David Bowie’s death and being a feminist killjoy 


Today, I have learnt the real meaning of ‘feminist killjoy’. It’s something that I have joked about myself, the one in the room who’ll put a downer on a much loved film or celebrity. 
There’s no joking today, only conflict with the death of David Bowie swamping the news and social media. I grew up with his music, ok I was born in the late 70’s but he was ever present. My favourite childhood film was Labyrinth. I went to see it at the cinema with my mum and even had a few books of the film. Later to have it on video, I watched it over and over again and could recite the entire script. 
As a young girl, I had quite a crush on his character of Jareth. He was exotic and beautiful. I wanted to be Jennifer Connolly in the dream scene ballroom, to be whisked off my feet and lose myself in his eyes. Those eyes! So taken was I that I didn’t want her to win at the end. 
When I became an adult, there was an uncomfortable feeling with the focus of the film being about a grown man trying to seduce a young girl but I ignored it as I wanted to continue to enjoy the film, the music. 
Today I was stunned to hear that David Bowie had died, no one knew that he had been diagnosed with cancer 18 months before. This man who had been ever present in my life, a man that I wished I could have been like, was dead. I shared my shock and grief with thousands of others on FB and Twitter and turned the radio volume up to enjoy his songs. Then I read this:
Being a victim of rape and one who has had to live with a not guilty verdict, I couldn’t let this new information just flow over me like someone shrugging off an insult. I’ve read some of the testimonies of the 13 yr old involved and there is no indication that she felt that she was raped. I don’t blame her for that and can completely understand how a young teenage girl can be groomed into ‘sex’ without ever thinking of it as rape or assault. What I don’t understand is how a grown man can find a 13 yr old sexually attractive, I will never understand that. 
And so I have this conflict…. I can never turn my back on someone who was sexually exploited by men who were famous and charismatic and yet I feel like I’m the ultimate feminist killjoy for sharing this on the day of David Bowie’s death. It feels so terribly wrong of me to do that. 
How do you balance your enjoyment of someone’s work with their deeply unpleasant past? All too often we brush these things under the carpet because these men are so adored and revered across the world. What does that say to victims of abuse though? Are we saying that if you are exploited by someone famous, forget ever being taken seriously or having justice as this person’s creative genius is FAR more important?! 

I’ll leave you to decide. 


20 thoughts on “David Bowie’s death and being a feminist killjoy 

  1. Nick

    Given the fact that Bowie was a hero of mine growing up, and someone whose music helped me come to terms with my own sexual orientation, being openly queer, the idea that he was also the exact type of monster that I hate with all my heart is almost too much to handle. That is far worse than his actual death. Everyone will die, but to be an irredeemably evil person, I think that is far worse, not for the person who dies, but for the world at large.

  2. Rosie

    I don’t think Bowie was irredeemably evil. It’s possible to reserve that term for serial killers and dictators without undermining the seriousness of what Bowie did.

    I didn’t have any feeling about Bowie one way or another during his lifetime. I did (do?) love his music but I was also horrified to hear what he had done. I’m sure ‘there was a lot of it about’ but we don’t excuse any other historical sex crime like that.
    What I do think is that people find it hard to process stuff like this about their heroes when they feel what must be overwhelming grief. Chances are? Yes, this will be written out of history and Bowie’s reputation can remain intact – just like John Peel – in people’s memories. But we can keep talking and hope that people will begin to think about it. It is horribly sad for cse survivors to believe they are forgotten because someone wrote a few cool tunes. We will not.

  3. Ellz

    First of all, I’m sorry for what happened to you. No one should have to go through that.

    However *takes deep breath and prepares for backlash* there is a world of difference between being raped and having consenting underage sex. One is a horrible experience that people usually have traumatising memories of, the other is an enjoyable experience that people usually have great memories of. I’ve never been raped so obviously I can’t comment on how I would feel if I had, but I honestly can’t imagine looking back on such an experience with a warm glow and a smile on my face, which is how I feel when I remember my relationship with my second boyfriend who was in his 20s when I was 15.

    I’m not saying teenagers can’t be exploited or coerced into unwanted sex. Of course they can and anyone who does that should be thrown to the dogs. But by her account that’s not what happened between Bowie and Lori Maddox.

      • Ellz

        You are correct it is an imprisonable offence in the UK however it’s not rape (unless it’s non-consensual, of course!). I just checked and it’s only automatically considered rape here if a child aged 12 or below is involved. But anyway, I think your point is that it’s illegal which is certainly true. However the law is a blunt instrument and it’s definitely not the final word on morality. 13 yr olds legally can’t consent with each other either so if two 13 yr olds have sex are they raping each other?

    • Railway Road

      The most rational comment on here. In before backlash or not, calling him a “monster” for this one is absurd, because that was NOT the case with Bowie. This girl was willingly up for the sex act, and not just one time. The times were different, and I think most of the big stars of the day would come out with similar stories, considering how every young lady back then wanted to be part of an act with them.

      Now Jimmy Saville, that guy WAS a monster. A systematic pedophile with a nefarious plan. Totally a different case than David.

  4. sarah

    Thanks Ellz for saying this because it’s patently obvious to anyone who had a ‘normal’ adolescence. Of course the law requires an absolute boundary at 16 or whatever, but there’s a vast difference between the likes of Sable Star and Lori Maddox in the counter-cultural world of LA in the 70s and the groomed abuse perpetrated by Saville and the like. To deny Star and Maddox agency and conflate the two is to make many young women to be fools, and is decidedly anti-feminist.

    Even the author of the article cited here at ElegentWhiteSnows (Louise Pennington) doesn’t really believe this as her recent praising of the film ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ which opens with the line ““I had sex today. Holy shit,” from it’s 15 year old, that is self-reporting statutory rape, shows. In that film the girl’s lover/rapist is 33, and so older than Bowie at the time.

  5. rosie

    Do you think 13 and 15 are the same, physically and emotionally then? I lost my virginity at 15. That doesn’t mean I think pop stars having sex with 13 year old girls is ok, I don’t think they have sexual agency and neither does the law. Why do you think this is ok?

    • No, I don’t think 13 and 15 are the same in general. If you compare a group of 13 yr olds with a group of 15 yr olds there’s a gap in average maturity (and sexual experience). But everyone is an individual – some grow up quicker, some slower. I could easily pass for 18-20 when I was 14, both physically and in how I thought, talked and acted. My older sister who was 16, nearly 17, couldn’t get served in even a normal pub while I was getting into over-21 bars.

      13 is very young and most at that age are still only just coming out of childhood – but not all. Some people just grow up very fast, especially if they spend a lot of time with older teens or adults. That’s how it was for me and, by the sound of it, also for Lori and Sable. (Sidenote: I think Lori was 14 at the time, unless I’m mistaken.)

      The law in many countries (including US & UK) says 15 yr olds don’t have sexual agency either. In some places even 17 yr olds don’t have legal agency. Do you consider that you had agency when you lost your virginity? I lost mine at 14 and was certainly capable of making that choice. (Hopefully so was my boyfriend who was also 14.) Other 14 yr olds wouldn’t be ready and would be uncomfortable taking that step. Everyone’s different. Lori says she was ready, that she enjoyed it, that she has fond memories and no regrets. Isn’t that what everyone wants from their first time?

  6. dk

    I’m not sure of how relevant this is, but I believe Lori’s official statement is that she was 15. 13 seems to be the age that people arrive at when they try to attach her history to a chronology and work back from Jimmy Page’s history with her. I’ve no idea what causes this discrepancy, but if we are to respect her story and it’s validity, it seems we must assume that she was 15.

  7. Ana

    Incredible text, I’m really sad and confused about those disgusting aspect about Bowies’ story.
    The only thing I didn’t understand was your concern about Labyrinth, because I’ve always understood that Sarah was the only who “created” this obsession about Jareth. Her mirror was full of pictures of her supposed mother and a man who looked exactly like Bowie (or Jareth) and following the notion that she imagined all the story based on elements she knew, Jareth’s behavior toward her could be explained as an unconscious metaphor.

  8. wwww

    You must be an absolute moron if you instantly turn your back on bowie because of someone, somewhere wrote something strange bout him on on the internet. Are you really fucking serious with this?

    Feminazis are so brave, throwing rocks at an innocent DEAD man who can’t defend himself. An innocent man who had sex with someone that wanted to have sex with him, someone who enjoyed having sex with him. You’re propably just jealous, you wished you were that innocent 13-year girl who could fuck celebrities, but you’re just a bitter grandma, lol. I feel your pain. It must suck to be a loser and believe in everything that floats around. Ha!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s