As a musician and artist, Kate Bush is somewhat of an anomaly. She defies most normative roles female musicians fit into and blazes a unique trail in her professional and personal life. While she doesn’t explicitly identify as a feminist, but she implants ideologies of female independence, gender subversion, and female power in the heart of the historically male-driven, sexist and exploitive music industry. Her rejection of fame, publicity and the manfacturization of female musicians, along with her unwillingness to present herself as sexual object say just as much about her attitudes toward gender and equality than an explicit or assertive feminist stance.
The first time I heard Kate Bush’s music it was booming out of the attic bedroom of my highschool friend Marlie’s older brother. He was this lanky, artsy guy who would appear out of his attic every few hours to make a sandwich. Normally he would ignore us, sometimes he’d throw a few jokes or obscenities our way, and once and a while he’d sit down and show us a book or some music to “get some culture down our necks.” Honestly, i was a little afraid of him. But that day, Marlie and I slowly opened the door at the bottom of the stairs to his room and sat listening to the ethereal, gauzy music flooding the stairwell. I remember hearing “Wuthering Heights” and “Kite” that day and once I’d gone home and done some extensive research I found a copy of the Kate Bush album I had been listening to, The Kick Inside, in my basement. I’d soon discovered the rest of her albums and was mesmerized by her story-telling, theatricality and the cult following and air of mystery that surrounds her.
It was clear that she’d never been, and never would be, constrained by social expectations of any kind, including gender. She does exactly as she pleases and makes no apologies or explanations. The artistic freedom and spirituality she exudes is very intoxicating and inspirational. After reading Wuthering Heights, the song made so much sense to me and seemed to accurately capture its essence. I became aware of her clever use of allegory in more of her songs. Like music, literature is a great interest and hobby of mine and its not often that you find the two so nicely blended. To me, Kate Bush is a true artist, capable of beautifully expressing the human condition in words, music, and movement.
Bush is a storyteller and many of her songs read like fables, legends or parables. She uses allegory and with each new song she takes on another character, playing with notions of identity and transformation. In “Wuthering Heights” she takes on the persona of Emile Bronte’s Catherine, implying a connection with the gender-role defying author and her strong Gothic heroine. In the video for “Cloudbusting” she plays an androgynous character. Throughout her career, Bush weaves narratives that expose the problematic nature of gender roles and femininity into her lyrics and beautifully theatrical music videos. She uses her dance training to tell these stories with her body in addition to her words in these videos. By using her body in this manner she seems to be reclaiming it from objectification and giving herself creative agency. This use of dance separates her from the over-choreographed and overtly sexualized female performers who have found immense success in mainstream popular music (think Pussycat Dolls and Britney Spears).
Like Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush does not explicitly present herself as feminist. Instead, she embodies independence, agency and empowerment and weaves tales of female identity into her highly symbolic music. This is a type of embedded feminism that works from the inside out and has the potential to be influential and affect great change in society.