February 26, 2010

Ani DiFranco: On feminism and becoming a mom

AVERY YALE

— Cover StoryBy KAMILA

Staff Writer

If you think feminism is dead, you should see Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco.

She'll be swinging through New England this month with shows scheduled in Rockland on Saturday and Foxborough and Salisbury, Mass., next weekend. Each performance is sure to include her political message, which blends equality and social justice with a robust antiwar stance.

When asked whether or not feminism remains relevant today, DiFranco laughed and wondered if any other questions were planned. She said she could easily eat up a whole interview answering that one query.

''A lot of people get duped into thinking the work of feminism is done,'' DiFranco said. ''The state of feminism is saddening to me. It's been abandoned and de-prioritized when it should have become more important.

''We really have to talk about feminism in a new, deeper way. Feminism is for everybody because patriarchy hurts everybody. Patriarchy run amok is as hurtful for men as it is for women.''

DiFranco believes America's patriarchal society -- and by extension the culture's male-centric world view -- ''dominates every thought, law and structure.'' This is illustrated by our country's ongoing wars, she said, which fit the typically male emphasis on rigid hierarchy and relative power, versus the more female perspective, which sees the world as a network of equally important individuals.

In spite of these ongoing challenges, DiFranco thinks women have benefited from the tremendous progress feminists have brought to society during the past century.

''The work of feminism has been miraculous,'' she said. ''My life, my sense of possibilities, the degree to which I'm taken seriously is all radically different from my mother, let alone my grandmother.''

When DiFranco gave birth to a daughter three years ago, it served to heighten her awareness of sexism and inequality. Plus, it gave her ample opportunity to explore her own internal struggles.

She considered this experience on her latest album, 2008's ''Red Letter Year,'' particularly in the track ''Present/Infant.''

''The whole thing of becoming a mom is new little things to think about,'' DiFranco said. '''Present/Infant' was an early reflection. She's squinty and purple and ugly in the way I'm ugly.''

Seeing her daughter in such a raw state forced DiFranco to examine her own personal demons surrounding the pressure to conform to the supermodel ideal.

''This song was a tool I used to whittle away my profound heartbreak,'' she said. ''I needed to address my own self-loathing so she knows she's perfect.''

One way DiFranco has held on to her individuality and bucked the trend toward corporate homogeneity is by starting her own label, Righteous Babe Records, in the early 1990s. Asked how this affected her career, DiFranco didn't hesitate before saying, ''completely and totally.''

''It was not because of my business genius,'' she said. ''It was because of my political ideology being so strong. The idea of getting into bed with big business to do my art was unacceptable to me. My career might have been bigger but going down this path is much more stable and liberating.''

Other artists on the Righteous Babe label include Anais Mitchell and Erin McKeown. Righteous Babe also gave Maine producer Kendall Morse a home for his tribute CD to folk legend Utah Phillips, which has earned a Grammy nomination.

DiFranco's decision to go her own way hasn't hurt her productivity. She has more than 20 albums to her credit, and is often on the road performing before devoted crowds of fans.

When she's not touring, DiFranco calls New Orleans home and enjoys taking in the city's live music and street music scenes when she gets the chance.

''This is a town full of freaks,'' she said. ''Costuming is a daily affair in New Orleans. My spirit resonates with all of it.''

With a new band backing her up, DiFranco is sure to bring a bit of that New Orleans vibe to her stage shows. She intends to play material she's working on for her next album (which is about half recorded and should be released in the fall) along with tracks from ''Red Letter Year'' and other albums. Her diehards fans will likely request favorites such as ''Your Next Bold Move,'' ''Buildings and Bridges'' and ''32 Flavors.''

''I think my shows are consistently in the moment,'' DiFranco said. ''My philosophy is to play what I'm feeling that day and try to change it up.''

It's a fluid approach sure to make any feminist proud.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

IF YOU GO

ANI DIFRANCO with Gaby Moreno

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Strand Theatre, 345 Main St., Rockland

COST: $52

CONTACT: 594-0070; www.rocklandstrand.com

WHAT ELSE: DiFranco will also perform at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Showcase Live in Foxboro, Mass. ($30; www.ticketmaster.com), and at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at Tupelo Music Hall in Salisbury, Mass. ($40; www.tupelohallsalisbury.com).

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