music in women
May 28, 2002 12:42 PM

We came late to Lilith Fair. To skip the sunburn and the sweating, smelling throngs. We came intending to hear mainly the Indigo Girls, and with no particular agenda.

I could never be transformed by something that involved walking so far and standing amidst so many people smelling of food. [I'm enochlophobic, meaning crowds and their movements generally send my fingernails digging into my palm.] Still, I think of women's music festivals as this icon of music as a vehicle for feminism. A sort of accidental consciousness-raising for fourteen year old girls. A brilliant idea, and all that.

But. The existence of this "women's music" concept makes me wary. A little. Because it implies, not even implies, but outright screams, that music is by default a thing of men. At the same token, as with any "women's" things, it also restores. It's a vehicle for popularizing "girl power", the spelling of girl with two r's (not quite riot grrrl r's, but not the demure one-r spelling, either), the notion of women as womyn and wimmin and ladies in a we-read-Bust-and-knit-because-we-can sort of way.

I see so many of these newly empowered girls through things like the zine (by the way, the May issue's coming, I swear - I'm doing it manually!). Girls who heard Kathleen Hanna or Ani DiFranco and fell so much in love with that music that they adopt the politics of their favorite artists. People come to new opinions most often by hearing those opinions spoken by a trusted voice. It's not a question of weak-mindedness, but simply the way we are.

So this music becomes, as a result of all the other messages and products carried with it, a catalyst for politicizing women and girls. It's not a long distance for the mind to go from "women's music" and daisy-shaped guitars to research and activism.

That said, I can't say there's a particular genre or artist that politicized me. [Not where feminism is concerned, at least. The Indigo Girls' Native American activism certainly turned me on to the LPDC, for instance.] But women's music (in as much as it's defined as music made by women) was a key element in what I think I'll call my "hmm" pause.

The hmm pause was very clearly influenced by my simultaneous acquisition of Cunt (the book) and Bitch (the magazine) some years ago. Basically, the hmm pause was a secular Lenten promise. I decided one spring not to give up things of men, but to take on the things of women. I read only books by women, listened to only music by women, immersed myself in women for about a month. My immersion was not, in retrospect, as multicultural as it could have been, but it was an effort.

And. It was catalysing. It drew me out of "I'm not a feminist, but" and into a need to redefine the term from the inside.

What happened was: I stopped thinking of these things as being of women. They became, not women's culture, but simply the culture I lived in. And, as a result, I started to see all the differences between women, the changing balance of many different feminisms, the inequities of feminism, and the conflicts that seemed unresolvable. This all pointed to one thing: the essence of feminism.

Despite faults and mistakes of history, all feminisms share one common cause: choices. Not choices in the narrow sense used in the abortion debate (though that is, of course, one choice), but in the broadest possible sense. Feminism is about having the power to choose your own life. By necessity, it incorporates equality on all fronts: race, gender, etc. - because inequal choice isn't really choice at all.

These ideas weren't sitting on the branches of the music I listened to; they weren't ripe fruit. But that music cultivated these ideas. Planted seeds.

Like a fourteen year old girl whose ears blossom at Lilith Fair, my hmm pause led me to continue on thinking. And it became the engine of my feminism.

(This entry was brought to you by We Have Brains.)

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