The Divine Miss F

Bette Midler on feminism and diva boot camp.

Topics: Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

I have always loved Bette Midler. No, not for “Beaches” or that “From a Distance” song. No, I love her for “The Rose” and the series of little-remembered but hilarious comedies she did in the ’80s (“Ruthless People,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and the grossly underrated Shelley Long buddy picture, “Outrageous Fortune”). And because she has an amazing voice and seems unapologetic about being a pain in the ass, and because she talks nonstop about the environment and routinely puts her time and money into cleaning up New York City’s parks.

All this is to say that I was thoroughly pleased to see her interviewed in this week’s Time magazine about her new album of Peggy Lee covers. She tells reporter Richard Zoglin that she first came across Lee’s music when her old bathhouse accompanist, Barry Manilow, sent her some songs. “In my excavation of cool,” Midler explained, “like Miles and Chet and the beatniks — she never came up. The women never came up. It was always the men. And she was cooler than any of them.”



When Midler, who last released an album of Rosemary Clooney covers, tells Zoglin that she loved Mae West as a kid, he asks. “Is there a feminist theme in the artists you celebrate?” She answers: “Yes, I think there is, really. I’ve always liked kind of independent spirits, because they’re not fake. They’ve kind of accepted the fact that this is the way for them, and they’re not going to hide their light. I’ve always felt myself a little bit outside the mainstream. My parents never told me that there was any other way to be. They always insisted that I was going to work for a living, that I didn’t have to get married, that I didn’t have to take any old job, that I should fight for something that I really loved.”

But the best part is her announcement of what she’s doing next, which, she claims, is “creating diva boot camp. I’m going to tell all the little girls who want to be a big diva how to laugh.”

Diva. Boot. Camp. I am so there.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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