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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Track 2: Indebted Joyfully

Grand Canyon
Written and Performed by Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco is a woman on fire.  I mean that she is a prolific song-writer, a gifted guitar player and singer, a mother, a feminist, an activist, a poet, owner of her own record label.  Many of her songs are autobiograhical, and many are political.  

This poem, "Grand Canyon," mostly a political poem,  speaks to DiFranco's dialectical relationship with the United States of America; a relationship made clear in the opening stanza:

I love my country.
By which I mean, 
I am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right.
Where so many cunning sons and daughters,
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter, 
came through hell and high water, 
so that we could stand here,
and behold breathlessly the sight, 
how a raging river of tears 
cut a grand canyon of light.
 The opening line of the poem feels like a confession coming from a woman who has so often been in opposition with the politics and popular culture present in the United States.  Many of her other works make her opinion clear, through lines like, "Who's gonna be president, tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber?"  and on the discovery of a slave cemetery, "may their souls rest easy now that lynching is frowned upon.  We've moved on to the electric chair."  

The sarcastic tone present in those lines is no where to be found in "Grand Canyon."  DiFranco speaks honestly and plainly, but with a razor edge to her tongue.  

DiFranco makes a point of including both genders in her mention of our political ancestors, the  "cunning sons and daughters,"  who would become our "foremothers and forefathers."  This sense of equality echoes through the rest of the poem.  Where feminists have been labeled as extremist man-haters, DiFranco, who is proud to call herself a feminist, pays homage to both genders.  

DiFranco looks closely at our past and present culture, noting, for example,  stewardesses on airplanes;
Yes I've been so many places, 
flown through vast empty spaces
with stewardesses whose hands 
look much older than their faces
The women she describes here are still in the clutches of a culture preaching the value of youth is greater than the value of age.  Presumably, the stewardesses have clung to their youthful faces by way of lotions and serums, spa treatments, perhaps a chin tuck or an eye lift

 The position of stewardess on a major airline, glamorized in the 1960's, is stereotypically filled by beautiful young women who obey the beck and call of their passengers, bring drinks and fluff pillows.  Flight Attendants, as they are currently called in an effort to be politically correct, were, and still are, rarely men.  The expected role of a woman as a subservient caretaker fits the job description nicely.  

The stewardesses DiFranco describes have begun to age, but their plastic faces do not show their years of constant travel.  Instead, we see their wrinkled hands serving yet another diet coke with ice in a plastic cup.   

In another verse, DiFranco praises the early feminists and activists,  and is 

Shocked to tears by each new vison
of all that my ancestors have done.

Like, say, the women who gave their lives 
So that I could have one. 

People, we're standing at ground zero of the feminist revolution. 
Yeah, it was an inside job, 
stoic and sly, 
one we're supposed to forget, and downplay and deny, 
but I think the time is nothing
if not nigh, 
to let the truth out!
Coolest F-word ever deserves a fucking shout!

I mean, why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists?
out of respect, 
for those who fought for this?

I mean, look around.
We have this. 

By "this," she refers to the country we live in, the civil rights and equality now present in our constitution.  She stands in gratitude and awe of women like Susan Brownwell Anthony, leader of the Women's suffrage movment, and others like her, brave women who simply believed in equality and freedom for all, regardless of gender or race. 

Where Fergie is playing an Uncle Tom, blinded by the popular ideology and unaware of her  subservient role, yet determined to be the best sex object she can be, DiFranco, in her refusal to buy into the current popular ideology, and her determination to bring awareness of the ideology to to others, she becomes truly empowered as a woman.  

I am reading Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in one of my classes, and we were talking about how Cleopatra's role as a woman is incredibly different than any other woman in Shakespearian literature.  Some women, like Antony's Roman wife, Fulvia, vie for power with the men, abandoning femininity in their quest for equality.  Fulvia is a warrior, but no longer feminine.  Other women, like Octavia, the sister of Octavius Caesar and Antony's second bride, embrace their femininity, but are resigned to the subservience demanded of females.  Cleopatra manages to be both feminine and warrior.  She is respected, not only for her beauty, but for her mind, for the aura of power surrounding her.  She is famously described by Enobarbus, a Roman soldier under Antony's command;

I think Ani DiFranco is a sort of modern day Cleopatra, and her brand of feminism is concerned with equality.   Women should not be required to behave like men to gain empowerment, but that women should be respected on the basis of their womanhood.   

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