The death of Amy Winehouse this weekend is a huge tragedy, an event that now seems clearly foretold in the lyrics of songs of hers like “Back to Black” and that therefore could have and should have been prevented.
Beyond this individual tragedy, Winehouse’s death is a reminder of how difficult it is to be a young woman today even in the most affluent countries of the world.
It’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves at a moment like this of past victories in the struggle against the stereotypical representations of femininity with which Amy Winehouse grappled. And it’s also worth reminding ourselves of Poly Styrene, who died earlier this year and who challenged these stereotypes with unparalleled force.
Here’s a quotation in remembrance of Poly Styrene from the British site Chumbawamba:
For teenage girls in the late 70s and beyond, Poly Styrene made it okay. Made it okay to be a bit freaky, to not be pretty, to be defiant and cross, to stick two fingers up at the world. All those girls – Ari, Patti, Poly (plus Raincoats, Au Pairs, Poison Girls etc) made it OK not to have to be pretty feminine model types to be in bands.That was a huge thing, and it’s gone now – the women who are touted as amazing nowadays and strong and in charge of their own careers etc bloody etc (Lady Gaga, anyone?) are all feminine, glam, model-pretty, busty sexy types. And there was a time when you didn’t have to be that. Poly and her kind opened our eyes to a world beyond our immediate horizons and imagination where suddenly things seemed possible. And if you were a slightly awkward girl stuck in suburbia this was a powerful gift. It was like someone whispering in your ear that it didn’t matter, and you should have a go at stuff and not care and be brave and it’d be all right because you were cool and you were sexy and it was okay to be a bit loud and scary sometimes. Or not. Whatever. It was all fine because it was you and people like Poly Styrene had given you some sort of seal of approval. A loving doc marten boot up the arse that pushed us out into the world ready to take on all-comers.
And here’s a video of Poly Styrene performing “Oh Bondage – Up Yours!”, a fitting tribute to Amy.