Mike Ragogna: Rebecca, your song “Damsel in Distress” is your latest single. The song is about empowerment, but have you ever at least felt like you were in that position and how did you push through it or change your self-perspective?
Rebecca Juliet: I’ve definitely been in situations where I am not empowered. Being catcalled on the street is one example. Just the other day, for instance, I was walking to a grocery store two blocks away from my apartment (by the way, wearing sweatpants), and was whistled at three times. I wish that I could say that such incidents are rare. These demeaning actions occur much too often to too many women, and aren’t a reflection on the victim, but rather the offender. Recognizing that such instances aren’t about me but rather about a system that gives the impression that my body is an object allows me to move forward and focus on making a positive change.
MR: For some, do you think it might be a matter of slipping into the “damsel” identity as opposed to doing the work to self-empower?
RJ: I don’t think that anyone would intentionally put himself or herself in a servile position; no one ever wants to feel lesser. That being said, that’s the way that women start out. Our society is an innately uneven playing field. I once saw a great comparison of women in our society being like bicycles on the road. Technically, the road is supposed to be shared equally between cars and cyclists, but it was made for cars, not for bicycles.
With that in mind, whether or not a woman wants to fit into a “damsel” identity, unless she is actively working to escape from that prescribed role, that’s where she begins and often where she will be forced to stay.
MR: The net sales of the recording from Amazon and iTunes are going to Girls Inc. Of New York City. Why that organization?
RJ: First of all, living in New York City, I wanted to find an organization in my area. There are opportunities for philanthropy everywhere, and I firmly believe that people can make the most change in a physical area that they know well, as working somewhere close to home means having an increased understanding of the needs of that community.
I chose Girls Inc. of New York City in particular because, as a student, I am keenly attuned to the importance of education of all kinds. Girls Inc. of New York City provides many types of education to underprivileged girls from all five boroughs. These programs range from economics to STEM fields to pregnancy prevention to media literacy to community service and to, I believe most importantly, the cultivation self-esteem.
MR: Bust Magazine called your song a Feminist Pop Anthem. I know they were only referring to the recording but do you consider yourself a feminist?
RJ: I absolutely refer to myself as a feminist. I know that some people shy away from using that word because being a feminist can be equated with misandry, or in colloquial terms, “man-hating.” But that’s a total misconception. Feminism is about creating equality between the genders, not about switching around a hierarchy. The goal of feminism is bringing the underprivileged up to the same level as those with power, not bringing the privileged down.
Everyone who sees women as equal to men are feminists, whether they would use the term or not (and I think that they should!). Feminism is an inclusive movement, intended to buttress the rights of every woman–including trans women. In my mind, there isn’t really a middle ground: there’s sexism, and then there’s feminism. Being complicit in a sexist system by not taking a stand against it allows for the perpetuation of that inequality.
MR: In your opinion, what needs to change to assure women’s equality in society, not just on a legislative level?
RJ: I think that changing people’s mindsets is actually the first step to guaranteeing women’s equality. Legislation is terrific, but that’s only half of the battle. If no one believes in what laws protect, they aren’t entirely helpful. What’s more important is inculcating the belief that women and men are inherently equal, and therefore deserve equal treatment in all spheres.
There are so many stereotypes in our society, and one of the scariest things about them is that many people pretend that there aren’t. Women are still expected to be thin and have long hair and shave and diet and have babies, but I always hear about how much society has improved. Yes, we are definitely better than we were fifty years ago, but I sure hope that in fifty years we’ll be better still. One of my friends has an amazing tee shirt that says, “I’ll be a postfeminist in the post-patriarchy.” Our world is still run by men in so many ways, and before legislation can truly support women, people need to recognize 1) that our society is still glaringly sexist, and 2) that’s something that everyone needs to actively work to change.
I believe that an obstacle to those realizations is the view that this movement is solely a woman’s movement. To make real change, we all–all genders, all races–need to see the feminist movement as a comprehensive struggle.
MR: Profits from the sales of your 2013 recording “Angel On Our Shoulder” went to charities benefiting Sandy Hook Elementary’s victims’ families. You seem to be socially active when it comes to charitable causes. Where did you get the awareness to become energized enough to champion these causes and topics?
RJ: I’ve lived in New York City my whole life, and I really do believe that living in such a socioeconomically divided city is part of what gave me this drive. It’s odd to be an area with apartments that are worth millions of dollars, and walk five blocks away and see a low-incoming housing project. Seeing the extremes of our society compelled me from a very young age to try to make a difference.
I also went to a full time Jewish school when I was younger, and I believe that having a religious education imparted the necessity of tikkun olam, repairing the world, in whatever way I can.
MR: What advice do you have for new or emerging artists?
RJ: It sounds terribly cliché, but I really do believe that kindness and helping others is one of the most important things in the music (or any) business. On a really nitty-gritty level, no one wants to work with someone who’s haughty or rude on set or in the studio. On a larger scale, I know that I’ve taken much more pride in my music because of its charitable element, so in that way, philanthropy has inspired me to keep going and keep pushing myself.
MR: What’s next on your agenda? Where would you like your musical career to be five years from now?
RJ: If you remember junior year of high school, you might not be surprised to hear that it’s pretty chaotic between schoolwork, SAT prep, and the college search. As a result, I haven’t had much opportunity to reflect on where I’d like to be with my music down the road. That being said, singing and philanthropy have been my passions for as long as I can remember, and I definitely want to continue to combine these passions by making more music that effects positive social change for years to come.