I don't know how, but I didn't get into Ani DiFranco until this past year. Something got lost along the way in my feminist education and I missed out on this particular feminist voice and inspiration. But what with recently breaking up with the boyfriend, Ani has entered my musical rotation.
In clicking about Ani's library on Youtube this afternoon, I happened across DiFranco's song, "Not a Pretty Girl."
Now, I'd like you to pause a moment and reflect before you listen to the song: What do you think it's about?
Our Taylor Swift trained minds probably hear that title and leap immediately to a self-pitying anthem about how "I know I'm not pretty but you make me feel beautiful" etc. The default for so many seems to be "I'm not pretty but a man can change that," (ala Darren Hayes' "So Beautiful").
Now, give it a listen.
Instead, upon listening, one finds a feminist anthem. A girl who refuses to be reduced to her physical beauty, a girl who refuses to be rescued because she does not need to be. The speaker proclaims that she is not a kitten stuck up in a tree, and even if she was, "every kitten figures out how to get down whether or not you ever show up."
I am not alone in identifying with this song. Indeed, it's nothing new in the feminist sphere. But I do feel the need to say this: the church has a huge problem with reducing women to their physicality while attempting to be counter-cultural.
We are "counter-cultural" when we claim that beauty is inside - it is the heart that makes a woman beautiful. Her personality, her heart for Jesus, her love of others makes her beauty shine to the heavens. All these things work to increase her charm. The conversation is still mired in this idea of beauty - we are still discussing women in terms of beautiful or ugly. Ani's song give the finger to that entire concept.
In attempting to mitigate a negative cultural influence - ie, the reduction of a woman to her physical attractiveness - quite frequently the church's rhetoric still reduces a woman to attractiveness, just of a different type. Her beauty or lack thereof is the most important thing about her, except we call it 'inner beauty' and that somehow makes it different, though no one has ever been able to explain to me how it doesn't ultimately reduce back to attraction. We see this rhetoric in the Eldredges' Captivating and in frequent magazine articles aimed at Christian singles. We still end up with the same conclusion: that the most important thing about a woman is her beauty.
And Ani DiFranco and I seem to have arrived at the same conclusion: Why affirm beauty at all? Rather than saying "your heart for Jesus makes you beautiful," why not just say that "you have a good heart"? The best thing my parents ever did was affirm my intelligence separately from my beauty - they didn't connect the two.
Sure, tell people they're attractive. It is important. I've done it myself. But demarcate a little. Rather than saying, "you're attractive because of this presumably not shallow reason," just say "you're pretty," and then affirm the deeper thing separately? "You're pretty, and you have a heart for Jesus!" "You're pretty, and wow, you're so smart!" See how easy it is?
Let's divorce the discussion of a person's qualities from their potential attractiveness. I am not a pretty girl, and I don't need to be.