Feminist Songs…: Day 10, I don’t need to be rescued

Director of Women’s Studies Alison Reiheld shares her thoughts on one of her favorite songs by a long-favored artist, Ani DiFranco.  DiFranco’s work was nominated for the feminist song series by several people including Edwardsville local Kayci Combs Leuker and Shailushi Baxi Ritchie, President of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and Board Member for About Face, an organization dedicated to countering negative media images aimed at young women. 

I first discovered Ani DiFranco my freshman year in college. To earn money for tuition, I was working for instructional technologies. Among other things, we ran the sound booth in the campus auditorium for concerts. I was on duty the night Ani DiFranco played our small college.

I had never heard of her before, but as a budding feminist I was pleased as punch to help out with a mid-1990’s concert raising funds to help women who had been sexually assaulted and raped in the war in Bosnia. This was both my first introduction to Ani and my first introduction to the notion of rape as a weapon of war. On both fronts, it was a revelation.

Ani’s career took off within a few years and she formed her own record label, Righteous Babe Records.

ani
Ani has many feminist-flavored songs, some quite queer, others about economic justice. One of my favorites has always been “Not A Pretty Girl”, however. It is an anthem to self-definition, to bucking norms of femininity.

And I can still sing every word and every pitch and every drawn out shift from note to note on every song off of the album of the same name.

In addition to self-definition, and indeed as part of it, Ani addresses the common reaction to feminist or other criticism of mainstream structures or people’s actions: “You are so angry! I don’t have to listen to your irrational emotional statements.” I’ve presented versions of a paper on this drawing on the work of white, latina, and black feminist philosophers, including at the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference and next winter at the American Philosophical Association. I begin with Audre Lorde‘s discussion of how, critiquing white feminists, she receives the response afterwards from a white feminist: “I can’t hear you when you’re angry.” When Ani confronts this dismissive response, she sings:

i am not an angry girl
but it seems like i’ve got everyone fooled
every time i say something they find hard to hear
they chalk it up to my anger
and never to their own fear
and imagine you’re a girl
just trying to finally come clean
knowing full well they’d prefer you
were dirty and smiling

This latter also reminds me of the common injunction from both acquaintances and strangers to women who are tired and worn out and maybe even, yes, a little bit angry to “smile, baby!” “smile, sweetheart!” “smile, insert-diminuitive-here!” Street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh confronts these approaches to women in her work which includes these two posters.

MLK Blvd Oakland

MLK Blvd Oakland

i am not here for you

If you want to learn Ani’s “Not A Pretty Girl”, or read the lyrics as you listen, or want to know about the song without the ability to play or listen to the video, you can find the lyrics to “Not A Pretty Girl” below the video (along with a second Ani song suggested by Shailushi Baxi Ritchie). I hope it works for you as much as it works for me.

LYRICS
i am not a pretty girl
that is not what i do
i ain’t no damsel in distress
and i don’t need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair
isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

i am not an angry girl
but it seems like i’ve got everyone fooled
every time i say something they find hard to hear
they chalk it up to my anger
and never to their own fear
and imagine you’re a girl
just trying to finally come clean
knowing full well they’d prefer you
were dirty and smiling

and i am sorry
i am not a maiden fair
and i am not a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

and generally my generation
wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man
and generally i agree with them
trouble is you gotta have yourself an alternate plan
and i have earned my disillusionment
i have been working all of my life
and i am a patriot
i have been fighting the good fight
and what if there are no damsels in distress
what if i knew that and i called your bluff?
don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down
whether or not you ever show up

i am not a pretty girl
i don’t want to be a pretty girl
no i want to be more than a pretty girl

P.S.- Shailushi suggests you also check out “Joyful Girl” for a fairly nuanced ode to a particular selfhood.

 

 

 

 

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