Sunday, October 28, 2007
Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell and The Problem with Feminism
I was surfing the Internet today (as I do from time to time when I'm putting off doing real work), and I came across an online piece on Ani DiFranco in The Guardian entitled "I'm Considering a Revolution" (October 10, 2007). The article references an earlier piece DiFranco did for the LA Times, in which she interviewed venerable female artist Joni Mitchell, in the following paragraph:
Last year, the National Organisation for Women (NOW), America's largest feminist advocacy group, honoured DiFranco with a Woman of Courage award. She has always been outspoken about her feminism; in that same Joni Mitchell interview she suggested that her subject, who has been disparaging of feminism, might embrace the concept. Mitchell simply responded, "I prefer the company of men." DiFranco went on to write that "Either you are a feminist or you are a sexist/misogynist. There is no box marked 'other'" (Emphasis mine).
This isn't "courageous," it's narrow-minded and hypocritical. In fact, it's exactly the kind of aggressive dichotomizing and intolerance of diversity that feminists are always saying characterizes patriarchal thinking. I thought the cardinal sin of "phallogocentric" patriarchy was its tendency to sort the world into binary oppositions (like, say, feminist and sexist/misogynist), one of which (feminism, in this case) is privileged over the other.
Unless there is a kind of feminist logic at work here that is subtly "subversive" on a level beyond the understanding of a petit-bourgeois white male rube like me.
DiFranco's attitude is remarkably patronizing, bullying, and arrogant towards women who are unsympathetic to feminism's goals and aims, which profess to be about improving women's quality of life, but are (in my experience) more often locally and immediately concerned with securing status and opportunity for upwardly mobile career-feminists. This bears repeating: Feminist interests and women's interests are not identical. Feminism's support of women is "universal" only in the sense that it regards all women as targets for prosyletization, and DiFranco's treatment of Mitchell illustrates this point.
I love women, and I support them in their struggle for equality. It's ironic and disappointing that feminist discourse is so often characterized by bitter and virulent intolerance of any point of view other than its own.
I think the next frontier for women's liberation will be the freeing of the mature female worldview from the worst tonal excesses, political reductionism and skewed logic of 20th century feminism. These may then be consigned to the historical scrap heap with the rest of the rusting avant garde intellectual apparatus.
One can always hope, anyway.