The initial post I wrote about the reaction to the death of David Bowie post prompted several people to write me private messages–in particular, three different women contacted me within the hour, thanking me for having the “courage” to point out that while Bowie was a brilliant artist, he was also a flawed individual. The following comment was shared over 20 times, so I thought I would post it here.
The widespread worship of not only Bowie’s music and artistry, but everything about him, should be tempered with the reality that he was just a person, and a public figure, and an individual who–related directly to his fame–had a history of abusing kids. I think the talent and scope of his music and performance should absolutely be celebrated for the genius that it is. I also understand that he wasn’t a monster; he was a normal man, and it’s normal men (yes, and women) who sometimes do bad things, and we can still love them, and celebrate their lives, and the work they produced. But I can’t get behind the urge to glorify and idolize Bowie with the kind of effusiveness I see all over social media. I was in my early 20s when I was assaulted by a charismatic artist, and it was still, at that age, difficult for me to reconcile the awful sense of confused gratitude, intermingled with the shame and violation and sadness of it—I had been “chosen”; I was special. I could really empathize with the personal account of the now-older woman who Bowie chose to sleep with (when she was 13), and her insistence that the experience was “consensual”. I could have been her, as a young teenager—in fact, I *was* that girl at age 16 with an adult man, and I would have been thrilled by the prospect that being “deflowered” by a famous musician might have meant that I was somehow important. Women are valued for our sexuality, (and correspondingly nullified and erased by age and the assumption of sexual insignificance) and children are sexualized. Being seen as sexually desirable is validating, and we all internalize the values of the culture in which we are brought up. When I read quotes such as “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie” (Simon Pegg) or Jonathan Kay’s sexist bullshit headline about Bowie being “The Thinking Man’s Balladeer”, I can’t help but find these incredibly offensive, for so many reasons. I don’t believe that criminal behaviour, or exploitative behaviour renders a person’s art irrelevant, or devalued, by association. But I also don’t believe that making great art makes a person great. I want my daughter to be spared the trauma and confusion and pain of being exploited by men when she is still a child, because she matters just as much as the David Bowies of the world. I don’t have any illusions that I can compete with a culture that insists that men are entitled to the bodies of women and children (because of course, despite consent laws and statutory rape laws, the idea that little girls are sexually desirable is reinforced every time the most widely searched-for term– “teen porn”– is accessed online) but I do hope that in speaking up like this, and speaking to my daughter, that she and others might analyze their own choices, habits, and beliefs.