I’m beginning to think we need to find our idols elsewhere

by Rachel Bell on January 13, 2016

After a youth spent with Jagger and Warhol, Jerry Hall is marrying patriarchal conservatism made flesh, Rupert Murdoch. Of course Jerry’s ex, Mick Jagger, IS the establishment too, accepting his knighthood whereas David Bowie, always the subversive outsider, wanted nothing to do with it. The death of a great idol, David Bowie, and the marriage announcement from Jerry Hall, got me thinking how we really need to find our idols elsewhere. One Direction, today’s equivalent to The Beatles, come from the conveyor belt of manufactured pop, The X-Factor. Women rewarded with idol status in music tend to be those selling commercial sexual empowerment. Taylor Swift and Adele stand out in an identikit landscape where Beyoncé, Rhianna and Miley Cyrus  – and their appropriation of the porn and sex industries – are considered edgy. Lady GaGa may challenge but it’s debatable whether she’d be a star if she hadn’t got her kit off so much. See Madonna. Kate Moss is called an idol because she is an extremely popular model. And some women love her style. I like the way she gets away with partying like a man, but stripping for Pirelli and Playboy and keeping her mouth shut isn’t what my kind of idol looks like. Kim Kardashian is seen as an idol for her beauty, fortune and mastery of digital age self-promotion. Girls and young women have been sold sexism as sexual liberation, and the message that sexual empowerment is the only type of empowerment worth having. As Carrie Fisher tweeted when haters criticised her for not ageing well – youth and beauty are not accomplishments.

Many men idolise men who have made lots of money. Men and boys treat footballers as idols but unless the footballers are using their position to do something useful – Cristiano Ronaldo has been named ‘most charitable athlete’ while David Beckham just got an award for his effort for UNICEF – this is a pathetic indictment of what masses of men value. Footballers could change the world by speaking out against sexism and homophobia in football, but they don’t. Sportswomen are worthy idols because they are breaking down barriers and showing girls and women that there are alternatives to being celebrated for being hot.

Bowie was an idol for me because he refused male stereotypes, was handsome, elegant and made arresting music like Five years. I idolised Micheal Stipe for the same reasons. For my muso friend Janey, it’s always Nick Cave. Our idols were outsiders. Of course, contemporary music is full of intriguing characters with something to say but unlike Bowie, they tend to stay on the edges of the mainstream. Jeremy Corbyn’s swift rise showed there is a movement of youth hungry for anti-establishment figures. Now I admire plenty of women who are pretty and famous – Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Dormer, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler – but it’s their words and deeds, sometimes simply the roles they choose and refuse, that make them admirable. But mostly, I find my idols elsewhere. I admire the women who fight for the right of all women to be seen as human. Human rights activists like Finn MacKay, whose speeches showed my younger self that the politics of feminism touches everything – it is anti racism, it is anti war, it is anti poverty, anti Austerity, anti male violence, pro-abortion rights, pro affordable housing, pro environment and so much more. A radical feminist, Finn MacKay, brought Reclaim the Night marches back and is an example of truly owning your own voice: her speeches fire passion and fight, create bonds, mobilise, motivate and move to tears.

Hillary Clinton is an idol of mine for telling the world that ‘Women’s rights are human rights are womens’s rights’, so too is Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Denise Marshall, now deceased, and Karen Ingala Smith, just a few of the many devoted to the struggle of ending male violence against women through prostitution, rape and domestic violence. Those who inspire me are outsiders challenging the status quo, such as Sisters Uncut, Southall Black Sisters and Jean Hatchet, using Twitter to take on sexism and rape culture in football. The feminist movement, like many political movements, is filled with courageous women taking on the most controversial stances – anti-porn, women mattering more than a football – in the face of rape threats, death threats and daily abuse. I think many will agree that activists and writers such as Malala Yousafzai and Nawal El Saadawi are indeed idols. With David Bowie gone and idols from Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney embracing the establishment, there’s another chum of Any Warhol who remains one of the true cool cat’s of that era: Bianca Jagger, President and Chief Executive of the Biana Jagger Human Rights Foundation. As Emmeline Pankhurst said, ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.’

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