On Patti Smith and Modern Womanhood

with 11 comments


One of the most evocative and touching books I’ve read is Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I’m a huge fan of Patti Smith the singer-songwriter. Her album “Horses” is something you need to listen to every so often, an amazing piece of music history but I never really thought she would be such an engaging writer writer. I took notice when I read a news bit that “Just Kids” won The National Book award for Non Fiction and I frantically looked for a copy. I called out to twitter and asked where I can find a copy, I dragged my ass to the nearest bookstore and in an hour flat, I was locked in my room and found myself completely immersed in the book.

Patti takes us into the celebrated art world of New York of the 60s and 70s and her life with the late great Robert Mapplethorpe. So much has been written about that time that some stories make it feel so mythic or folkloric but Patti has managed to make this once fantastic world personal, reachable and emotional for us, the readers. Apart from the storytelling, Ms. Smith presents a study of two entirely contrasting artists – Patti Smith vs Robert Mapplethorpe.

Patti came from a poor background and she evokes a seemingly authentic bohemian lifestyle. She wanted to be an artist and wanted to live, eat and breathe art. Robert, on the other hand, had his mind set on being a big star. He wanted to be bigger than Andy Warhol and he would do anything to get there. Although Robert had established a strong work ethic and he was confident in his talent, he was less secure with his own persona and his sexuality.

There are many many stories in Just Kids that I would always go back to – how they met, the days spent in Chelsea Hotel, accounts on the NY art/music scene – but what stands out the most is Patti Smith’s unwavering faith in the talent and life of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Call it a pre-feminism feminism. Many fiercely intelligent and talented women of the 50s and the 60s established their womanhood by attaching and sublimating themselves to the great artistic and literary minds of that era – Anne Roiphe to Jack Richardson, Yoko Ono to John Lennon, Heady Jones to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, among others. These women wanted to live for art and what is more sacrificial than cleaning his clothes, cooking his food and bearing a future legend’s offspring?

It is Patti’s natural nurturing quality that has pushed Robert Mapplethorpe’s legend. And this is the key idea I took from this book.

In a time when most of my peers have moved into a different direction from mine, I can only feel a little bit relegated to a particular “subgenre” of the independent single woman often portrayed by “Sex and the City” caricatures. I find myself sitting through conversations amongst old friends, mostly young mothers now, talking about disposable vs cloth diapers or breastfeeding or picking between progressive vs traditional schools and I smile and take mental notes. They have successfully tuned me out of their little world and to try to reel me back in, they ask me “how’s the social scene” and “how are the boys” and I tell them dating anecdotes but I really wonder-are they really interested or are they just indulging me. Even on the internet, there is a big divide between the mommies and the singletons and one can only feel a little marginalized. Have we become less of a woman by choosing this life?

But what I’m driving at is – modern womanhood can no longer be just defined by being a wife and a mother. It is the woman’s natural ability to nurture that defines our femininity. We nurture love, life, children, family, friends, talent, ambition, progress. And we have that ability in every one of us.

Written by divasoria

March 25th, 2011 at 10:50 am

11 Responses to 'On Patti Smith and Modern Womanhood'

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  1. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”


    25 Mar 11 at 10:55 am

  2. Your post reminded me with what Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born but rather becomes a woman.” And I don’t know if you’ve ever read read work, The Second Sex, where she articulately discusses the passive acceptance of roles assigned to women by society. She actually goes as far to state that being a housewife (in the sense that the wife is financially dependent on her husband) is pretty much the same thing as a prostitute. It’s a pretty interesting read and I don’t totally subscribe to her beliefs but I do think that there is some truth to it.

    I think feminism in its very core is about providing a woman the right to choose. And it sucks that even in 2011 just because your choice doesn’t conform to what society expects you’re marginalized.


    25 Mar 11 at 12:51 pm

  3. marie – wow, i havent read that. thanks for the tip. but in all honesty, i think all of us are “prostitutes” in varying degrees and for different reasons. what i don’t like is how some women feel they are superior because they are mothers/wives over single women. it’s like a competition within the same tribe. and that’s not right. we share the same essential and innate issues.

    and yes, i do agree that feminism’s core is the woman’s right to choose. this goes beyond gender roles.


    25 Mar 11 at 1:31 pm

  4. Hi Grace! I have this book as a sample in my Kindle.. I will read it tonight 🙂 If you like memoirs, I highly recommend THE GLASS CASTLE. It is amazing and funny too 🙂


    25 Mar 11 at 3:18 pm

  5. ^thanks for that! i do love memoirs. i’m primarily a nonfiction-type reader.


    25 Mar 11 at 3:30 pm

  6. Hi its me again 🙂 I may be going out of bounds here, but Im curious where in Paris will you stay? I saw in twitter you said you’re going to stay in an apartment. Did you book through airbnb and the likes? Sorry, Im so curious as my family is going in May and Im in charge of accommodations.. And Im scared of apartment scams and hotels are so expensive! Thanks Grace!


    25 Mar 11 at 3:55 pm

  7. ^oh i’m going to stay at a private apartment 🙂 not for rent.


    25 Mar 11 at 3:58 pm

  8. Oh, lucky you! Thanks for replying right away 🙂


    25 Mar 11 at 4:29 pm

  9. “Female jealousy is an evolutionary fact, Lemon. If you try and breed it out of them, you wind up with a lesbian with hip dysplasia.” -Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock

    “The only difference between prostitution and those who sell themselves into marriage, is in the price and length of the contract.” -Simone de Beauvoir

    Did you watch Kell on Earth? I don’t think that holds if you’re a fully independent single woman and don’t go on dates just to be fed. Unless you count work (and I define this a doing something you may not necessarily want to do but do it anyway for money) itself as “prostitution.” I think the reason why wives/mothers look down on single women is because they believe that life is meaningless unless you find a husband/give birth and I think that’s really sad. You’re life should meaningful even if you don’t have those things. And I say this as a 24 year old who’s in a serious relationship and who plans on getting married and having kids. I’m not some bitter old maid trolling the internet.


    26 Mar 11 at 1:55 pm

  10. Hey just had time to read this now. I’d like to think I haven’t gone into any of the pitfalls on this side of the fence – I may have less time in general but hopefully I haven’t changed in my relationships w friends, still have my own identity/roles/goals instead of living the be-all end-all wife/mom. It freaks me out to see life getting “completed” or “meaningful” when you get married and have kids. You should be a complete individual w a meaningful life, and IF, big IF, you choose to get married/become a parent that’s what you bring to the ballgame instead of hoping it’s what you get for making that choice.


    26 Mar 11 at 7:49 pm

  11. i am a single mom by choice and can you believe that my decision was frown upon by some of my friends (married and single). But like you i don’t think that i should categorised myself as a mom/working mom/ single whatever. I am just a woman who is doing my very best in my daily living with out the aide of a man besides me. Thanks for this book rec, I better find this 🙂


    27 Mar 11 at 11:22 am

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