Though I was raised on rock and roll, I was never a fan of the glam rockers of KISS. But in recent years I have come to admire the band’s driving force, former tongue-wagging bass player Gene Simmons, now an entrepreneur who has amassed a $300 million fortune through his music, a merchandising empire, reality TV shows, and other ventures. I also appreciate his blunt-spoken style (even when I don’t agree with him), though it gets him in hot water from time to time – as it did again recently.
Simmons was on FOX the other day promoting his new book, Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, which is divided into two sections: Me, about Simmons’ own background and path to success, and You, advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. During the FOX segment he offered some direct, no-nonsense business advice to young women. He urged them not to try to juggle family and career at once, but to focus on career first, and then – if they want children – to have them from a position of financial security. He noted that women, unlike men, have the option of taking care of themselves or being taken care of by a man, which he discouraged. The money quote: “Women, stop depending on men. It’s as simple as that. Imagine there are no men in life.”
This drew fire on the internet, where kneejerk outrage lies in wait for any excuse to pounce. Salon called Simmons’ comments “sexist.” Uproxx’s headline was “Gene Simmons Opens His Mouth Again to Give Women Some Tone-Deaf Career Advice.” Over at Jezebel, where profanity and bile substitute for thought, they spewed contempt at Simmons, deriding him as “the original Miley Cyrus” (for the tongue thing) and as an “old fart” (because how could anyone over 25 have anything worthwhile to say?). Sprinkled throughout the criticism was a lot of gratuitous hair-shaming of the sort usually reserved for Donald Trump.
And yet his advice – women, give up trying to have it all; put career first and become financially independent – is no different from Sheryl Sandberg’s business bestseller Lean In, a favorite of proud feminists. The only apparent reason some women found Simmons’ feminist advice offensive is that a man said it, even though those same women are always campaigning for men to call themselves feminists (hence slogans like #AllMenCan, “This is what a feminist looks like,” “I need feminism because…”). Perhaps his comments would have gone over better if he had said them while posing backlit by a giant neon “FEMINIST” sign.
It may not help that Simmons has unabashedly expressed some conservative – and thus uncool – political positions: he’s pro-America, pro-Israel, pro-capitalism, and pro-Romney in the last election (although he had previously voted for Obama, a decision he regrets). This does not earn him favorable press from outlets like Jezebel or Salon.
If the haters had bothered to look beyond his provocative soundbite and his ever-present dark shades to read his new book, they would have discovered that that old fart is a fascinating success story. He grew up dirt poor in Israel, the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. His father, the sole wage-earner, walked out on the family while Gene was still a boy, and his mother had to take up the slack; so Gene learned the hard way that women should be aware that men cannot, or at least should not, be depended upon.
When he came to America at the age of eight, it was the first time he had seen toilet paper, or a TV set, or supermarkets like “cities of food, their aisles like streets” of abundance. He took advantage of the land of opportunity to pursue and achieve the American dream in spades.
One chapter of the book is devoted to the special challenges that female entrepreneurs face in the male-dominated business arena. He doesn’t sugarcoat the obstacles, but he does encourage women to push beyond the sexism and traditional stereotypes to find success. It is a message that feminists would ordinarily embrace if it hadn’t come from a rock star who is unapologetic about his thousands of sexual conquests (because men who sleep around can be called pigs, but criticizing women who do the same is slut-shaming).
Simmons is an outspoken dude who knows that controversy sells, and he doesn’t care if anyone gets their knickers in a twist over his old-fashioned, pragmatic views. His female critics would be better off untwisting those knickers and picking up his book.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/3/14)