Bob Dylan is a poet, a songwriter, a singular artist..and a sexist? Well, that’s how he’s described in the interview from 1980. And in typical Dylan-esque form, the singer takes it in his stride, both contemplating the ramifications of the interview, before reiterating the essence of the question in a way that’s both respectful and derisory of its mission statement. But the songwriter was fully prepared to understand the importance of the question, keenly aware that to the trendy new members of the press he represented an older guard, and kept his guard up during the interview.
Was he a sexist? A chauvinist at most. But he was a product of his time and grew up in an America where women came second to men, and feminism – in its own way – represented an attempt to topple the values his generation grew up with. But peering through his catalogue, there’s nothing as shocking as John Lennon‘s ‘Run For Your Life’ or Paul McCartney’s ‘Getting Better’ — although to the credit of both Beatles, they tried to redress the balance during their solo careers with such anthems as ‘Woman Is The N* of The World’ and ‘Daytime Nighttime Suffering’. Sure, Dylan tends to view women as objects in his songs, but that was par for the course.
Mick Jagger wrote about the pursuit of black slaves on ‘Brown Sugar’; Rod Stewart spoke about carnal conquests on ‘Maggie May’ and ‘Stay With Me’; and then there was Paul Simon who seemed infatuated with the dream woman, however she presented herself to the world at large. Men wrote from a very different perspective on life at that time. It didn’t suit Dylan – the finest songwriter of his generation – to be any different to his artistic peers. It didn’t suit his character to be out of step. Being alternative isn’t the same as looking out for it.
It’s to Dylan’s credit that he handles the interview relatively professionally. He doesn’t disrespect the question as Sean Connery did when the former Bond was asked to explain his decision to defend slapping women. 1980 was the rise of feminism, and it was a time when women were taking charge. Britain had a female Prime Minister. Israel was embracing the fire of the movement. And Irish women were demanding contraception, after decades of Catholic rule.
So, It’s unfair to label Dylan a sexist, but rather to call him the product of a sexist era. Where he progressed as a person was in his way of becoming a more thoughtful and well-rounded person, and the Dylan of 2022 is a very different man (as well as artist) to the man who was asked his opinion on feminism in 1980.
Watch the way Dylan deflects the answer below.