A few months ago, I finally joined Facebook. Knowing that Yoko Ono has stayed technologically up to speed, I wanted to see if she had a page (it’s here), and ended up perusing “groups” with her name under them. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find many more hate groups than love groups. But this one nearly took my breath away and made me feel like breaking down in tears: Yoko Ono Should Have Died Instead of John Lennon.
There are a lot of things that I can say to that level of hate and misogyny. But I will only say one: John Lennon would have hated you assholes much more than Fuck Face McGee who murdered him.
Oh, and that’s hardly the only group calling for Yoko’s death — yes, her death. It’s just the most popular and obscenely-titled (there are many other groups about simply hating Yoko).
I share this for simple reasons. Firstly, I’m selfish and didn’t want to be alone in this sadness and disgust. Secondly, it’s to revisit the introduction to this series. There, I argued that Yoko hatred is still alive and well, but also that while Yoko hatred is interesting to examine as a feminist issue, it probably shouldn’t be considered a particularly contemporary one. On the former point, I do believe that I have been proven quite right, while on the latter, I will admit that I was wrong. Over writing this series, I’ve begun to realize that slowly, and ultimately decided to preserve my original introductory analysis in the hopes that you might make that same journey as a reader.
Of course, we should take solace in the fact that Yoko has thousands of Facebook “fans” and this group has only 130 members. But it’s existence — just like “Hillary Should Have Married O.J.” — is depressing regardless of actual popularity.
The kind of hate we see for Yoko, we still see today for other powerful women married to men of great influence. Hillary Clinton gets the Yoko treatment when people claim that her marriage to Bill is all a sham intended to bolster her political career, and when Bill was derided for working with Hillary on policy issues. Michelle Obama gets the Yoko treatment when people suggest that she has too much influence over Barack’s decisions, up to and including pushing those she doesn’t like out of the picture, and when Barack is criticized for having a wife with her own opinions. Everything old is new again.
Though I think that Yoko is now more widely appreciated for her own art and intelligence, there’s still a lot of hate out there. If you’re looking for Yoko merchandise, what you’re almost certain to find is anti-Yoko merchandise. The most popular slogan seems to be “Still Pissed at Yoko” — because 40 years later, it apparently still makes sense to blame the problems between four men on a woman. And when a Hillary Clinton reference just won’t do, Yoko is the go-to figure for ball-busting, castrating radical feminists everywhere.
But the most common accusation leveled against her modern actions has nothing to do with the Beatles but with Lennon’s legacy — and the idea that even in death, she’s still controlling and manipulating him solely for her own benefit:
Bill Harry, a friend of Lennon who ran the Mersey Beat newspaper in the 1960s and wrote the John Lennon Encyclopaedia, says Ono has an “iron grip” over what is released.
“Yoko controls everything,” he says. “John doesn’t belong to the world any more. He belongs completely to Yoko, who is able to filter anything that goes out.
“Everybody has to have her permission for anything – which is why we have the most abominable stuff coming out on John.”
You know, I can’t say that I agree with every decision that Yoko has made about how and when to use Lennon’s name, legacy and music. (Case in point.) But if I did, I think that would be an eerie sign that she was being far too careful, and therefore willing to also let us miss out on a lot of good stuff. Do I cringe when Lennon’s music is licensed commercially in advertisements? Yes, and so thankfully it’s rare. But when I see people moaning about Lennon-themed merchandise like coffee mugs and watches, the action figure and the sunglasses, I just have to roll my eyes. If I regularly drank coffee, what mug do you think I’d be using? If I’d wear a Beatles watch in the event that I could actually afford one, I don’t see why I wouldn’t want a Lennon one. If John’s glasses didn’t look so horrible on my very-round face, OMFG you better believe that I’d want some signature Lennon glasses. The action figure was pretty cool — and I don’t see anyone crying over the John and Paul Yellow Submarine action figures sitting on my shelf over there (btw, anyone have a George or Ringo they want to send me?).
And when I see the Imagine Peace Tower, I am in awe. When Happiness is a Warm Gun was used so well in Bowling for Columbine, I wanted to applaud (though that song doesn’t belong to the Lennon estate, Michael Moore thanks Yoko Ono at the end of the film, indicating that he respectfully sought out her permission, I’m sure realizing how close to home the subject matter was to her). When I saw the John Lennon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, I wanted to worship the ground she walked on.
And when I saw the blood-covered glasses that Lennon was wearing when he was shot, at that exhibit, when I look at the Season of Glass cover and this billboard using the same photograph, I support and deeply appreciate her. To those who take offense at the use of John’s glasses in this way, Yoko responded:
“John would have approved (of using his blood-covered glasses on the cover of Season Of Glass) and I will explain why. I wanted the whole world to be reminded of what happened. People are offended by the glasses and the blood? The glasses are a tiny part of what happened. If people can’t stomach the glasses, I’m sorry. There was a dead body. There was blood. His whole body was bloody . . . That’s the reality . . . He was killed. People are offended by the glasses and the blood? John had to stomach a lot more.”
The woman simply wants people to remember that her husband was murdered; that he wasn’t supposed to die. She commits a huge portion of her life to celebrating his legacy and willingly steps into the shadows as she does it. And yet, when she asks people to stop doing John a disservice by acting as though he just dropped dead one day, or as though he overdosed like so many other dead musicians, she’s treated as someone exploiting his death for his own publicity.
All of this has very little to do with Yoko’s actions. She donates large sums of money to charity and reaps little profit from the use of John’s songs. She celebrates his art and makes it available to the world. Twenty-eight years later, she’s still forced to talk about her late husband over her own, current accomplishments, and she does so without complaint. None of it is good enough to some people and never will be simply because she’s Yoko Ono. If she keeps her memories and treasure trove to herself, she’s hoarding a man who supposedly “belonged” to everybody (a contention I think John himself would have resented). When she shares, she’s being greedy and attention-hungry.
It’s really very simple: people are angry that a woman they hate is for the rest of her life in charge of what happens to a man they love. And now that she literally does control his estate, many people seem to think it gives their accusations that she controlled his life extra credibility. Women aren’t supposed to be in charge. And widows certainly aren’t allowed to have fulfilling lives filled with creativity or walk around smiling and wearing white — they’re supposed to hide and weep forever in their black mourning clothes. (Of course, when Yoko did go into hiding for some time after John’s murder, people still picked on her.)
And what of her own work? In virtually every article I’ve ever read about one of her art shows or peace initiatives, she is either discussed in relation to her late husband, or defended with the proclamation that she is more than John Lennon’s widow. How absurd that this point need be hammered home. The woman is an absolutely brilliant artist! She is hilarious and insightful. She creates great works on both a visual and intellectual level, and often creates an almost surreal sense of serenity. She’s not adverse to feminist statement and controversy either, pushing the idea that not only are our mothers beautiful, but so are our unsexualized vaginas and breasts.
So, who is Yoko Ono? I’ve spent thousands and thousands of words arguing what she is not, and when trying to say what she is, words begin to fail. Contrary to what some seem to think I believe, she’s not perfect. No, like all of us, she has made many mistakes, and I’m sure will continue to make them. She’s human, pure but hardly simple.
Yoko Ono is an artist — a conceptual artist, a performance artist, a visual artist. She’s a filmmaker. She’s a writer. She’s a musician. Yoko is a peace activist, a feminist, and someone who believes deeply in equality and social justice.
She’s a loving and incredibly devoted mother who nevertheless was determined to have her own life. To disapproving stares that surely last from many today, she publicly declared that much as she loved Sean, she carried him for 9 months and now it was John’s turn. She believes that love is a profoundly healing force and that while male oppression needs to be combated, men and women are not adversaries. She is a widow who has carried on with her own life, but still loves and misses her dead husband terribly 28 years later.
Yoko Ono is a woman who has done many radical things and broken down many doors. She was the first woman to ever be accepted into the philosophy program of prestigious Gakushuin University and then had to gall to walk away after two semesters. As early as 1964, she sat before an audience of strangers and had them cut off her clothes (“Cut Piece”). She has put her own reputation and credibility on the line for what she believes (all of her earlier peace events). She wasn’t afraid of the Beatles and in fact influenced one of them enough to be accused of breaking up the band. Yoko Ono is the kind of woman who would, in 1971, laugh at Dick Cavett like she pitied him when asked if he could light her cigarette.
Yoko never has been and I hope never will be a well-behaved woman.
But of course, as always, that may in itself be the problem. People want her to be nothing more than an evil caricature. She’s easier to pin down, understand, and revile that way. Her wildly inaccurate image presents a way of understanding the world that backs up the misogynistic, racist status quo.
To admit that Yoko is brilliant and in fact not evil is indeed to admit something more about how we view the world, and how it is wrong. It’s to accept something radical about the way in which our supposedly increasingly enlightened society still clings to absurd stereotypes about women and Asian people as hard truth. It begs the question I began this series with, of why the myth prevails.