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?