Just as so many other kids were, I was raised on The Beatles. Twist and Shout, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club: this was the music of countless car trips, painstakingly curated by Dad. And for as long as I knew about The Beatles, I knew about Yoko Ono. Or to be more specific, the hippie woman that convinced John Lennon to leave the Beatles and join her in bed. I knew her as we all did, in the context of this dominant popular discourse.
I knew her as we all did, in the context of this dominant popular discourse.
Urban Dictionary defines ‘Yoko’ as a woman who interferes with a (male) friendship, and ‘pulling a Yoko Ono’ as a woman successfully breaking up a friendship. Google produces countless numbers of the same result. Mainstream media products also function in this way; I can think of numerous examples of Yoko being used as a punchline.
Is this fair? Can this woman’s entire existence be reduced to this mere ‘meddlesome woman’ trope? What does this tell us about mainstream media? It seems to me that the patriarchy is reinforced through the production and discussion of media products like The Beatles, with Yoko Ono having to serve as a living and breathing embodiment of male gaze-driven discourse around them.
So just who is she, really?
The more I look into Yoko Ono, the more I learn. So just who is she, really? Yoko Ono was born in 1933 in Tokyo. Her name translates to ‘ocean child’. Her family moved around a lot during her childhood, and she studied in both Japan and the US. She established herself within the downtown artists’ scene of New York City and was highly influential across a number of mediums. Her 1964 Cut Piece was ground-breaking in the performance art scene. Her book, Grapefruit, is arguably Yoko’s best-known creation, being heralded as one of the first examples of conceptual art. She continues to inspire artists, musicians, photographers, and other creatives worldwide.
This works only as the smallest taste of some of her early art. It is truly impossible to outline the work and influences of Yoko Ono, so massive is her reach all over the world. And it is for this reason that her legacy in popular discourse is so heartbreaking.
And it is for this reason that her legacy in popular discourse is so heartbreaking.
Ocean Child, we all owe you an apology. You don’t deserve this.
Instead of knowing you only in the context of a man you decided to marry, let’s remember you as you were and continue to be through your 80s. As an artist, a musician, a feminist, a mother, a pacifist, a lover, and a strong fucking woman.
This article originally appeared in Orenda 4.