Yoko Ono Reimagines "Woman Power" & Female Liberation, 45 Years Later

Photo: MediaPunch/Shutterstock.
Yoko Ono is doing something crucial: revisiting the past. With her latest album Warzone (out 19th October), Ono is reworking songs from her 30-year career at a time when remembering our history to influence our future couldn't be more crucial.
One of those songs, "Woman Power," is premiered below along with a new music video conceptualised and designed by Ono. The immediacy and relevance of the song is startling; it is hard to imagine that as women we are still fighting for rights we thought we had secured in 1973 when the song came out. Equally shocking is Ono's call out to then-Presdient Richard Nixon in the track to find his humanity, which is just as applicable to current President Donald Trump.
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Along with the new video, Ono asked Refinery29 to reprint her compelling 1971 essay on female liberation that served as the liner notes in her Infinite Universe LP in 1971, paired with an original illustration by her late husband John Lennon. Both follow the video and interview below.
Refinery29: How is the female revolution different today than it was in 1973, when "Woman Power" was first released? Are men making any changes that you think will be significant in how they approach equality?
Yoko Ono: "There’s not much difference yet, but what happened was women’s voice went into their heart and they are slowly changing."
What influence has watching the Women's March and seeing women get more involved in American politics, running in record numbers in 2018, had on your work or your hopefulness for a female revolution?
"I don’t think that revolution is necessary, I prefer the word evolution."
When you originally released this song, the mention of the president and your urge for him to "be human" was during the Nixon era. Does it feel defeatist to have to deliver the same admonishment to another president, Trump, all this time later? Should we hold out hope for Trump to find his humanity?
"I think they have to, and they will."
What steps would you like to see the women in the #MeToo movement take next? What is most crucial to address in order to affect real change for women in the arena of sexual harassment?
"Instead of thinking of it as harassment, think of it as desperation. Women should continue to speak out, but men should speak as well, it should be a dialogue."
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In your opinion, are we closer or further from achieving any manner of equality?
"Equality is a very strange word, because we are basically not equal, none of us are. We want justice, not equality. I myself, do not want to be equated with men, I want to always be me."
Illustration by John Lennon.
The Feminisation Of Society
Female liberation has now become the talk of the world. Talk is welcome as long as it does not lead to dead-end cynicism. Public fuss over the issue is all right as long as it does not divert one’s attention from the real effort to gain freedom.
The feminist movement faces this danger now. The majority of men greeted the movement with a condescending and receiving smile, while the newspapers picked up the issue as an ideal space filler. Unless women become more strongly aware of what is really happening and start to transform the issue into a serious revolution, the movement will fade away as another happening of the decade.
We must not let it die. We have to keep on going until the whole of the female race is freed.
The major change in the contemporary woman's revolution is the issue of lesbianism.
Lesbianism initially, had a positive influence on female liberation. It helped women realise that they didn't necessarily have to rely on men for relationships. They had an alternative to spending 90% of their lives waiting for, finding and living for men. But the alternative of building her life around another female or females, it wasn’t very liberating. Some sisters have learned to love women more deeply through lesbianism, but others simply went after their sisters in the same manner that male chauvinists did.
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The ultimate goal of female liberation is not just an escape from male oppression. How about liberating ourselves from our various mind trips such as ignorance, greed, masochism, fear of God and social conventions? Lesbianism, to many, is a means of expressing rebellion toward the existing society through sexual freedom. In that sense it worked. But we find our minds unfocused from lesbianism when we face the problem of procreation and child care. It's hard to dismiss the importance of paternal influence so easily. And since we face the reality that, in this global village, there is not very much choice but to coexist with men, we might as well find a way to do it and do it well.
We definitely need more positive participation by men in the care of our children. But how are we going to do this? We have to demand it by force.
James Baldwin has said of this problem, "I can't give a performance all day in the office and come back and give a performance at home." He's right. How could you make men share the responsibility of child care in the present social conditions where his job in the office is, to him, a mere "performance" and where he cannot relate to the role of child care except as again a "performance"? Contemporary men must go through a major change in their thinking before they volunteer to look after children, before they even start to want to care. Their jobs must cease to be a “performance” before they can stop to think of taking care of children as a “performance”.
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Most of us women, hope that we can achieve our freedom within the existing social set-up, thinking that, somewhere, there must be a happy medium for men and women to share freedom and responsibility. But if we just took the time to observe the very function of our society, the greed-power-frustration syndrome, we would soon see that there is no happy medium to be achieved.
Women are going through a very early stage of revolution now, just as the blacks have in the past. We are now at a stage where we are eager to compete with men on all levels. Soon women will reach the next inevitably stage (which the blacks have already reached), and realise the futility of competing and trying to be like men. Women will realise themselves as they are, and not as beings comparative to or in response to men. As a result, the feminist revolution will take a more positive step in the society by offering a feminine direction. We are total beings with full and natural instincts and can offer a feminine direction to intellect.
In the last two thousand years, men have repeatedly shown us failure in their method of running the world. Instead of falling into the same trap that men fell into, women can offer something that the society never had before because of male dominance: that is the feminine direction. What we can do is to take the society which contains both masculine and feminine characteristics, and bring out the more feminine nature in the society, rather than the masculine one now at work as a negative force. We must make more positive usage of the feminine tendencies of the society which, up to now, has been either suppressed or dismissed as something harmful, impractical, irrelevant and ultimately shameful.
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I am proposing the feminisation of society; the use of feminine tendencies as a positive force to change the world. We can change with feminine intelligence and awareness, into a basically organic, noncompetitive society that is based on love, rather than reasoning. The result will be a balance, peace and contentment. We can evolve rather than revolt, come together, rather than claim independence, and feel rather than think. These are characteristics that are considered feminine and which men despise in women. But have men done so well by avoiding the development of these characteristics within themselves?
Let's not kid ourselves and think of us as an old and matured civilisation. We are by no means mature. But that is alright. That is beautiful. Let's slow down, and try to grow as organically, and as healthy as a newborn infant. The aim of the female revolution will have to be a total one, eventually making it a revolution for the whole world since we can never separate ourselves from the world
© Yoko Ono 1971
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