“Like I Said” – An Interview With Ani DiFranco

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with musician, Ani DiFranco. As I mentioned to Ani when we spoke, her music absolutely informed me all throughout high school and college, and somehow magically transformed to mesh into my post-college (married, kid-filled) life as well.

Ani DiFrance. Photo credit: Patti Perret

The majority of our interview can be found over at Bitch Magazine, for my online series, Mom & Pop Culture. However, once Ani & I started talking, we just couldn’t seem to stop, talking about everything from music, feminism, the Occupy Movement, abortion, and our respective kids. I’m including a bit more from our chat here, that didn’t make it to the Bitch post, but I absolutely encourage you to go and read the bulk of our chat over there!

Through our time talking together, I was able to get a better sense of how Ani combines her feminist ideology, thoughts on motherhood, and activist spirit into both her life and her music.

* * * 

I find that a big segment of feminism these days tends to happen online – via blogs, websites, social media, etc… Do you find yourself involved in that at all, and how do see it as different from when you started Righteous Babe Records?

You know…I’m not involved in much of the cyber world – which, as you say, most people live a lot of their lives these days. I guess I’m kind of an old-fashioned girl. I’m like, forty-what? Forty-one now or something. Righteous Babe records were some of the last people on the face of the earth to get a website. Righteous Babe didn’t even have a website till 2000.

There’s a bit of a misconception of my rise to “indie-girl USA” that it had a lot to do with the Internet and the possibilities therein. But truth be told, it was much more about me, you know, driving around the country coffee house to coffee house in that old fashioned way – getting out there and playing music for people and talking to them.

And all of us taping your shows and giving it to friends on cassette tape!

Yeah! Old-school baby! [Laughter] I think I still prefer to live that way.

[...] I’m sort of trying to get more involved in the Occupy movement that is giving hope and breathing life into progressive politics and opening up dialogue, even on major news networks, about the inequities in our country, in our tax system, in our corporately controlled government. The more I am in dialogue with these awesome activists, the more it sort of reinforces that we actually have to leave our houses, we have to go meet everyone in our neighborhoods, we have to help each other out, we have to build communities. And from that community build a political movement. The computer, the Internet is a great tool, but it’s not going to build a new house for us to live in. I love the kind of visceral, intuitive actions that the Occupiers are engaging in. Like, we’re just going to go over to Wall Street, and we’re just going to sit there, and we’re going to drum, and we’re going to dance, and we’re going to disrupt. How do you explain all that on paper, on a computer screen? I don’t know. But that’s their intuitive approach, and it really hits home for people.

[...]I think it’s really beautiful and poetic, the shape that this movement is taking. I really think it’s about getting out there and reconnecting ourselves with each other. And while the Internet is a great tool, it’s also part of the problem. It’s isolated us from each other. We live in these nuclear families, we live in these separate abodes, we stare at screens all day long, and we’re so disconnected from each other, we’ve allowed the elite to pull the wool over our eyes.

[The conversation at this point shifted to feminism & how the movement/ideology is perceived] Maybe feminism needs to get out there and rebrand itself and market that.

It’s just tackling the language on a daily basis I think is so important. For me I have to stop and choke back the words, “pro-life,” because that’s a particular frame that somebody came up with to misguide us, and say “anti-choice,” because there’s “pro-choice” and there’s “anti-choice.” For me, dealing with language and reframing on a daily basis even in conversation is so very important. Even saying the word feminism and saying the word patriarchy – when you drop it into conversation, even with a group of young feminists it’s an awkward word. It’s so funny to me that we don’t talk about it, we don’t address it. It’s like this large elephant in the room.

Yes! We need to continuously bring up these words, because if not, complacency sets in.

You begin to just accept the world as it is, and not question… We have to keep stopping ourselves and reminding ourselves – we have not fully experienced human nature. We’ve fully experienced masculine nature – you know, patriarchy! The minute you have a balance between the sexes, a true balance of power between the sexes in every aspect of society, then we can begin to talk about human nature, and see if we have the same tendency towards war and aggression, hierarchy and dominance, or if we’re still living within this fallacy of separateness and autonomy. Or if instead, we are more aware of our human family and our relationship to each other. In that context I think we would be.

For sure. And I think it starts young…I have a boy, which threw me for a loop when I gave birth because I had visions of raising this female rabble-rouser, so then it became, “okay, I’ll just to that with my son.” And it’s manifested itself in this almost 5 year old who loves wearing princess clothes and tutus, and prancing around the house…

Oh, awesome!

…but at the same time, loves shooting pretend lasers at the neighbor. So, it’s trying to figure out this gender fluidity, if we can allow this within in our kids and not freak out when boys wear pink and paint their nails, or when girls engage in a little bit more rough-housing, that maybe within that fluidity, as they grow up, that those archetypal stereotypes, and even the concept of patriarchy might crumble within on itself. Maybe that’s too much of a dream, but…

Oh, no…that will totally happen! Yeah, I totally support your utopian vision. My kid, she’s a girl, but when she was three years old, she was really focused on gender. Like keyed in to that fundamental difference in nature. Like, “oh wow, Mommy, you’re a girl, but daddy’s a boy! Whoa!” mind-blowing difference. And then right away, from when she was three years old, she’d start running down the list of the kids in her preschool class, “…and Josephine’s a girl and Christian is a boy, but Kaya is both!” …And she designates all kinds of people in our lives as both, like sometimes she’ll say, “Oh, she’s a little bit both.” Like, right out of the gate, having a very fluid understanding of gender… that is much more real and natural – I think all kids are born with this intuitive understanding of the spectrum of it, the fluidity of it. It’s socialization that stiffens all of that stuff up.

Completely. You can have a child that grows up without television in the house, but they’ll still see it out in the world. They’ll see it everywhere outside the house. They’ll see it on billboards where the mom is in the kitchen with the kids, or they’ll see it in the packaging at the grocery store, or see it just walking down the street. Which is why I hate when people ask “what’s the big deal?” Thankfully we live in this little liberal bubble, but…

…I remember that little bit of like, disappointed when my daughter started speaking English, because the fluidity of her expression will never be as free – because language is a frame. And as we learn our native language, we learn that frame. Yeah…I agree with you that we should be helping our children to preserve their freedom as long as possible.

Yeah…we’ll build that utopia at some point.

Yeah, well Northampton isn’t a bad place to start…New Orleans isn’t either.

Pepsi 4 Lyfe

…or rather “Pepsi for Life?”

Actually, I guess the most accurate description of this post should be “Giving Up Pepsi Until Abortion Ends” – but really, isn’t “Pepsi 4 Lyfe” catchier?

And really, when it all boils down – that’s what this whole abortion argument revolves around: marketing/branding/language.

People who are against abortion are extremely clever in the way they frame their arguments. (not right, just clever). The term “pro-life” sounds innocuous, and even good. I mean, who would ever say they are “anti-life?!” But the way anti-abortionists make their argument at least sound somewhat appealing is using the way they phrase their argument. If you’re not “pro-life,” you’re obviously against it, and who wants to take that on?

It’s branding/marketing/smart use of language no matter how you look at it. Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with musician and activist, Ani DiFranco. One of the many things we ended up talking about was abortion, and how Conservatives have very carefully crafted their language around their position. We need to do the same.

It’s just tackling the language on a daily basis I think is so important. For me I have to stop and choke back the words, “pro-life,” because that’s a particular frame that somebody came up with to misguide us, and say “anti-choice,” because there’s “pro-choice” and there’s “anti-choice.” Because when you frame it that way then it will ring in people’s ears differently. – Ani DiFranco

And what else is marketing but framing something in a way that appeals to people? We need to continue reframing/rewording ourselves to make just as much of an impact as “pro-life” (aka ANTI-CHOICE) supporters.

Now…back to Pepsi 4 Lyfe. A couple of YouTubes have floated pass me that need to share. Apparently there is an online campaign called Until Abortion Ends, where people can add pictures or videos of them swearing off something…until abortion ends. I’m not quite sure how giving up soda, coffee, Taco Bell, video games, alcohol or chocolate will help end abortion, but these folks sure are giving it the old college try. Again, this is just another marketing tactic from conservatives to reframe the abortion argument. In fact, the site itself asks you upon visiting “How Whole Life are you?”  - with the assumption being that if you are pro-choice that you are clearly less in some way.

In response to one of these videos, a young woman named Erin made her own video, and I think it’s well worth the four minutes to watch: