Singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer has long been the source of debate. Her massively-funded Kickstarter campaign generated widespread controversy, with people accusing her of egotism, naivety, taking advantage of her fans, and other reactionary remarks regarding the then-experimental crowdfunding platform. Her disarmingly upbeat song “Oasis” casually addressed being sexually assaulted at a party. Her use of unpaid local musicians on her 2012 tour caused many of her fans to entirely disown her and publicly discredit her. Her poem about the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev prompted one internet commenter to offer to “shove a bomb up her c***.” Palmer even has a predilection for spontaneous public nudity. Now, Palmer is being scrutinized for yet another action, this time one much more mundane—her decision to have a child.
For most women, the news of motherhood garners congratulations and well wishes, but Palmer was met with fear, frustration and anger. Upon announcing her maternity, Palmer’s fans expressed worries that she would be putting her musicianship on the backburner. Some fans also suspected her of using her new account on Patreon, a crowdfunding platform in which fans fund artists through repeat payments, to support her new baby.
In response to a particularly condemning fan letter, Palmer wrote a blog post entitled “No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby,” in which she affirms her right to give birth and dispels her fanbase’s fears. Furthermore, Palmer comes to the far-reaching and humanist conclusion that musicians should be allowed to spend their funding on childbirth (and other more frivolous things as well), and that despite the job title, musicians are “artists, not art factories.” She also postulates rather loudly that “MAYBE [SHE] EVEN NEED[S] THIS BABY TO MAKE ART.”
And while Palmer’s case is rather extreme (as most of her cases are), she is not the only female musician that has been subject to criticism for deciding to have children. As mentioned in Palmer’s blog post, members of the alternative rock band Eisley were criticized for bringing their babies with them on a tour that the band had planned on crowdfunding. Musicians like Kimya Dawson of the anti-folk group The Moldy Peaches; singer-songwriters Bjork, Ani DiFranco, and Patti Smith; R&B musician Erykah Badu; and countless other powerful female artists have all dealt with the struggle of balancing motherhood and musicianship.
But it is clear from the continued success of all of the female artists mentioned above that musicianship and motherhood are not in fact mutually exclusive, and that motherhood can even redefine a musician’s career. Kimya Dawson speaks of how she plans to “make a follow up to Alphabutt, another album for kids” with her daughter, Panda. Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone loves having a “completely objective audience” on which to practice songs, and even considers her five-month-old son’s minimalist input when deciding what songs she records. Palmer also writes that she’ll “be really surprised if pushing a SMALL HUMAN OUT OF [HER] VAGINA doesn’t also rip [her] heart open and provide some really, profound new artistic perspectives.”
Clearly, raising a child is a wonderful and life-changing experience. Likewise, making music is an invaluable and powerful service to perform. Any notion that these two activities cannot coexist is a symptom of a culture that condemns women for placing their own personal fulfillment ahead of or alongside the biological imperative of reproduction. If progress is to be made in gender equality, then the entertainment culture must instead acknowledge these powerful rock star mothers and commend them for successfully juggling two difficult, invaluable, and sometimes indistinguishable acts.