Unlike Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, whose work can be interpreted as feminist, Ani Difranco’s work cannot be interpreted any other way. Difranco’s artistic manifesto rallies against patriarchy (among other social injustices) and rejects male privilege, the commodification of women’s bodies, and heteronormative standards of beauty. She exerts these views in a way that is explicit, unapologetic, and at times argumentative, but maintains a soft, folky musical style that appeals to a relatively mainstream audience. This method of resistance, surely influence by second wave feminism and Riot Grrrl, is one that cannot be misconstrued and is hard to ignore.
Ani Difranco’s proud and blatant support of feminism and its causes courses through her entire body of musical work and is clearly an important part of her self-identity. Even during her 1998 interview of Joni Mitchell, a staunch non-feminist female musician and surely a woman she deeply admires musically, she asserts her feminist views. During that interview she makes the statement that, “the only people who are not feminist are those who believe that women are inherently inferior or undeserving of the respect and opportunity afforded men. Either you are a feminist or you are a sexist/misogynist. There is no box marked other” (Difranco). This bold statement is typical of Difranco’s intolerance toward gender inequality and those who, advertently or inadvertently, support it. Language is a weapon for Ani Difranco and her lyrics chastise the gender biases and double standards in society held up by patriarchal values.
Difranco articulates a feminist critique of how the female body is constructed in North American society. McCarthy suggests that Difranco uses her own body in ways that resist and subvert normative social constructions of gender (71) and is highly critical of how the female body is kept in a state of perpetual anxiety through idealized notions of womanhood put forth by mainstream media. The way in which bodies are presented can be powerful in projecting social messages and personal beliefs, and altering the way others view and relate to their own bodies. Difranco utilizes this capability of her own body as a tool to challenge heteronormative restrictions of femininity. She rejects conventional standards of beauty and adopts alternative gender scripts such as a shaved head, or combat boots with a short skirt to subvert the limited versions of femininity deemed acceptable by mainstream society (72). By rejecting the virgin-whore dichotomy that dominates the visual narratives of popular culture, her body becomes a performance site to manipulate and resist cultural expectations of gender.
The reclamation of sexual desire as something integral to female identity and adopting alternative gender scripts allow Ani Difranco to transcend narrow expectations of femininity (71). Further, the use of typically masculine aggression to disrupt “the binary of male agency and female objectification” (72) is very effective in Difranco’s work as it was in bands within the Riot Grrrl movement. McCarthy argues that, “because of rock music’s overwhelmingly masculine character, women’s very presence within it is marked as gender significant” (72). The use of traditionally masculine sexual aggression and rage in women’s music, somewhat subtly utilized by Ani Difranco, acts as a rejection of feminine nicety rather than a celebration of masculinity and male aggression.
Ani Difranco takes advantage of the space carved out by Riot Grrrl and other musicians before her to assert creative control over her entire musical process and express her dissatisfaction for sexism and misogyny in a straight forward, explicit, and surprisingly soft way.