“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.

Bitchin’

This past month has seen a bit of a dip in posts over here, but it’s not because I’ve been slacking – I swear! A majority of my ranting (and a little raving) has been happening over at Bitch Media where my guest blog series, Mom & Pop Culture has been going on.

I’ve been having a blast over at Bitch, writing about everything from Happy Meals, Comic Books, Princesses and more. While what I’ve been ruminating on over there isn’t much of a leap from what usually goes on over here, it has been interesting reaching a whole new audience and hearing their thoughts/reactions to what I have to say. (For example, check out the comments on this My Little Pony post – who would have thought a cartoon pony would create such a stir?).

I still have one more month blogging for Bitch, and have a variety of topics to cover…the Holidays, toy shopping, The Muppets, reality TV and more. But, I’m always curious if there’s something specific that anyone is interested in seeing me tackle. I’m pretty much up for everything, and as long as it fits into the pop culture/parenting, I’m game! (so leave a comment letting me know!)

 

Mom & Pop-Culture

Exciting news over here at The Mamafesto!

Starting in November, I’ll be taking on an 8-week guest blogging gig over at Bitch Magazine! 

Graphic by the fabulous Kym Bixler (kymbix@yahoo.com)

I’ll be focusing on the cross-section of parenting, feminism and pop-culture. Mostly that means that the rants I’ve been spouting out over here (on toys, books, clothes, movies, food, etc…) will continue over at Bitch for two months.

I already have a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head, raring to go and can’t wait until the series begins. I also thought it would be cool to see what folks were talking about, and if anybody had topics they were interested in or wanted me to cover. Feel free to leave your thoughts below! I do have 24 posts to write, so I’ll definitely be looking for inspiration wherever I can find it.

Look for my posts about 3 times/week from the 1st week of November through the end of 2011. In addition to the Bitch blogging gig, I’ll still be posting here (although perhaps not as frequently) and might do a x-post now and again.

(A somewhat aside: I’ve had some phenomenal guest posts here on The Mamafesto in the past, and am open to having more in the future. If you would like to write a guest post for this site, please contact me with your idea!)

Of course, my This Is What A Feminist Looks Like series will continue as it has been, with lots of fabulous profiles coming up! If you would like to participate, please be in touch!

 

The Anti-Click Click

Six years ago I found myself knee-deep in research for my masters’ thesis. I had chosen to focus on the status of feminism as it related to women in their twenties. I had done my research and culled various information from previous studies and data. I had the hard facts, but what was missing were the voices.

I wanted to know more about these stark facts and figures I was reading about,  so I added an extra component to my own research – interlacing the public with the private. In addition to all of the published resources that I poured over, I also began gathering the stories of women in their twenties from all over the country.

I started out by contacting my friends. I emailed them a questionnaire and urged them to forward it along to anyone else they knew that fit into my criteria of being a. 20-29 and b. female. I also used the Internet and found myself posting my contact information all over various message boards and forums. In addition to the questionnaires, I grabbed my video camera and hit the road, traveling across the country to interview women, all because I was curious as to how the “average gal” viewed feminism.

My results were mixed.

While on this journey I had many of my own “click” moments – you know, those moments of truth and recognition where something significant sinks in. There were times when I sat and engaged a total stranger and connected over something so empowering that there was this moment of “Yes! This is why I’m here and pushing these issues and proud to call myself a feminist.”

However, I also found myself experiencing a handful of “anti-click” occasions… moments that had more to do with realizing the limitations and shortcoming of the feminist movement. More than once I interviewed somebody who wanted to make sure that it was painfully clear that they were not a feminist.

For these young women, feminism was a dirty word and one that they didn’t want to be associated with. There was a of “I believe that women are equal and should be treated as such, but I’m not a feminist.” In fact, for some of them, their faces would scrunch up in disgust at the mention of the “f-word.”

These anti-click moments infuriated me and inspired me all at once. I wasn’t mad at these women that so vehemently denied being feminists, despite all the supporting evidence to the contrary. No, I was angry that somehow, as a movement, we had alienated pockets of women who shared our values and aspirations. How did we get to that place?

As those anti-click moments accumulated, I became more energized about my own identity as a feminist. I tried to find common ground with the “anti-clickers” in hopes that despite their fear or disgust with one label they could eventually see that it wasn’t about a word, but rather the actual actions that counted.

While all of that took place six years ago, I still find myself crossing the paths of women who feel similarly. I take each “anti-click” moment where I hear the “…but I’m not a feminist” disclaimer and use it to strive towards closing that gap and making it so the “f-word” is no longer something to be ashamed of.

It starts small.

I currently volunteer for an organization that helps teen mothers earn their GED. One morning I was helping one of them work on a history essay, and the conversation veered towards the evolution of women’s rights. We had a thoughtful conversation that ended with eager questions and excited thoughts about the topic. I didn’t bring up the “f-word” then, but it’s definitely getting thrown on the table next time.

Little by little we can break down these misconceptions and hope to only hear clicks.

Do you have a click moment? Share below in the comments or head over to Bitch to post there!

March 8th marked Feminist Coming Out Day and in honor of that, Bitch magazine invited people to share both their click and anti-click moments. I waited until the absolute last minute to share mine. Check out all the other posts over at Bitch’s website.