GW at the millennium: Female folk singers send message via music

Another wave of girl power is starting to hit mainstream America, but instead of platforms and hot pants, these women push the envelope with activist lyrics and counter-culture beauty standards.

Throughout the last quarter of this century, women musicians have been banging on their drums, strumming their guitars and singing louder and louder to make their voices audible to the public. But even without radio stations providing substantial air time, these feminist singers fill up concert venues with fans who sing along with every note, with an intense passion, as if the words were their own.

Junior Sheila Ashdown, who lists Ani diFranco, Indigo Girls and Dar Williams among her favorites, said women often listen to female singers to encourage their own budding feminism and activism.

Girls are growing up stronger, and they’re looking for music to relate to, she said. (Feminist singers) give them a connection to other empowered women.

GW Professor Bonnie Morris, author of a book on the history of women’s music festivals, said the first incarnations of feminist music festivals came in the 1970s. Many of these festivals, such as the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, are still going strong today. She said most college students have never heard of the movement in the 1970s but identify with singers, such as diFranco and Bikini Kill, who express many of the same ideas as the older generation.

Ashdown said she always gets excited when she meets other devout followers of feminist music, and she has gotten accustomed to the weird looks she gets when people first view her CD collection.

When people look at my CDs, they assume I’m a lesbian – I get a lot of that, she said with a laugh. But Ani’s message is that it’s definitely OK to be a feminist – and a feminist with a sense of humor – and you can be in love, can like men and still be a feminist.

Morris said she feels mainstream America is more accepting of female singers now, but a fear still exists about identifying oneself with the feminist stigma.

If you like women’s music, everyone assumes you’re gay or earthy crunchy granola, said Morris, a lesbian. It saddens me that the idea exists that if a woman cares about what women do, she must want to sleep with them.

Morris said many young college women also identify with the alternative beauty message that singers exemplify, such as the tattooed and pierced diFranco, who proclaims proudly in a song that she is Not a Pretty Girl.

But outside feminist message and their Y chromosomes, the success of female singers also has to do with great lyrics and a great sound, Morris said.

If they weren’t talented, it’d be different, she said.

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