Tag Archives: Ani Difranco

Fear Isn’t a Reason to Quit

In “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared,” Caroline Paul writes about being one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department.

“I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: ‘Aren’t you scared?’”

Read the rest of Paul’s piece in The New York Times here.

As Paul points out, women are raised to be afraid, of well, many things. Things that are gross, things that could hurt us, things that are physically intimidating, etc. Some fear is healthy, of course. Fear keeps us from acting completely irrationally or taking unnecessary risks.

But what about risks that are scary because we could possibly fail? Possibly be humiliated? I mean, let’s be real. What the hell is scarier than failure? Paul writes,

“When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone.”

Here lies the problem. As Paul states,

“We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”

When we treat young girls as more fragile, they come to think of themselves that way. They are less likely to take risks because they might bruise their knees or their egos. Paul writes,

“When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making.”

I fear failure, probably a little too much. It has made me timid in my decision making, opting to stay the course, and wait for better things to come along.

It’s not like parents raised me to be this timid girl. My mother raised me to a feminist. To have opinions. To try new things. I mean, my parents let me travel to another continent (without them) when I was in junior high.

Did they treat me different than my brothers? Yes. Some different treatment is necessary. Girls have to learn how to navigate the world we live in, after all. And that’s the point really.

Girls need to learn to look fear in the eye and try it anyway, knowing they might tumble, bloody their knees, and fail. Failure builds character. It makes us stronger. It makes us brave. Paul writes,

“When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning building.”

I was talking to a friend of mine about this piece. My friend has two daughters. Her take was she doesn’t want to raise her girls to be fearless, she wants to raise them to be smart and brave.

Sounds good to me. We could use more smart and BRAVE women out there in the world.

So this week, I thought I would try something different. I created a Spotify Playlist. It is my Fearless Mix. You may recognize a lot of these songs from earlier posts. 🙂


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Lessons in Femininity and Combat Boots

I remember exactly what I wore to my first Ani Difranco concert.

It was my junior year of high school. A group of us bought tickets to Ani’s show in Cedar Rapids.

The popularity of Ani Difranco in my small hometown of Hudson, IA was a little suspect. I mean, how did we hear about this little-known, radical folk singer? They certainly weren’t playing her on the radio in our hometown.

On this point, I am fuzzier. My friend Bridget must have introduced me to her, though I can’t remember the exact moment of discovery. We were probably cruising down some gravel roads in Bridget’s blue Mercury Cougar, bored out of our minds, and she popped in an Ani CD.


Some cool, older girls introduced Bridget to Ani a few years before. So the music of Ani Difranco spread from girl to girl to girl in our small town.

Little Plastic Castle was my first Ani album. It sounded a bit more accessible than some of her other albums. More pop, not quite as folk. But the lyrics on Little Plastic Castle are just as thoughtful as the rest of her albums.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong bass line or a beat that gets me tapping my toe. (Yes. I do actually tap my toe. Kinda lame, I know.) But I’ve always been a lyrics girl. I mean, I’m a writer.

I like words.

And Ani is an incredibly talented musician, but she is also a great songwriter. Her lyrics are thoughtful, provocative, humorous, sexy, and sometimes, sorrowful. She covers the gamut of human emotions. She never shies away from politics, perhaps the most well-known fact about her.

She is a fiercely pro-choice, anti-gun feminist who stands against big business. She created her own record label, Righteous Babe, so she could produce the kind of music she wanted to make. She does not give a fuck.

In the song “Little Plastic Castle,” she sings,

“And people talk about my image
Like I come in two dimensions
Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind
Like what I happen to be wearing
The day that someone takes a picture
Is my new statement for all of womankind

And I wish they could see us now
In leather bras and rubber shorts
Like some ridiculous new team uniform
For some ridiculous new sport
Quick someone call the girl police
And, and file a report.”

Ani is not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure. Many of my liberal, music-loving friends find her music distasteful. I mean, folk singers aren’t for everybody, right?

But for me and my friends, Ani was it. She was outspoken. She was fierce. She was real.

Ani also represented a different kind of femininity than the one being jammed down our throats on the daily. And she looked comfortable in her own skin- dreadlocks, combat boots, and all.

And I don’t think many of us were comfortable in our skin yet. I certainly was not.

Though I lacked confidence in other areas, I didn’t doubt my ability to put an outfit together. I’ve been into sequins and acid bright prints since I was old enough to pull my pants up.

In junior high and high school, it was vinyl pants, pale pink patent leather Mary Janes, rings on every finger, a chain wallet, baggy pants, and an endless assortment of baby tees. There were many looks of Pam.

But the Ani concert required a particularly volcanic ensemble (to steal a phrase from Pretty in Pink). I wore a hot pink V-neck sweater that was edged with red sequins, an orange, floral print skirt with side slits, fishnets, and of course, my own pair of Doc Marten combat boots.

At the concert, we watched Ani clump around stage in her big, combat boots with her dreads flying. She tore our hearts out with every pluck of the guitar. She was the kind of woman we all wanted to be. And seeing her live just cemented our love for Ani.

I own sixteen of her albums. My girl is also incredibly prolific. And I’ve seen her probably nine times since that first concert.

And every time, she makes me dance and smile. And every time, I leave feeling a little bit fiercer, a little more fearless, a little bit more comfortable in my own skin.


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