My sister, Mariam, is used to flooded inboxes. As an attorney, humanitarian, and prolific activist, she developed a reputation as a go-to person. She, much like the rest of my immediate family who escaped Soviet-infested Afghanistan, led a life tied to what seemed like a moral obligation to do as much for those left behind as they could – especially the women.
Some of you may remember Bibi Aisha, “the noseless woman” on the cover of Time magazine a few years back. She tried escaping her abusive husband and in-laws, and as punishment under Taliban decree, had her ears and nose cut off. But before she was a cover girl, she was just another story in my sister’s inbox. Mariam, like the rest of the world, was haunted by the image of Aisha and what she had gone through. She got in touch with Rebecca Grossman, who founded the Grossman Burn Foundation with her husband Dr. Peter Grossman, and started the Stop Violence Against Women Globally campaign, in hopes they would do something, anything to help her.
Thankfully, they did. They were able to bring her to the states, but hers was no simple case. She needed more than a few reconstructive surgeries. Her journey toward recovery is still on-going, but thankfully she’s on that road.
I came to meet Aisha when she was staying in Queens in the hands of Women for Afghan Women. I thought given her situation she would be some kind of shrinking violet. Wrong. She could have out-spunked me at my 2AM best. This woman bounced into my car, prosthetic nose in hand and said to me, “You don’t look Afghan and you should know that I hate my nose, and I’m not going to wear it.”
She proceeded to tell me stories of how much she missed her God-given nose. It was a touching eulogy of its beauty and how it was taken too soon. And yet, there was nothing Munchausen-y about it, she didn’t want my sympathy. She just wanted to tell her story.
Aisha asked me once, “How is it you live by yourself and you’re not married?”
I said to her in my heavily-accented Dari, “Well, all three of my sisters were married before the age of twenty-three. I saw how some of that went down, and I just… didn’t wanna do it. It would have felt like going from one prison to another. I love my parents, but I just, couldn’t.”
She replied with incredulousness, “But, they just let you go, all easy and free like that?”
No, they absolutely didn’t. But the answer to that is not so simple. It isn’t a story you tell someone during the fifteen minute respite – I mean intermission, of a four-hour Bollywood movie. There was no way of making it palatable without undermining it. There was no way of expounding on the intensity without vilifying people I love. The only appropriate and truthful start to that story would be, “Well, it all started in DC at this place called Smash!” but seriously, that’s like trying to explain green to the colorblind. So, after a quick scan of the mental rolodex for an appropriate lie, I said, “It’s because nobody wanted to marry me.”
“Oh,” long pause, “I’m so sorry.”
So I let this woman, who had gone through some Wes Craven-esque horror at the hands of some of the biggest douchebags on the planet, seeking asylum here in the USA – the USA that I was born and comfortably raised in – pat me on the back and feel sorry for me as I shoved more M&Ms in my mouth.
But for those of you with your YouTubes and your record players and Game of Thrones parties…here’s the real story.
Let me start off by saying, I love my mother, and she is no monster. She’s pretty groovy, actually. She was just raised in a place that responded to something like rape with, “If only she had been at home, it never would have happened.”
Essentially, that’s the rationale for the burqa. Dudes will be dudes says scripture, and like Blondie said, your hair is beautiful, so reduce your chance of rape by 42% or something only at the small price of your identity and general comfort.
My parents are scholarly; my father has a Ph.D in Educational Research and my mother was a teacher in the old country. All my mom ever wanted was for me to be a doctor and marry an Afghan with a Masters who came from a good family and have a couple of kids that spoke Farsi, prayed in Arabic, and never talked back, and became doctors or lawyers and married into good Afghan families, and she only ever wanted that for their kids and the kids of their kids and so on until the end of days. She only ever wanted just that, and for me to never question it. That’s all. On the flip side, even though I wasn’t allowed to go to dances or talk to boys outside of school, I was allowed to listen to music and play as loudly as I wanted. I was allowed to take lessons and pretend I could tap dance while loudly singing hits from “Annie Get Your Gun”. I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. Judging by my parents record collection, they probably saw some wild-ish days, or at least could enjoy the entertainment penned by those who saw some wild-ish days.
My father is a man of few words, and a feminist in his way because he’d say to me, “I don’t care that I never had any sons, I don’t think you or sisters are any less capable of anything.” While giving a speech to a stuffy bunch of know-it-alls at Harvard last year, my father made a joke about experiencing reverse-sexism in household of women. Most of those jerks didn’t get it ‘cos you can’t teach how to not suck in a book by a Professor Yawn.
It only took thirteen years before I buckled under the pressure of the expectations. Something had to give. In these years I collected loads of versions of different “I will never marry” songs – I like Judy Garland and Linda Ronstadt offerings best, if you’re curious. I’m thankful to all these incredible ladies on my list, some of whom I’ve never met and/or never will meet, that made and continue to make life less bleak and more hopeful, because the road to autonomy is scary. Deprogramming your mind is difficult and lonely, unpleasant and sometimes brutal. But just like a terrible movie, a good soundtrack can make all the difference in the world.
How to Get Your Religious Family to Break up with You — the nice way:
For the uninitiated:
Lesley Gore – “You Don’t Own Me”
Suzi Quatro – “The Wild One”
Bikini Kill – “Rebel Girl”
Bjork – “Army of Me”
Patti Smith – “Till Victory”
Siouxsie and the Banshees – “She’s a Carnival”
PJ Harvey – “50ft Queenie”
Fleetwood Mac – “Gold Dust Woman”
X-Ray Spex – “Identity”
Missy Elliott – “Work It”
Shocking Blue – “Venus”
Tori Amos – “Cornflake Girl”
Chaka Khan – “I’m Every Woman”
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks – “Baby Doll”
Lydia Lunch has been hanging on my wall or in the corners of my mind for years. In my teenage days, my mother would say to me, “She looks like she’s friends with the devil,” which is an appraisal I don’t think Ms.Lunch would mind.
LL is a fucking powerhouse, and as I’ve told so many of you, and to her while sitting on her lap, my rock n’ roll mama. Everything she touches is gold – visually, musically, and story: spoken or written. The Gun is Loaded is a sorta synthesis of all these things pinned by a beautifully menacing score by J.G. Thirlwell.
Diamanda Galas – “The Sporting Life”
I love this song with ever fiber of my being, not only as a woman, but as a vocalist it’s crazy fun to sing to, and though I haven’t had meat in a long while, John Paul Jones’ bass is the aural equivalent to a thick, bloody steak and I’m a jungle girl in a loin cloth psyched to sink my teeth into it. (Yes, in this analogy, Jungle girls hunt for prepared foods, go with it.)
Ms.Galas came from Anatolian and Greek parents, who were very religious. She wasn’t allowed to date or wear two-piece bathing suits either. But, this woman has created some of the most intense and insanely beautiful music I’ve ever heard. This collaboration was a one-off record, and in this particular track, she kicks against male rappers like Snoopy Doggy Dog. Ha! Don’t laugh, it was a different time. She says:
“Women are sick of these no-dick motherfuckers prancing around singing about their ‘bitches’ and the bad things they do to them. I’m just giving back.”
White Lung – “Drown the Monster”
I am modernizing this list, because I’m not all about nostalgia.
Azar Swan played one of the weirdest shows with White Lung at a Northeastern University in a place that was the inspiration for the coffee shop in that show Friends we all pretend we’ve never seen. I knew right away they were something special. The voice, the movement, the charisma; it was magnetic. I saw them again a few days ago, with Hether Fortune on bass and sent the following text to a friend explaining what she had missed:
“It was like early Plasmatics meets early Babes in Toyland with Fleetwood Mac harmonies = magic .”
Cranes – “Shining Road”
Alison Shaw has one of the most distinct voices out there. Cranes just create a universe sonically that feels beautiful and endless. It’s the feeling of floating out there in space all alone wrapped in stardust, which is beautifully scary and scarily beautiful.
Plasmatics – “Butcher Baby”
There’s no way not to feel something while watching Wendy O. Williams play a guitar solo using a chainsaw, body covered only by a coat of shaving cream and leather straps.
The first minute of this is the best minute of the-ay-tah I’ve ever seen. And the rest of the interview encapsulates my love for her, full stop. A lot of Slutist fodder in this one:
MC Lyte – “Paper Thin”
I’m not going to lie to you, my introduction to MC Lyte was one of my favorite songs:
And I’ve loved her ever since. This video is amazing. I wish all of my subway rides looked like this.
Nico – “Saeta”
I love this song. It goes with me everywhere.
a given voice
a given choice
a losing limit centerpoint
Pussy Galore – “Spin Out”
So full of caustic energy and D.C. -ness. It’s like my entire youth in one minute.
The Rattles – “The Witch”
This song starts with a “Born to be Wild” vibe, from the riff to the first line about runnin’. While it seems like the former is just in need of speed, Edna Bejarano is running from a witch or death, or something ominous. The way her vocal unhinges is less Ann Wilson operatic, and more, raw and insane. Apparently her musical project after this was with her mother, a holocaust survivor, who escaped death by singing in the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz. According to wikipedia: “The members were young female prisoners, whose membership in the orchestra protected them from being gassed in the gas chamber, or from being worked to death.
The Raincoats – “No One’s Little Girl”
I’m no one’s little girl, oh no, I’m not
I’m not gonna be – cause I don’t wanna be,
I never shall be on your family tree –
Even if you ask me to
Dum Dum Girls – “Lost Boys and Girls Club”
I love this song. Not everyday is the day you can give yourself a Suzi Quatro-esque mantra. Some days, shit’s going wrong, but you just keep going. It’s about time someone made an anthem for that.
Girlschool – “Yeah Right”
Girlschool have the honorary title of being the longest running all-female rock band and lucky for us they are sick. If you can’t spare the time to watch the whole video, I’d skip to 1:41. That’s some real magic.
Wax Idols – “Dethrone”
Hether Fortune is amazing and is continuing a tradition of female performance that’s equally as fierce as it is beautiful and intoxicating. She’s going to be singing on my next record, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Fatima Miranda – “Desasosiego”
When we think of the female body and voice is all-too-often thought of as weak and precious. This is a testimony of what it’s capable of.
Cocteau Twins – “Wax and Wane”
They don’t come better than this. I worship at the alter of the Cocteau Twins. I dance to it alone or in smoky dank basements with friends. It’s community and love to me.
Babes in Toyland – “He’s My Thing”
I had just finished compiling this mix when I heard of the reunion news. Kat Bjelland is one of my guitar heroes and has the vocal prowess of an jungle cat trained in opera. I love Babes in Toyland, even Nemesisters for the good middle-school memories, and cos “Oh Yeah” is fucking amazing.
Tyrannosaurus Rex – “Afghan Woman”
We all need a song we claim as our own, a theme if you will, one that can end credit a bad day with something positive. This one was written for me way before I was born by Marc Bolan. He was up in heaven playing in the battle of the bands. His group was called “Not The 27 Club” and they won, and as a prize, they were allowed to look into God’s big snow globe of everyone, anytime, everywhere and he spots a lonely Z. He’s instantly taken, and gets one “go back and do over” card and writes me that sweet song. True story.