“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.

Interview: Cheryl Kilodavis

A few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Kilodavis, author of the highly acclaimed book, My Princess Boy.

What started off as an interview for an article quickly turned into what felt like a conversation amongst old friends who started plotting bi-coastal play dates for their sons. While I would love to share our entire two hour phone chat with you all, my transcription skills are sorely lacking. However, I have managed to transcribe some of my favorite moments between us… (My bits are in the regular font and Cheryl’s are in purple italics)


What prompted you beyond encouraging your own son to actually writing the book?

I needed a tool…it was really sort of a selfish move. I went to the bookstore. We do everything with books with teaching both of my kids and having conversations. And to my surprise, there weren’t any books that focused just on young boys who love to play princess. It was more focused on gender confusion or sexual orientation, and my son was two at the time when he started showing interest in things pink and sparkly. So I thought, I’m not going to introduce that at two, you know? He’s way too young. 

After going through my own process of acceptance…because I initially was redirecting. And then finally my older son, he just says to me “why can’t you just let him be happy?” and I realized that it was my issue. That I was uncomfortable, so I was trying to really control Dyson to be what would make me comfortable versus what was making him comfortable. So, the book is really a result of my journal entries and because there weren’t any books out there I went to the local copy shop and printed it out and started giving it out to his teachers and any playdates…anybody that would have time with Dyson. I didn’t want them to be with him and crush his spirit. Really the book was a way to say that exclusion hurts and when you make comments it hurts and will you just accept me for who I am.

Were you acknowledging at the time, or was it maybe in hindsight, that you were actively breaking down these stereotypical gender norms or was it just more…deal with the situation with my son, make him comfortable and then…?

The thing that was different was that my husband was completely on board from day one. Here’s my older son, who’s sort of my social justice kid, and he says “why can’t you let him be happy?” and then here’s my husband saying we’re going to support him just like we supported our older son who loves soccer. I felt a little bit alone in the house and I think I had to do some introspection about what was going on. Once I realized that this was my problem, I feel that I needed to get into action. Part of that was what happened in 2010, with children taking their own lives for not being accepted for who they are. I got enraged in a way. Initially, no. I wasn’t thinking of it that way, but then when we talked about going public and using our real names and really being honest about this, all I could think about were my children would be leaving the nest in ten to fifteen years and that’s how long I have to get the world on board for accepting them for who they are.

I read the book to my son yesterday, and mind you…I’m reading it as he has painted sparkly fingernails, his toes are rainbow color, and wearing his Hello Kitty watch. He has long curly hair that he refuses to let me cut. Towards the end of the book, I was trying to gauge his reaction and he goes “yeah. I’m not a princess boy.” And he loves dress up and always loves to play princess with his best friend, but he doesn’t register it the same way. It’s so simplistic for them and they don’t need the same labels as we do and I wonder how much of it is for our sake as adults?

It’s fascinating. There’s a boy in Dyson’s class who calls himself a princess boy who doesn’t wear pink or dresses. The whole point of the book is really to have that conversation. To really feel that strength that it is what it is.

…I think the biggest thing is that this really is a journey and a process. What happens is people come to Dean and they come to me and they say, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know how you got there, but I want to talk about it more. My son wanted to be a princess for Halloween but I wouldn’t let him.” So the conversations are happening.

I always have to remember that when I live in my little bubble here, stepping outside of it, how nasty people can get in terms of their response. That it offends them so much to that point where they’re like “this is absolutely wrong!”

I always say…'”You can disagree with me,” that’s fine, as long as it’s constructive. I get it, because I was redirecting as well. The interesting thing to me, is the media that has reached out and wanted to have the conversation and cover it. Some of the media wants to put us in a category of “okay, he’s homosexual” or “he’s going to be transsexual.” And when my husband and I refuse, we say “look, we don’t know what those outcomes are going to be yet. He’s five. We’re just talking about the basic need of acceptance.” And some of the media, some of the talk shows will say, “oh, yeah, we want to actually go to a category.”

Well, they “need” sensation you know…to sell it.

But isn’t there enough sensation of children taking their lives? I’ve got ten to fifteen years to get the world on board, so my kids can be who they are outside of this nest. Yet, that positive approach in parenting doesn’t seem to be the one that we want to talk about. 

It’s interesting to me how the world says “this is an important topic, we want to talk about this, we want to support this.” And the media says “eh…it’s not that big of a story.”

Probably about 40% of the people who support the Princess Boy movement really are people who have different families, children of adoption. You know, everything that feels different and it’s just saying in this basic book, “Will you play with me? Will you like me for who I am?” 

That to me, is our bigger need. I feel like America needs a wake up call in parenting! We need to listen to our kids more. We need to try to get out of this control freak and this ego in parenting and really step up and support our children and help them be the best that they can be. That to me is the biggest thing that can be covered and dealt with. But…you know, it’s probably too positive.

It’s true. I feel like the stories that make it, especially related to kids, are the sad ones. It’s awful. We should be celebrating more of the achievements and more of these types of things that celebrate diversity and inclusion, but those get left to the side.

I just think that if we can break down these preconceived boxes, that are just easier for people to fit kids into, that it will just be happier for the kids.

Aren’t we raising them to not be in a box? We’re all trying to do that. But I’m a victim of that. I felt like the image of my family and the image of our household, everything flipped upside down hen Dyson told me he was a Princess Boy. …It’s one of those things where we contradict ourselves. We want to be accepted for who we are, and we say later in life “that’s just who I am,’ and then our children are saying the same thing. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean that they don’t have a voice or interests or feelings. It may be hard and we may not agree or get it, but the happiness on Dyson’s face is enough. 

(It felt like anything was on the table and I, of course, had to bring up the (now heavily debated) J. Crew ad which had only gone up a day before our phone call… )

I had to go and “like” J. Crew just so I could go and comment on it. All I see is this fantastical, whimsical, fun. This kid just enjoying himself in this picture. It was happy and sad. Happy that J. Crew…with probably no forethought to gender construct in general put up this great photo of their staff member and her son not thinking they were even making a statement in that way. And yet, they did.

Yeah. It’s exactly that. That’s exactly it. The world, I think, is coming around to acceptance. The more that we talk about it. The more that we show that painting nails of a little boy is fine. Is it harming anyone? No! That’s the point of the book. Keep the conversation going. I even say that in the book. If you see a princess boy…will you laugh at him? That’s really awesome of J. Crew.


If you would like to connect with Cheryl and My Princess Boy, check out the book’s Facebook page!

Also – if you would like a chance to win your own copy of My Princess Boy, check out this post from earlier in the week!