Sunday, December 03, 2017

Songs About Treating Women Right

Everyone coming forward with your testimonies of sexual abuse and harassment, I honor your courage and thank you for helping all of us to make a better world for women (and men) going forward. Speaking out is so hard, but as painful as it is, it seems to be having more of an affect than at any other time in our history.

This is a story that happened when I was 16 years old in 1980. I was bussing tables at a somewhat fancy little French restaurant in Clayton, California, where the prices were high, the food  sub-par, and the owners not top-quality people. It was only one in what would become a series of shitty jobs of my youth, but at the time I didn't realize that. It was my third job though, and they were all turning out to be awful experiences due to unscrupulous, sexist, cruel and unlawful creep bosses.

My co-worker, another teenage girl from my class, who I'll call Joanne, came running out of the kitchen one night, and into a dark hallway that led to the dining area, chased by the scuzzy old chef who all gave us the creeps and looked like a decrepit wax image of Keith Moon from the demon universe. He was, as usual, very drunk, and proceeded to chase her down to do something horrid to her. He cornered her and kissed her, trapping her with his hands, which Jesus, the horror, especially because he was oily and three times our age. She screamed and slapped at him and managed to escape his clutches, marching through the dining room to the bar, where our boss was pretending to be a jolly proprietor alongside his brittle wife.

There at the bar, shaking and white-faced, Joanne told our boss what had just happened, ignoring the stares of the diners around us. Our boss listened, expressionless, while she squared herself and shakily described her assault, finding her strength by declaring, "And THAT ISN'T RIGHT!" I was standing there, probably holding a plate with escargot shells rolling around, my mouth hanging open. Joanne's bravery in the face of grotesquely inappropriate behavior really froze my feet to the floor. I had already learned, at age 16, that there was little to no recourse for such things. I had internalized and surmised that we were supposed to take it for the rest of our lives if we wanted to have a job.

Rudy told Joanne he'd take care of it. Hah, I thought, I bet. Keep in mind my boss had once told me that "sure, Hitler did some bad things, but he did invent a car that most people could afford." And he had been sued by a former busser (always teenage girls at that restaurant—they never hired boys) for back wages after our boss and his coworker friends had kept all the tips for themselves. He had already reneged on this lawsuit, within a year of losing the case, by keeping all of our tips now that the original busser had moved on to greener employment pastures. So I wasn't expecting much other than the chef would get a scolding, Joanne would probably quit, and we'd all continue to be terrorized by the lech in the kitchen.

But I was wrong. our boss returned from the kitchen, assuring Joanne that he had fired the chef. Right then. He was gone. Wow, I thought--that was decisive. He also apologized to Joanne. He did the right thing, out of sudden moral imperative, or fear of another lawsuit. We went back to work, and didn't get any tips still, but at least the chef was never to return. It was a powerful moment for me, knowing even a crumb-bum like our boss could step up and do the right thing by firing the miscreant immediately.

But mostly I was impressed by Joanne for not hesitating one instant to report the abuse. She went from being attacked to reporting it all in one swift motion, channeling her anger and indignation for the greater good. What a brave girl. I salute you, Joanne (not her real name), and wish you the best, as I wish the best to all people who come forward for yourselves and for the rights of all of us. Hail.

Let us pay tribute with song.

Lesley Gore - "You Don't Own Me" (1963) The classic "Back off, Jack, I'm my own person and don't you forget it" sentiment from waaaay back in 1963, predating the second-wave feminist movement by nearly a decade. Nice work, Lesley Gore.

Jeannie C. Riley - "Harper Valley PTA" (1968) Jeannie C. Riley is not putting up with hypocritical small-town values judging her. It doesn't matter what she wears or who she dates. You can hear it in her voice.

Aretha Franklin - "Do Right Women, Do Right Man" (1967) There should be a statue if Aretha Franklin in the Public Mall in Washington D.C. and as comedian/social-activist Greg Proops has rightfully proposed, our National Anthem should be a different Aretha Franklin song every day.  I concur.

Pat Benatar - "Treat Me Right" (1980) Pat Benatar! She burst on the scene, her husband and collaborator Neil Giraldo playing gnarly guitar leads behind her onstage, showcasing the crazy-wide vocal range coming from her petite but mighty presence. She's always had one of those voices that cuts through a lot of bullshit in the music biz—no breathy little-girl vocals for Pat Benatar. Her new song "Shine," inspired by the Women's March 2016, is priced at 69 cents to highlight the wage gap for women. Proceeds benefit a nonprofit that supports women going into public service and government. Give it up for Pat Benatar, people.

Donna Summer - "She Works Hard for the Money" (1983) Donna Summer was a huge star on the dance floor during her long run throughout the 70s and early 80s, but she never got the critical acclaim she deserved. I remember one reviewer stating her voice didn't "have much of a range." I'm still livid. Her phrasing was Sinatra-like in its understated manner. When you heard a Donna Summer song on the radio, your brain immediately perked up and you knew it was her. She was distinct, soulful and commanding. Someone kindly uploaded her Grammy performance of "She Works Hard For The Money" with the dance line of working women. I admit that I may have slightly teared up a wee bit the first time I saw this video on MTV. I mean, its theme was rare. It still is. Thank you, Donna Summer.

Queen Latifah - "U.N.I.T.Y." (1993) Who is the most charismatic personality of the 90s? Queen Latifah, that's who, and she lives up to her name, looking regal whether hanging from a crane, leading the neighborhood down the street, riding a motorcycle in leather, or demanding respect from men in no uncertain terms. I love her.

Janelle Monáe - "Q.U.E.E.N." feat. Erykah Badu (2013) Janelle Monáe wants to be her freaky funky self in sci-fi history-referencing black & white menswear, without being judged, thank you very much.

If you need help, the National Domestic Hotline is a resource. You can also report abuse to your doctor and get a referral for services.

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