Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco is a feminist. But she’s more than that. She is the reason that other people (men and women) are feminists. During her performance at the Westcott here in Syracuse Friday, February 5, she sang a piece inspired by an old working song from the 30’s. I don’t know what the original lyrics are, but I’m pretty sure that “feminism ain’t about women, that’s not who this is for” was not fashioned by the lovely Ms. DiFranco.

Now this is supposed to be a review of the concert, and I am going to do that, because it was my first time ever seeing her live and my life has officially been changed. However, I am also writing for a feminist magazine, and Ani has way too many interesting pieces to discuss in regards to her feminism to simply let that part slide. I was hoping she would do a couple of her extremely feminist songs at the show so that I would have a way to tie everything together but—oh well. I guess finding the common thread is my job. And actually that won’t be too difficult.

At the merchandise table, one of the t-shirts had what is possibly one of my favorite lines of hers pasted on it. It read “Feminism ain’t about equality, it’s about reprieve.” Isn’t that beautiful? The reason that so many people are feminists because of Ani DiFranco is because she gives them a legitimate reason.

When you see Ani perform live, it isn’t frightening. She isn’t some crazy lesbian butch maniac singing about roasting men over the fire. She is a tiny woman with a powerful voice and a whole string of powerful songs. She has the ability to entertain an audience—and she is a feminist. People assume because of her whole persona and because of her record label name and all of the things that anyone has ever heard about her that she is overwhelming and intimidating.

But that’s not true. I was actually surprised after listening to a couple of live albums of her music at how tame she was on stage. She made a couple of political jabs and she did her fair share of cursing at the audience, but she wasn’t preaching. And even though this wasn’t what I expected, it made me like her even more.

If you’re familiar with Ani’s music at all, she sang a lot of songs off her older albums and of course a lot of her classics—Napoleon has got to be one of the most energizing songs to hear live. She has a full band behind her but honestly she is so mesmerizing that you can’t really pay attention to them, except when the xylophone player has a kick-ass solo and everyone is cheering for him. It’s her and her guitar and the amazing lyrics that have the power to change your life and being in the room with all of these people who know every single word to every single song. That is an experience.

One of her songs, which she did not perform that evening but which always sticks with me, begs the question “why can’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists? Out of respect?” and I would like to know the answer. Ani makes identifying as a feminist something to be proud of – she markets it as a way of looking at the world, not the “bra burning, I don’t need a man” stereotype, but the idea of respect.

To Ani, feminism is the idea that the sexes be equal on all levels, and we still aren’t there yet. But we could be. And we should be. Most importantly, if everyone could get on board and realize the goal of feminism, wouldn’t we be a hell of a lot better off? I think she’s on to something. Maybe if life was like a giant Ani DiFranco concert everyone would understand. And hey, would that be such a bad thing?

Emmery Brakke


  1. I agree with you, Ani is awesome! :) I have learned so much from her.

  2. " it isn’t frightening. She isn’t some crazy lesbian butch maniac singing about roasting men over the fire." Damn, I'd gotten my hopes up.

    You know that big butch women can be awesome performers as well, right? (see KD Lang or Ma Rainey). There are also awesome agressive female singers, like Joan Jett. If DeFranco's feminism is made acceptable only by virtue of not being queer (which she actually is), butch,agressive, or a person with mental illnesses, then where does this model leave a big,loud, queer, butch, aspie like me? Feminism isn't only about little, able bodied, neurotypical, white ladies, or it isn't much of a feminism at all. The most important part of being a feminist isn't having the ability to not make men feel uncomfortable.

  3. Well I'm definitely sorry if I offended you, that wasn't my point at all. I love KD Lang and I am probably one of the most open minded and accepting people you will ever meet, but a lot of people aren't. I was merely saying that Ani kind of defies how people stereotype feminists, and while I don't have a problem with any of the stereotypes, since they are very frequently true, I think that it's important for people who have negative images of feminism to have people like Ani. I don't know, maybe my point was misguided but I certainly didn't mean for it to be offensive, if anything I was mocking what people THINK about feminism and kind of trying to show a different side. I apologize if you read it otherwise.

  4. I love apologies that aren't apologies. Sigh...I thought it was women who were supposed to be passive aggressive. Right? Are you with me? I think you might want to try again. Or, I don't know, better luck next time. The ironic Oughts are over, so what's my point?