She Gets Down on Her Knees

Nobody knows a woman’s place in this world better than Yoko Ono. For decades she has occupied the intersection of virulent racism and misogyny that still underpin most of Western popular culture. Everything she has done as artist and in her personal life has been in defiance of where society likes to place its women, and that defiance has fueled her art. Even before she became famous as the world’s most hated homewrecker, the bitch who broke up the sacred union of Lennon and McCartney, she had staked out her position, willing to lose anything and prepared to be looked at with hateful eyes. Before she became famous, she had already burned the bridges of an entire life; her parents disowned her for not following the expectations of a good, privileged Japanese girl; she lost custody of her firstborn child in a bitter divorce. Then she came to the West and found out just how very, very much the world hates women who want to create ambitious art on the same footing as men, who have things to say about the female condition, who don’t let their husbands speak for them, who don’t present themselves as pretty and likable, who expect to be taken seriously, who refuse to disappear from public life even when public life doesn’t want them, and have the sheer nerve of doing all these things while being Asian. The world can barely accept a white woman who does even a few of those things, and world hates women who aren’t white extra, extra hard. What Yoko Ono does isn’t just going against the grain of what’s expected of a woman in the public eye, it’s racially uppity in a way that makes members of the white male cultural establishment go absolutely blind with rage. Yoko Ono is a woman who emigrated from Japan to England (and then to America) where she met and married a white dude with whom she made a bunch of music and art, and that offends people on a deeply primal level, especially white dudes who think that women are only as valuable as their legs are long, that wives are furniture for the decoration of a man’s home, and that Asian women should be silently pouring tea in Geisha-themed brothels. Well, Yoko Ono may be having the last laugh. At the age of 85, she not only outlived most of her haters, she’s come to be recognized as one of the most important conceptual artists of her time, she’s lived to see a massive cultural shift that has us examining the prejudices she used to be a target of, she’s been recognized for her activism and humanitarian work, and guess what else? When you put on those records she made with John Lennon, his songs sound like generic 70’s rock music and hers sound like the cool new record you just heard on indie radio.