Every year since my daughter was 5, she has received a special present from the Santa’s family at Christmas ““ a mixed cd from Ms. Claus. We call them “˜Ms. Claus’ Party Mix(es)’.
Earlier that year while driving her to daycare, MiniBelle asked me why she never heard any “ladies singing” on the radio. We didn’t have a CD player in that car and generally listened to vanilla FM music stations or NPR when driving around ““ and she was right. At that point, the music air waves were dominated by male artists, male bands and male DJs. It’s something I had noticed and been annoyed by, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my daughter had noticed as well. I don’t remember what I told her at that time, but a couple months later as the holidays got nearer, I knew exactly what I wanted to give her for Christmas.
Thus was born Ms. Claus’ Party Mixes. Every year in her stocking, MiniBelle finds a CD from Ms. Claus that highlights only female musicians. She may not always be able to hear “˜ladies singing’ on the radio, but I was going to make sure she was exposed to the wider world of women artists. Over the years, she’s gotten mixes filled with Etta James, Dar Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Santogold, En Vogue, Ertha Kitt, Zee Avi, Dusty Springfield, and Billie Holiday among others. I try not to repeat performers either on the mix or from year to year, so that she gets a good exposure to a variety of musical styles and backgrounds. This is a lot to accomplish for one person, even one who has access to a pretty vast music collection and a number of musicians in the family, so I always try ask for suggestions.
There are certainly good arguments to be made to coming up with mixes that highlight just female-positive themes from artists of both genders. But my purpose isn’t really to put together a CD every year of You Go Girl songs. I want my daughter to hear women’s voices. I want her to hear women’s experiences. I want her to know that women can write songs, can sing them, can play the guitar, the drums, to record their music, can find an audience, can have their work end up on a compilation of songs someone else gives to their daughter. I want her to know that women matter in music. And I want her to have examples of it, because I want her to know that she can do it too, if she wants.
Until recently, I crowdsourced the suggestions on my livejournal, and now I’m asking for your help. What artists would you suggest for this year’s mix? I’m always especially interested in recommendations for non-American and/or non-English speaking artists, because my knowledge of them can be embarrassingly shallow.
I’ve seen our many of our parenting strategies, including this one, pay off over the years. She knows singers and songs that wouldn’t normally be a part of most children’s experiences. When MiniBelle goes to sing-alongs at my aunt’s nursing home, the residents are charmed that she knows the words to the older music and sings happily along with them. I’ve heard her teach some songs to her friends or recommend artists with a “˜Hey, you know what you might like?’ I know for a fact that most of the party mixes are on her ipod now because she comments about some of the earlier songs that were aimed at a younger ear.
But the most satisfying times are when she comes pounding down the stairs to tell her father and I about some outrage she’s found in a popular song’s lyrics, or when she looks agog at the television during a commercial or a video because she’s becoming adept at dismantling the messages that are being sold to her in popular culture. She’s not always right about her interpretation ““ and that’s part of a parent’s job, to explain context that their children may not yet understand ““ but she’s shaping her critical lens. We all need a good one.
So here are the guidelines for making suggestions to (or creating your own) Ms. Clause’s Party Mix:
- Music must be age appropriate. In my case, MiniBelle is 13. Peaches’ “˜Fuck the Pain Away’ is still not going to be included on my track list no matter how much I personally like it.
- Duets are acceptable, but mostly male-lead tracks with female backing vocals are not.
- When she was younger, I peppered the mixes with holiday songs to keep with the Ms. Claus theme. I still try to include one or two, but my personal preference is to include holiday general vs. Christmas-specific music.
- Only one track per artist.
- Variety. In my case, I grew up in the punk scene in the 90s, so if I just drew on my personal cd collection, she’d end up with the same Siouxsie Sioux and Bikini Kill singles every year. And MiniBelle already knows all the words to “˜Rebel Girl’.
That’s it! Can’t wait to hear about what you’re listening to.