Growing up, my dad and I had a complicated relationship. Both stubborn, we never seemed to agree on much. “You read too much Jacqueline Wilson!” he’d (often) tell me, citing my favorite author as the reason for my man-hating. In retrospect, he had a point; of all the Jacqueline Wilson books I read — and trust me, I read many — I can’t recall one with a likable male figure. They were always deadbeat dads or abusive boyfriends. Still, I couldn’t understand why my dad disliked these novels that, for me, were nothing but empowering. These messy, ambitious girls that Wilson so lovingly crafted shaped the person I am today, and twelve-year-old me would’ve told her that if she wasn’t paralyzed by fear, meeting her spunky, chunky ring-bearing idol at a WHSmith signing. I concluded my dad must be anti-feminist, or rather, anti-woman — “feminism,” not yet part of my lexicon.
It seems I must have internalized this image of my dad for, despite his recent interest in Woman’s Hour, my reaction to discovering he may be responsible for my feminist-y music taste was unsettling. Belting The Chicks, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” in the bathtub, I was on Spotify when the app’s Genius feature popped up. I had always assumed the song was about a breakup, so I was surprised when Genius told me the song was actually a response to backlash the band received for criticizing US President at the time, George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. This was back in 2003 before every celebrity was an activist and before country music had somewhat of a makeover (thank you, Kacey Musgraves). “Huh, that was pretty brave of them,” I thought, reading about how country radio dropped them, and fans turned on them — burning their CDs in protest. To use today’s term, they were cancelled, and this is referenced in the music video of the song which has the three Chicks do their best Salem Witch impression. Against an archaic backdrop, the girls are brandished, face public execution, and are forced to undergo a series of punishments, e.g., repetitively chalk the words, “to talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming” on a blackboard. These scenes intercut with The Chicks in modern-day, strumming and plucking passionately at their instruments as one sings, “and how in the world can the words that I said, send somebody so over the edge that they’d write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over?” Implicit is the question: how far have we really come as a society if a woman can’t be herself without being publicly dragged for her opinion, or worse — fearing her life?
All of this, from a music video. I was impressed, but more so intrigued by the questions that came once it ended. I had grown up listening to The Chicks — listening to this song in my dad’s car. Was he privy to their activism? Had he known their legacy as country music’s few feminist bands? Did he understand the meaning behind their powerful words? Or (perhaps, subconsciously) enjoy their songs for them? A prune at this point, I sat as a reel of female artists began presenting themselves to me. P!NK, Tracy Chapman, Alanis Morissette… these women all had something in common: a feminist following and my dad’s endorsement.
What the fuck? Had I been… wrong?
Image courtesy of Brittani Burns