Saturday, September 12, 2009

Feminist epiphanies, by Ani DiFranco, part 2

by Jordan Kisner

*This is the second of four pieces in which I examine a few of the many epiphanies about the kind of feminist I want to be inspired by listening to folk singer, spoken-word artist and badass feminist Ani DiFranco.

Feminists are pissed off.

At least, this is our reputation. Not just pissed off; we feminists are Angry.

The Angry Feminist is an archetype that evokes our bra-burning predecessors, women whose frustration at the inequalities and discrimination they faced boiled over into outright political rebellion. Tired of living in a country where women were expected not to work, and those who did were confined to certain careers and subject to relentless and unregulated sexual harassment, they fought for legislation like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title IX, formed NOW. Tired of the pressure to be eternally soft, modest, docile creatures, they –well, some of them— stopped shaving their armpits, protested the Miss America Pageant and embraced sexual liberation. In other words, these original angry feminists became the worst nightmare of American traditionalists, and the work of their rage opened up unimagined opportunities for the women of future generations.

It follows, then, that the young women of my generation should respect and even revere feminist anger, if only out of gratitude. People, Ani sings, we are standing at ground zero/ Of the feminist revolution. Yeah it was an inside job/ stoic and sly/ One we’re supposed to downplay and deny/ But why can’t all decent men and women/ call themselves feminists?/ Out of respect for those who fought for this.

I mean look around. We have this.

But, young women (especially young feminists) are terrified to be perceived as too angry or too radical, perhaps because we are afraid of being reduced to it in the way our predecessors were. Prevailing American cultural memory has distilled the entire contemporary feminist ethos into a parody of the women on whose shoulders it stands. By assigning ‘angry’ to be its primary descriptor, American culture successfully marginalized, minimized and demonized the feminist movement both past and present. ‘Angry’ has become code, thinly veiled and infused with venom; the Angry Feminist is the Irrational Feminist, the Tiresome Feminist, even the Ungrateful Feminist.

And no one wants to sign up for that image. So nowadays we walk a razor-thin line in order to seem palatable and relevant: passionate, but not extreme; frustrated, but not bitter; activists, not harpies. Careful! Don’t sound too radical, and for God’s sake, don’t sound too angry.

I have spent a few years walking this line, and I think my committed-but-not-in-your-face style of feminism is as much a response to social pressure as it is an indication of my temperament. As I was ruminating on the problem of feminism and anger recently, Ani DiFranco’s song “Hide and Seek popped up on iTunes shuffle. DiFranco wrote the song about a woman who has endured a lifetime of sexual harassment, assault and exploitation. The final lyric of the song took my breath away:

Girl, next time he wants to know what your problem is, next time he wants to know where the anger comes from just tell him this time the problem is his. Tell him the anger just… comes.

I dare you to listen to that song, think about that woman and the countless other women like her, and tell me that we who don’t want to seem too angry are not missing the point in an incredibly irresponsible way. Every day women face situations about which all feminists, all women –hell, all people— should be furious. Every day women face situations that saddle them with an anger that they might never be able to shake. In our concern over image, we neglect to respond appropriately to the injustice, discrimination and violence faced by women the world over. We should be angry and unashamed to be so, filled with a rage that motivates us to demand a better world for our daughters the way our Angry Feminist mothers and grandmothers did for us.

So EW readers, I’m here today to announce that I, Jordan Kisner, am an Angry Feminist. I’m angry that rape is being used as a weapon of war in the Congo and I’m angry that the availability of prenatal ultrasounds in India corresponds to a rise in abortions of female fetuses. I’m angry that hundreds of thousands of American girls are deprived of accurate and factual sex education, and I’m angry that so many of my friends are victims of sexual assault. The time for tiptoeing is over.

What are you angry about? What positive change can young feminists effect by reclaiming Angry Feminism together?


At September 12, 2009 at 5:43 PM , Blogger Rookh Kshatriya said...

Everything you write is hypocritical, upper middle-class bullshit. I question your knowledge of social reality - the whole idea that women had to fight for the 'right to work' is an upper middle class fiction. Reality check, folks: working class women have ALWAYS worked. The whole 'right to work' thing is the bleating of hyper-privileged and wildly unrepresentative upper middle class white women. You are just engaged in spurious rebellion against your own class.

Furthermore, the vast majority of upper middle class feminists are not 'sexually liberated' at all. These liberal hypocrites would never have sex with a low-income or non-white male: they continue to objectify males economically, in time-honored racist/sexist fashion.

You want genuine equality? I'll give you genuine equality:

* Military draft for women during wartime, with large piles of dead women at the end of proceedings.
* An end to female privilege before the law and in police investigations. In short, women (especially the white, middle class variety) are no more valuable than anyone else.
* An end to misandry in healthcare, the media and academia.

How does all that sound? It sounds pretty damn good, to me. In fact, it sounds so damned good that I am refusing to pay taxes, vote or contribute to Anglo-American culture in any way until these proposals are activated and internalized.

At September 13, 2009 at 11:12 AM , Anonymous Audacious said...

The percentage of male respondents who strongly agree they would rather suffer personally than have their lovers suffer in their stead, by political orientation (N = 619):

Conservative 74.6%
Moderate 69.9%
Liberal 59.3%

Feminists, conservative guys are the most willing to take it on the chin for you. I suppose this reveals a deep chauvinism on their part for being unwilling to treat you as an equal, so audaciously putting your well-being before their own. They're probably more likely to hold the door open for you and pay for your dinner on the first date, too. Oh the patriarchy!

At September 13, 2009 at 2:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to sound as combative as your first respondent, I also found the "right to work" phrasing odd. It made me wonder after your definition of "work". Is "work," for you, the process of paid labor within a profession? If so, what could be some of the benefits of qualifying your definition? On the other hand, how does this definition privilege the public sphere and bourgeois endeavors? In other words, could this definition be both masculinist and classist?

To the disgruntled Rookh, are you familiar with the term "slumming it"? Enactment of this derogatory phrase can be found all along the political spectrum. Perhaps, you've missed out.

At September 15, 2009 at 2:07 AM , Anonymous Lilika01 said...

To Rookh Kshatriya:
1. Military draft (or any kind of draft) is wrong, whatever gender/age group/orientation/religion(or lack thereof) etc. It is discrimination no matter what, not to mention that drafting is morrally wrong to begin with.
2. While in some areas of the law there is female privelage, in just as many different areas there is male privelage. This has to be repaired in both areas.
3. misandry in the media and academia? what planet are you living on? many countries don't allow women even basic rights let alone an education, and in places like australia, us and uk women are still more descriminated against in the media and academia than men.
3.what do you mean by misandry in healthcare exactly? whilst things like life insurance and medical insurance are descriminatory towards men, it is mostly because men tend to die earlier than women; while it should be changed, untill men and women start dying at roughly the same age, and there are fewer male deaths from things like alcoholism (which is more frequent in men than women) insurance companies are going to discriminate.
If you're talking about hospitals etc. there is no evidence to suggest men get any worse care than women, in fact, in many countries women don't get appropriate prenatal or maternaty care because it isn't seen as important.

At September 15, 2009 at 11:27 AM , Anonymous Molly Borowitz said...

In hopes of reorienting the discussion toward Jordan's actual argument:

I could not agree more that anger is an important tool in every effective feminist's arsenal -- but only when it's directed toward productive ends. Anger is an appropriate emotion insofar as we're talking about PASSION, not MALICE. It's absolutely possible to maintain your credibility -- and perhaps even to improve it -- while expressing your passion for whatever you're writing/thinking/speaking/acting about. But it doesn't help feminists to be malicious or spiteful toward the institutions and behaviors we regard as anti-feminist; misandry and other forms of misplaced anger incur the "irrational" and "ungrateful" labels that Jordan mentioned. While it may be true that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the goal of feminism is not to create a hell on earth. We are articulate, intelligent, and passionate people: let's use our anger to prove that to anyone (Rookh Kshatriya, I'm looking at you) who might believe otherwise.

Also, a little plug: if you're an Angry Feminist, WRITE about your feelings! Join Equal Writes!

At September 16, 2009 at 4:59 PM , Anonymous Jordan said...

Thank you, Molly, for adding a necessary caveat. By advocating for feminists to get back in touch with their Angry side, I absolutely meant that this anger should be CONstructive rather than DEstructive. Anger, when harnessed for constructive purposes can be the emotional motivation people (or a whole group of people) need to accomplish widespread social change of the sort that we clearly need today. Along these lines, I should also note that "passion", a word which you use, Molly, might well be interchanged for "anger." We need passion even more than we need anger-- I was simply suggesting we might use one to accomplish the other!

I also want to briefly address Anonymous (who rationally raised the question that Rookh hysterically hinted at before dissolving into psychotic ramblings). I certainly understand that there were many flaws with the second wave feminist movement, not the least of which was the exclusion of the perspectives of lower class women and women of color, all of whom had no option but to work. It wasn't my intention to exclude those voices here, either. I was simply giving an introductory overview, in strokes perhaps a bit too broad, of the great strides for women of all class and color achieved in the 1960s by feminist who decided enough was enough.

Thanks for your comments, Molly and Anonymous! Rookh, it's time to adjust your meds.

At September 18, 2009 at 12:59 PM , Blogger Rookh Kshatriya said...

Hardly, considering that the vast majority of people around the Anglosphere agree with ME, not you. For example, in a recent poll 80% of British people thought it right that women should be drafted for dangerous roles during wartime. C'mon, everyone in the Anglosphere nowadays knows that working class and non-white males are treated like shit and that feminists are upper middle-class eccentric puritans still living in the Seventies. You amuse me, because your views just embody the structurated eccentricity and insularity of your class, even while you claim to be 'revolutionary'. You keep standing up, I'll keep knocking you down.

*I was simply giving an introductory overview, in strokes perhaps a bit too broad, of the great strides for women of all class and color achieved in the 1960s by feminist who decided enough was enough*

Oh, those great strides for working class nannies and black menial workers who take care of the kids you can't be bothered to and clean the tables at your University. God, their lives have been so transformed, haven't they? It's a revolution!

Pardon me, while I vomit...

I think I'll stick here awhile, you folks are the funniest thing since Monty Python.

At October 14, 2009 at 10:14 PM , Blogger Noralina said...

Hello Jordan,

Women's anger is an important force. One might read "The Dance of Anger" by Harriot Learner, for a groundbreaking exploration of the issue. But I would caution you, young sisters, that our anger is not and end, but a means. And I would remind you of another lyric from Ani's song, "Not a Pretty Girl": Every time I say something you find hard to hear, you chalk it up to my anger, and never to your own fear."

We can't be afraid of being labled as angry. Such a label is a weapon to silence us. But we also need to use our anger wisely.



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