I chose her as a role model, making her more than a mere human being. It's a lonely place and a high fall. but essentially, I did it to myself. And that makes it quite hard to digest.

  2. I think that the fact that Tori Amos has work done, is not something that automatically discredits her as a feminist. If she wants to have work done on herself, if that helps her to craft the image of herself she wants to see, it can be a rather empowering act. I see plastic surgery - if done for those reasons - much like any body modification, be it a tattoo or a piercing or crafting horns onto your head, if that's your thing.
    However if she has had work done not for herself but to please somebody else or to submit to society's view of what a woman should look like, well, then I can completely understand your frustration.
    I don't really know what is the case with Tori, I'm just saying that in my opinion, plastic surgery is not per se an unfeminist thing.

    As for Amanda Palmer, I already said it on twitter, but I was never that much of a fan of hers. I enjoy some of her songs a lot, but I don't know her work that well. But right around the time I started to get into her things, the whole Evelyn&Evelyn thing started and she got crap for appropriating disabilities and the stereotypes of the whole carnivale story thing. And she just told people to shut up and that she could do whatever she pleases. I'm not gonna tell her what to do, but intersectionality is a huge issue in modern feminism and she just completely failed in that aspect. And when people point something out to you - in a rational, well-argued fashion - I just don't think that that's an appropriate response.
    Anyhoo, it kept me from getting more into her work.

    I can just recommend to you my own way of going about things: I never really saw the need for role models - just be your own damn role model. Take the parts of other people's philosophy you like, mix it with your own and just craft your thing from that.

    Also, and I don't want to pop your last balloon, but maybe keep it from floating away as well, Joss Whedon, while great, is no perfect feminist either. The way he handled the Spike storyline in the last couple of Buffy seasons has ISSUES. Loads of them. (Some he made up for a lot with Dollhouse.) What I'm trying to say is, get him off that pedestal (as Finn so nicely puts it), and the balloon is more likely to stay attached to your wrist.

  3. Oh, and sorry, I just realized how long my comment got. Hope you don't mind.

  4. No of course I don't mind! Your comment was incredibly insightful and wise.Thank you, truly.
    I've never thought about plastic surgery that way, to be honest. It's... interesting. Though it's hard to draw the line of what society tells us to do and what we want to do by ourselves. Like, if there wasn't a society-induced certain image for women to strive for where would plastic surgery come in? And just to make it clear, my disappointment in my "role models" was not strictly based on feminism.

    I never consciously CHOSE role models. In fact, for a long time I didn't even realise I had them. And it's not like they're my everything - but the bits and pieces of philosophy that you talk of, those I take from them. So I get cranky when those bits and pieces crumble away like old parchment in my hands.

  5. Wonderfully written post that I am sure was very difficult to write. I am very sorry to hear about your loss of role models as it can indeed be a very painful thing but I think it is great that instead of changing your views to keep your role models (as I am sure alot of people do) you stand firm on the things that you believe in despite what other do and for that I think you should be congratulated as it is often a very painful thing to do!

  6. thank you so much, Steve. That's very sweet :)

  7. Since you don't mind long comments, here goes another one. ;)

    Of course you can never separate an individual's decision from the society around it. But if society makes you want something, you want it, period. The trouble only starts if you don't want to actually do something but feel like you have to because society tells you to. But if a woman wants to submit to society's imagery, I won't blame her. It just isn't a particularly feminist act, in my opinion. But being able to act on feminist principles in a world that, as a whole, doesn't care much about them, is a very privileged opportunity, so there really are worse things that you could do, as long as you only do them to yourself and not tell everybody else to get plastic surgery, too.
    And plastic surgery does a great many things, apart from making women look like barbie dolls (though if that's your thing, that's your thing). There are of course the actual medicinal issues it helps with (like burn victims), there are the people who want to look like cats or the aforementioned horns. Or just the fact that if you're really unhappy with your nose and you don't like your face like that and a rather simple surgery can change that and can make you like yourself, it is pretty much a psycho-therapeutic intervention. (Of course, that's simplifying things, but I think you'll know what I'm getting at.)

    And that's the beautiful thing about taking philosophies and not people. Just because the people who originally said it change their mind, that doesn't mean you have to or makes what they said before any less valid. Philosophy, once uttered, exists apart from people. At least for me.

  8. Never mind how any of them has changed.
    You had inspiration, that's what matters. :)

  9. I am pretty much sold on Joss and Aaron, no matter what. And I don't really get why everyone jumps on Sorkin's female characters, I think he hits and misses with lots of characters, not just female. But, when he hits, he hits it right out of the park, you know?

    Joss had me at Serenity and that's all I have to say about that.

  10. Oh Laura, I love it! :) short and to the point hehe

    Maria, for me it was Buffy that hooked me on Joss but damn, Serenity was fantastic as well :) What I mind with Aaron Sorkin is that his strong female characters are actually male characters with breasts (i.e. CJ, Dana - as much as I love them both), which in my opinion implies that there is no such thing as a strong woman and that strong automatically means male-associated behaviour. On the other hand he has MacKenzie who comes across as a bit frazzled most of the time and Maggie who seems equally confused at times. Actually, off the top of my head I think Donna Moss is his best female character so far...