Exile in Girlville

A couple months ago, the re-release of Exile in Guyville hit the feminist blogosphere like a vibrator to the sweet spot.

Stacy May over at Shameless exhorted everyone to “Come Back to Guyville,” writing:

When my parents decided to move me from my Canadian home to the southern US, I listened to that album over and over the entire drive. I was an angry, angsty grrrl and it was the perfect soundtrack. That album understood me and my burgeoning sexuality, understood my frustrations and yearnings, understood my recent realization that life was kind of a pain in the ass. That album was my first taste of celebrated female anger and empowered female sexuality (Flower, anyone?) Heck, it was my first taste of feminism and I loved it. I loved it over and over again – so much I wore the tape down and had to buy a new copy. It was an awakening.

Ann from Feministing wrote about Exile in Guyville and her feminist click moment.

Kate Harding called it the album that made her a feminist.

And the Jezebelians dedicated quite a few posts to Liz and Exile.

In the midst of all the ringing endorsements, it felt as if I was missing something huge. Somewhere in my turbulent teen years, I had missed a bedrock of feminism! How could this have happened? Since I generally identify as a feminist (on clear sky days, with a low bullshit count) I couldn’t believe that something as important as Exile in Guyville had slipped under my radar.

I immediately surfed over to YouTube to get all the Liz Phair goodness I could.

I listened to “Flower.” Then I went to “Fuck and Run.” I spent some time pondering “Hot White Cum,” switched over to “The Divorce Song” and then, listened to “6”1.”

After that I gave up.

I checked studio tracks and live performances. I listened for most of the afternoon. But after a few hours burned on YouTube, Liz Phair’s music still left me cold. I looked at the lyrics. I love women with guitars. Everything should have fallen into place. But it didn’t.

Liz Phair didn’t move me at all.

Confused, I composed an email to all of my homegirls, asking them for their thoughts on Guyville. Perhaps one of them understood the mythos of Liz Phair and feminism. I held my breath and hit send.

But, I came back with nothing. Most of the women I sent the email to never even heard of the album. They only had vague memories of Liz Phair, if they knew her at all. Then, I got a response that clarified a lot of the questions swirling around in my head:

I’ve never really be able to get into Liz Phair. Reading Latoya’s question made something click for me – I think along with Le Tigre, L7 and Sleater Kinney it’s a kinda of early 90’s riot grrrl thing that I don’t get – because either/both
1) I wasn’t in North America in the 90’s
2) Like, for eg the anti-consumerist/anti-globalisation movement, it’s a response to a cultural experience I never had.

I feel like the anti-consumerist/anti-globalisation/white anarchist hippie movement is a response to growing up in middle-class white suburbia. So a lot of the language and values that underpin the movement don’t really resonate with me, though a lot of the ideas might. The movement has trouble recognising that it’s part of the culture it critiques – which I think is why it’s generally a hostile place for people of colour. It can’t recognise its own racism/white-centeredness/racial insensitivitity.

The same thing for feminism – mainstream feminism can’t recognise that it’s responding to white women’s needs, rather than women’s needs, ie that the default person is white and that influences feminism. […]

I think Exile in Guyville (from half-listening to it while my roommates’ listened to it and knowing all the words to that one that goes “fuck and run.” Maybe called “Fuck and Run”?) is a response to going to a predominantly white, middle-class suburban high school and being a white girl, and dealing with white girl pressures.

Uh-oh…is this a white thing I couldn’t understand?

Another friend wrote a reply, saying:

[…] I think a lot of the feminist-leaning publications, for example, are pretty obvious in their mission to please white women. For example, I read Bust and enjoy it, but often find myself thinking…hmm I think this speaks more to my roommate or white friends or hipsters on my block than say a girl like me. And while I am happy to know that Bust includes women of color in its ads and articles, I sometimes feel like I am reading about them more from an observer’s point of view than from one written by someone who identifies with the piece.

I took a little time to think over the responses. Obviously, women of color are not a monolith, so there had to be some women of color, somewhere, who identified with the sentiments of Liz Phair. So maybe I just didn’t ask enough people. However, it also gives me pause that the women I emailed came from varying countries and racial backgrounds, and somehow came to the same conclusion – that Liz Phair’s music was not for us.

That email conversation has been on my mind for the last few months, because to me, it illustrates a lot of the difficulties in uniting under the common umbrella of feminism. The women who relate to Liz Phair feel as though that was a defining album, a pivotal pop-culture addition to the feminist cannon.

And that assumption is fine.

If Liz Phair found a way to articulate your truths and mold them into lyrics that still resonate after more than a decade, that is a wonderful thing. Many of us use music and lyrics to provide insight into our wold, to understand what we are going through, to provide a balm to our aches and the provide the background sound to our celebrations.

The problem comes in when we assume that everyone feels, thinks, or experiences things in the same way. The mainstream feminist canon is limited precisely because it excludes so many voices from the narrative.

So many herstories are written out, because they present an incongruent view of what feminism should be. Or perhaps, because they present the contradictions inherent in feminist thinking – that women live different lives, define liberation differently, have different goals that trying to encompass all the voices becomes tiring. Instead of creating space, making more room for these conflicting yet familiar stories, the tendency is to marginalize voices, to quiet them, to push them off the page.

Liz Phair doesn’t speak to me. Women like Queen Latifah do, as their words are closer to my experience. In my life, there was no room for whispers, no shrinking into corners – black women are expected to be unceasingly strong, able to handle anything, able to deliver what ever it takes to put someone in their place.

I couldn’t get with Liz Phair’s quiet guitar strumming and quiet voice, especially not when booming tracks like “U.N.I.T.Y.” were informing my feminism from early on. Check the verse:

one day I was walking down the block
I had my cutoff shorts on right cause it was crazy hot
I walked past these dudes when they passed me
One of ’em felt my booty, he was nasty
I turned around red, somebody was catching the wrath
Then the little one said (Yeah me bitch) and laughed
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly
Huh, I punched him dead in his eye and said “Who you calling a bitch?”

Different lives. Different approaches.

But this isn’t a bad thing.

Ideally, we could have a feminism dedicated to encompassing all our voices. The girls who rock to Liz Phair could do their thing, my girls who are rocking to TLC and Salt-N-Pepa can keep checking for our set, the girls who found what they needed in their worlds in glimpses of feminine rebellion during a rock video – all of us. The folk rockers, the riot grrls, the feminist punks, the rock-a-billy queens and country rebels – we have all got a space at the table.

As Joan Morgan wrote in the founding hip-hop feminist tome, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,
feminism needs all our voices:

More than any other generation before us, we need a feminism committed to “keeping it real.” We need a voice like our music – one that samples and layers many voices, injects its sensibilities into the old and flips it into something new, provocative, and powerful. And one whose occasional hypocrisy, contradictions, and trifeness guarantee us at least a few trips to the terror-dome, forcing us to finally confront what we’d all rather hide from.

We need a feminism that possesses the same fundamental understanding held by any true student of hip-hop. Truth can’t be found in the voice of any one rapper but in the juxtaposition of many. The keys that unlock the riches of contemporary black female identity lie not in choosing Latifah over Lil’ Kim, or even Foxy Brown over Salt-N-Pepa. They lie at the magical intersection of where those contrary voices meet – the juncture where “truth” is no longer black and white but subtle, intriguing shades of gray.

60 comments for “Exile in Girlville

  1. Nia
    September 4, 2008 at 6:45 am

    I can’t exactly relate, as I have lived for most of my life in a racially homogeneous place. But it reminds me of how it felt growing up listening to Alanis Morisette and thinking “um, yeah, fine, but it’s not _that_ special” and then discovering Ani diFranco, to realise that Alanis was singing from a 100% heterosexual viewpoint.

  2. Crys T
    September 4, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Great post, Latoya, and its conclusions say several things that are long overdue to be generally accepted within mainstream feminism. I hope this sparks off ideas and conversation here.

    Can I add that even as a white, middle-class woman, stuff like Liz Phair and what’s-her-name, that musician who set up her own record label in the 90s and all the US-based white feminists worshipped several years back…shit, I can’t remeber her name…well, their music doesn’t resonate for me, either. Because I’m about 10 years older than the core group of the women who are currently the online voice of feminism, and because I haven’t lived in the US since 1991. And because my whole world doesn’t exist in English. (Ani freakin’ DiFranco!!! That’s who it is: thank you, Google!)

    A lot of the time, I read what is supposed to be unprobematically “women’s experience” or “feminist thought” and I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. I can only imagine how alienating it must be for women who are even further outside of the in-group’s orbit.

    Feminism in general needs to really accept that idea of many shades of gray and keep it at the forefront or it’s sunk as a movement. It can’t expect to continually posit a tiny minority as the norm and all other women as Others, even if it’s as People “We” Need to get Inclusive About, and succeed.

    Every couple of months there seems to be a new crisis with the Ingroup doing/saying things–usually but by no means always racist things–that seriously offend other women. A huge fight ensues and the aftermath is always that more women are so alienated that they decide to reject the label “feminist.” Every time it happens, I find it dismaying and totally demoralising.

    Without a real commitment to recognising the myriad shades of gray as central to feminism, not just giving them token and occasional nods, we’re finished.

  3. September 4, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Wow, Latoya, your posts here have been some of the most interesting & engaging material I’ve read on the feminist blogs in such a long time. You’re really an amazing writer. I don’t really have a lot to add to this, you articulate it so well already. I am becoming ever-more aware of the snobbery & elitism I’ve long, and unfortunately, been willing to employ in deriding the music choices of people around me for being so commercial/unfeminist/bland. The temptation to come up with a political disparagement for something that just happens to not suit my tastes is easy, lazy, and one I hope I’m growing out of.

  4. aw fisticuffer
    September 4, 2008 at 7:22 am

    …”set, the girls who found what they needed in their worlds in glimpses of feminine rebellion during a rock video – all of us. The folk rockers, the riot grrls, the feminist punks, the rock-a-billy queens and country rebels – we have all got a space at the table.”

    I’m probably missing something major here (and I understand that music is tied into culture *which should and does influence it*) , but why should what kind of music people listen to affect what kind of feminist they are? Many live far away from any sort of musical ‘scene’ and not in suburbia either.

    I do think it is insulting that so many people were presenting the album as ‘major for feminism’. It’s just another way that white feminists other I suppose (I am a white feminist). ‘If you don’t know/like/didn’t have access to ***my*** music then you are less of a feminist. That attitude is gross and exclusive.

    I’ve heard two or three of her songs and hated them as well.

  5. September 4, 2008 at 7:36 am

    @Nia – That’s still that same thing. I write from a fairly heteronormative perspective (sorry! I thought I would have time to write out the goodies I found in some books about queerspace and hip-hop!) but that is exactly what I am talking about. Something critical to one person may not make an impact on another – but that doesn’t make the person who *can’t* relate wrong.

    @Slashy – Thanks. And it’s still cool to critique, I just think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that different things resonate with different people. So while I might hate 50 Cent & the entire G Unit Crew, it is important for me to at least understand the appeal.

    @aw fisticuffer –

    I’m probably missing something major here (and I understand that music is tied into culture *which should and does influence it*) , but why should what kind of music people listen to affect what kind of feminist they are? Many live far away from any sort of musical ’scene’ and not in suburbia either.

    Oh, it doesn’t. Many times, the music they listen to *reflects* what kind of feminist they are, and a lot of my positive exposure to feminism came through the activism surrounding these musical scenes. Music isn’t necessarily a determination of feminism, but it’s kind of my lens as I am a music junkie. (I just realized out of the remaining six posts I want to complete on feministe before my stint is up, three deal with music. Oy.)

    But my analysis would still stand if I substituted novels, or feminist theory, or TV shows, or protest strategies or what have you. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to get to a goal. Now what that goal is, and what it looks like will be different for all of us, just like the methods we used to get there. But the overall missions are the same.

  6. aw fisticuffer
    September 4, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Aah, makes sense. Thanks for explaining that Latoya.

    Ooh Crys T
    “It can’t expect to continually posit a tiny minority as the norm and all other women as Others”
    “Without a real commitment to recognising the myriad shades of gray as central to feminism, not just giving them token and occasional nods, we’re finished.”


  7. September 4, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Latoya, I’m really digging your posts here! I’m a music fiend too, so keep up the good work! I never understood the Liz Phair thing. She was the honey of the (white) music press at the time, but I just….didn’t ‘get’ it. The buzz was about sexual liberation, and how bold she was, but I just wanted to shake the hell outta the critics and ask ’em if they’ve heard of Millie Jackson!! Why was Phair considered so bold? It’s not like Patti Smith was a shrinking violet. I think a lot of it had to do with looks and age—-Phair was “cute” and white and marketable.

    A lot of the time, I read what is supposed to be unprobematically “women’s experience” or “feminist thought” and I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. I can only imagine how alienating it must be for women who are even further outside of the in-group’s orbit.

    Crys T, you took the words out of my mouth.

  8. September 4, 2008 at 8:47 am

    whitechocolatespaceegg is better, anyway. I think a lot of the misapprehension over her being some mid-90s feminist icon comes from the term “Guyville,” which has little to do with the patriarchy and more with an informal nickname given Chicago back in the day (by somebody in Urge Overkill, I think)…. plus some extremely disingenuous self-promoting.

  9. squirrely
    September 4, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Liz Phair has never really done it for me, and I never really knew why, but I think you’ve explained it. I’m white, but I’ve never lived in a suburb and I never went through the same type of alienation that a lot of the suburban women I’ve met went through. It’s all about the community – suburban experiences (and their feminist/anti-consumerist response) don’t translate for everyone. I’m glad for my sisters who love Liz Phair that she’s motivated them towards feminism, but I’m much more likely to gravitate towards Blondie or Bjork…

    I also think that I experienced George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” as a feminist moment in the sixth grade, as me and my girlfriends sang out loud and proud about the sex we hoped we would someday have.

    Feminism rears itself musically in many different places, and rocking out to Liz Phair is only one of them. Thanks for articulating that.

  10. Thomas
    September 4, 2008 at 9:27 am

    I don’t have much to add, but what a great post. The first step in being more inclusive, I think, is to recognize when one is being exclusive; one of the core experiences of privilege is speaking to one’s own narrow experience and falsely believing it to be universal.

  11. readingreader
    September 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Great post. As one of the middle class white girls who was really into liz phair (though it did take a lot of time for her whine and subpar lyrics to grow on me), it’s always been pretty obvious that women like phair and her femme rock peers were writing from their own experiences, and those were experiences that weren’t going to be accessible to all woman. That’s why I always respected Kathleen Hanna who, even though she always wrote for the white/punk/hipster set, spent a lot of her earlier career trying to make it clear that there wasn’t one kind of feminist, that we were all “resisting” in our own ways, that we all didn’t have the same abilities/experiences to make the resistance universal. (read Jigsaw Youth http://www.geocities.com/nikkirk/jigsawyouth.html).

    I remember this moment in high school when i got my heavens to betsy album in the mail. HTB was the first project of Corinne Tucker from Sleater Kinney, who was and is still THAT band for me. I bought the HTB album out of devotion to SK and because I desperately wanted all of the riot grrl cred I could get at the time. Close to the end of the album there was this simple quiet song called white girl. Lyrics:

    we should have talked about this
    a long time ago
    but i didn’t have to think about it
    that’s what this song is about
    white girl
    i want to change the world
    but i won’t change anything
    unless i change my racist self
    it’s a privilege
    it’s a background
    it’s everything that i own
    it’s thinking i’m the hero of this pretty white song
    it’s thinking i’m the hero of this pretty white world
    white girl
    i want to change the world
    but i won’t change anything
    unless i change my racist self

    This is not lyrical genius. There is no subtlety, and as a piece of music it falls way short of anything Tucker would go on to do. However, it sure did make 15 year old me pause for a second. Am I racist? How so? That was the beginning of something for me, definitely. And now I look at the song in amazement–here was this young, maybe naive, self aware woman who was on a small enough stage that she could hash out these questions in her music without facing the public scrutiny that might make it more difficult today. Mostly here is this white lady calling herself on her shit. It’s still sort of refreshing.

  12. Nicole
    September 4, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I’m mixed race (black & white) and I looooove Exile in Guyville. It spoke to me deeply in both college and after, and there are parts of that album that are perfect sountracks for my life. I mostly wanted to say though, that HWC isn’t on that album, it’s from a later album.

    Meanwhile, I never felt moved by Alanis Morrisette OR Ani DiFranco OR Kate Bush OR the Indigo Girls…. or any of the myriad of women I was “supposed” to have move me. I didn’t listen to hip hop because I felt alientated from it too. I had a white Mom, went to a mostly white school, and lived in a decent neighborhood. What hiphop had to say wasn’t anything about my life. Phair was much closer to my experience, race be damned.

  13. Blicket
    September 4, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Really good post. “Different lives. Different approaches.” It’s easy for me to nod in agreement to this, but it’s often nearly impossible get it at the gut level. This post helps with that.

    As a bit of a side note: Liz Phair did a brief mini-tour a couple months ago to promote the re-release of Guyville. I caught her here in Chicago and it was the most disappointing concert I’ve ever been to, even allowing her some room for her notoriously stiff stage presence. Liz sang Guyville beginning to end, with a few snags– forgetting the opening chords to “Divorce Song,” for example. Sheesh. Lamely blah blah-ing about how living in the north shore and then wicker park (rich area to seedy, arty area) gave her a split personality. Puh-lease. She forgot the words to her encore too– the audience had to sing along to get her through it. *sigh* Oh, Liz.

    For the me of 1993– naive, straight, white, 16-years-old, sexually inexperienced, with overprotective wing-nut parents, she was goof fuel for my pre-feminism. She was raw. She snarled. She talked about personal relationships, and that was easy to understand, even for an ignorant kid.

    If I heard her for the first time now…not sure. She lives in my soul because of the age I was exposed to her. But because my feminism blossomed later, I don’t tie Liz to feminism. Plus she seems so…adolescent.

    But yeah– excellent post. Thanks!

  14. Blicket
    September 4, 2008 at 10:00 am

    oops, I meant “good fuel,” not “goof fuel.” hmmm, i wonder if that’s a telling slip.

  15. Chialea
    September 4, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I suspect that this phenomenon just boils down to everyone having their own preferences. I just went and listened to some Liz Phair and it’s really not my thing at all, even though I suppose I should be right in the target demographic. You’re very clear that women of colour are not a monolith (and I assume, since you’re saying that, that some people act like that is the case), but that’s true of every group of people larger than one. Each of us has some experiences in common and some tastes in common, but has others that are unique or only in common with a different group of people. Point being, I don’t see how characterizing this as a “white thing” is particularly useful, either.

    Perhaps I’ve missed something in feminist thought. We’re feminists because we largely share a set of ideals, though we’re not in total agreement and the degree of common understanding varies by time and person, right? People come to this place by many roads, and consequently share these experiences with only a subset of feminists (and non-feminists, for that matter). Isn’t this to be expected?

  16. September 4, 2008 at 10:20 am

    This made a lot of things click for me.

    It’s always seemed to me that the art people like has everything to do with their identity, and trying to universalize a relationship with an artist is really authoritarian.

    This happens with books, movies, music, dance, visual art… Everything. And I think the power struggle involved becomes really clear when someone tries to challenge the canon, whatever it is. People flip right out. There’s a reason college students have to go on freakin’ hunger strikes fairly regularly just to be able to take a few classes that don’t focus on white people. And I think it’s really telling to look at which professions are most segregated and exclusionary. Government and media/entertainment, of course. Where the power is.

  17. September 4, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I have to say, I LOVE Liz Phair, but discovering her didn’t have anything to do with getting me into feminism (I was already into feminism–thanks mom!). The song that got me hooked on her (Stratford-on-Guy, if anyone’s curious) doesn’t even have any feminist themes at all. Also, all the talk about Liz Phair usually centers around how bold she was for singing about sex frankly and raunchily, but I honestly think that particular buzz, and the fact that it ignores the majority of her songs, is due in part to the whole sex sells thing, and in part to sexism–the novels of Erica Jong get the same treatment, people look at the graphic sex scenes and go “ooh! a lady’s writing about her lady-parts!” and don’t actually talk about the novels themselves. (Note: Erica Jong pissed me off as much as she pissed off anyone else here with her election-related comments, and the fact that I still dig her fiction stylings should in no way be considered an endorsement of the stupid-ass things she said).

    I never really related to Exile in Guyville or the rest of her oeuvre as music that spoke to me as a feminist or as a girl, just as music that spoke to me on some level–I love the line “The fire you like so much in me is the mark of someone adamantly free” so much I used it to inspire my tattoo, but until I read Kate Harding’s post I had never considered that line in a feminist context at all. (And the friend that got me into her is, fwiw, a dude–a feminist dude, but I don’t think he reacts to her on a feminist level either). Liz Phair got me into music more than she got me into feminism.

    Shorter me: I like Liz Phair, but I totally agree with everything else in this post! Heh. Music is a very personal thing, and we all need our own soundtracks for our lives.

  18. Molly
    September 4, 2008 at 10:59 am

    I’m white. Suburban. Straight. and I never liked Liz Phair. Always thought her music sucked. Her whole point seemed moot to me. I guess she paved the way for others (so I am told) but I’m just not into it.

    Sleater-Kinney, the Luna Chicks, Mazzy star..these spoke to me. I also was all about Foxy Brown and Lil Kim (lol). I never got the obsession with Liz Phair and I am SO happy to hear that I am not the only one.

  19. September 4, 2008 at 11:07 am

    this is so interesting – as a white feminist who grew up in the suburbs, I totally missed Liz Phair the first time around, and going back now I don’t really love it. (On the other hand, and somewhat embarrassingly, I really like her more recent stuff, which is kind of just ear-candy.)

  20. September 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for linking to me!

    I was a middle-class white girl, but Liz Phair never did it for me, mostly because her music was so….monotone. I know her tone is supposed to be part of her charm, but she just left me cold.

    Sleater-Kinney and the riot grrrls, however, always had so much anger. I was into Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco when I was a bit older.

    But before any of those bands came into my life, I remember Salt N Pepa and TLC and Latifah (how did I forget U.N.I.T.Y. on my post? I hope the Queen forgives me!) because they were on mainstream radio and MTV. When I was a kid (10, 11, 12) that was the stuff on the radio. Exile in Guyville may have hit at the same time as Very Necessary, but only one of those albums was being played at middle school dances.

    And it was soooo much better than the stuff that’s on the radio now.

    I do come from a straight middle-class white girl perspective, but I wrote the post I did in part because those women shaped me and the feminism I grew into as much as any riot grrrl band or feminist theory text.

    Liz Phair just never worked for me because she seemed dull. Maybe her lyrics weren’t, but the music never moved me and somewhere under it all, we still need that. Or at least I do.

  21. Crys T
    September 4, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Ashley: “It’s always seemed to me that the art people like has everything to do with their identity, and trying to universalize a relationship with an artist is really authoritarian.”

    What you’re saying here is reminding me of all those dudes and their Sacred Canon of Acceptable Rock, and how easy it is even for us feminists to get sucked into that way of the thinking. I still feel vaguely embarrassed for liking poppier stuff like late-60s bubblegum of even punkier pop like the Go-Go’s because I know it’s gonna make some of the Cool Kids sneer.

    And I always felt like I was somehow looked at as a Bad Feminist for not being able to get into Ani DiFranco.

    Actually, I think that in a weird way this sort of ties in with Latoya’s earlier post about the Dante Moore book. The whole music/identity idea reminds me of the Disco Sucks attitudes of the late 70s and the anti-Hip Hop arguments I’ve heard over the years. So much of those attitudes come from racist and classist ideas which put white middle-class Americans at the centre, which means that their definitions dominate. And also that they are not only limited in what they see of others, but also have the privilege to overlook their own faults. Which brings about that attitude that a white sexist man is sexist due to his own character while a Black sexist man is sexist due to fundamental flaws in “Black culture.”

    And we don’t have to just limit it to sexism: violence and other anti-social tendencies glorified by artists are attributed to such things as well.

    Now I’m just babbling because I can’t quite put my finger on what I’m seeing in my own head, but it’s a connection between blaming “Black culture” for Dante Moore and the assumption that an artist like Liz Phair universally and unproblematically speaks to all feminists.

  22. Crys T
    September 4, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Oh, reading over my last comment, I realise that that would just be White Privilege then.

    Oh well…..move along, nothing to see here……….

  23. September 4, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Great post. I think it’s important to remember that before feminists are a group, they are individuals. If it would be absurd to say that all feminists love, for example, kidney beans, then why is it NOT absurd to judge someone’s socio-political position based on the music they like? While taste in both music and food has a basis in class, gender, and race, it’s not an ultimate predictor.

    (From a feminist whose main music of choice is Japanese pop/hip-hop, American oldies, classical techno remixes and the occasional angry boy rock song)

  24. September 4, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Yeah, Alanis Morissette was my Liz Phair. (I guess being a Canuck and all?) But I was hungry for anything pro-womyn really, because I played my Salt N Peppa tapes until they were no longer. Then, you couldn’t find a bigger Spice Girls fan than me. Shallow or not in retrospect, at the time, I bought the Girl Power attitude and I was empowered.

  25. demolitionwoman
    September 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Never really liked Phair’s music (the off-key drone is really irritating to me), so that was the first and biggest reason why I wasn’t into her. And by the time I actually heard her, she’d been around for a while, I’d been into feminism and my own queer identity for a while and she just didn’t speak to me. For me it’s usually music/sound first, followed closely by lyrics. When you get someone who can do both (Neko Case and Mos Def, to give to really different examples), that’s what really resonates with me.

    Also, on the feminist front, Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y” totally rocked my teenage world. I remember the first time I saw the video – here was this smart, tough, sexy lady calling guys on their shit and demanding respect!

  26. Eva
    September 4, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I’m a black woman, and I love Liz Phair, though I didn’t discover her until very late in college, when I started listening to music besides hip hop and R and B and the pop that was on the rasio. So my appreciation for Exile In Guyville, and the rest of her music, was a little bit late. And my first appreciation wasn’t because she was explicitly feminist, it was because in her songs she has emotionally catelogued most of my relationships and hit the nail on the head of so many of my emotional experiences. But later a friend (also a woman of color who loves Liz Phair) and I joked about writing a paper about Liz Phair and the feminist appeal of mysogyny. Because there’s this lie, that men get away with things because women are stupid, and because women want men who boss them around and feel the need to tear them down. Whereas in real life, the appeal of misogyny, when any exists, is that it reveals a certain inherent vulnerability in the man practicing it, like he is that unsure of himself and his life and his place in the world that he can’t come to terms with treating a woman like an equal. Dating a man who is “masculine” in the most problematic sense of the word isn’t like dating a superhero, it’s like trying to convince a kids in a superman costume not to jump off the roof, because he can’t actually fly. And Liza Phair gets that. And she also gets that smart hetero women have an ongoing negotiation with themselves and the universe about how much bullshit they’re going to put up with in the interest of sex/love/ companionship. And I think there is something feminist and valuable about remaking the heartbreak anthem in such a way that it demonstrates women are not naïve victims of male supremacy, that they are aware of it and complicit and involved in their own negotiations.
    That said, I will defend Divorce Song, Fuck and Run, Polyester Bride, Go West, and even Flower and Johnny Feelgood to the ends of the earth, but there is no defense for Hot White Cum. But hey, I’m an artist too, we all make mistakes.

  27. Eva
    September 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I guess what I am trying to say is: Liz Phair made me feel like the fact that I had been in a lot of hetero relationships that didn’t reach my own feminist ideals did not make me an idiot or a bad feminist. And in that sense it was empowering, and also thought provoking in that it made me really think about why and how those things happened.

  28. Aja
    September 4, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    About two months ago, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Exile in Guyville. I’d never heard the whole thing before, and had heard that for a lot of people it was their “click” moment. I listened to it on my ride home, and didn’t dislike it, but it certainly wasn’t tapping into any of my feelings. So, it’s interesting that you wrote this post, because ever since I heard the whole album, I’ve been thinking about my musical feminist “click”. It was Queen Latifah’s Ladies FIrst.

    I was 11 when that song came out (which makes me feel old for some reason), and I just remember seeing the video and realizing that it was something special. I can’t remember exactly when I started identifying as feminist, but that song was most definitely the first stirrings.

  29. miwome
    September 4, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    First of all, great post.

    Reminds me of that line from High Fidelity (one of Those Movies for me): “What you like is more important than what you are like.” (Paraphrase.) He’s talking about whether a date will go well, not politics, and I don’t necessarily agree that one is MORE important, but I think it’s true on some level: people’s tastes in music, movies, books, tv shows is a reflection of what resonates with them, what grabs their attention, on many different levels of consciousness.

    Of course, I’m now spending the afternoon trying to figure out what my taste in music says about me. I think it was only last summer, though, that I started consciously focusing on trying to find music with female singers–before that, I just sort of drifted along in a White Stripes/The Strokes/David Bowie/Franz Ferdinand sort of indie rock world. I think that shift reflected a shift in my own perspective on the world–toward a perspective that owned my own femaleness rather than “filling a male role” in an all-girls high school, as I saw it. (That was the summer after my first year of college.)

    I’m definitely watching High Fidelity when I get home now. It’s a rainy day.

  30. September 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I’m exactly the sort of person who you would expect to have been all over Liz Phair when I was a teenager, but although I own a few of her older albums (including, yes, Exile), I never really felt like listening to her was particularly empowering compared to listening to L7 or Bikini Kill. I’m fine with her music, and it’s not like her sex-positive message is lost on me, but in a lot of ways I didn’t feel that her message was all that empowering. She writes a lot about disfunctional sexuality (and it gets worse with every album) and her message is just as likely to be that she’s hot and cool because the boys want to have sex with her as not. It’s ok music, but there’s a bit of a Cosmo message going on in it that I’ve never been able to cotton to.

  31. literarycritic
    September 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    The first time I became conscious of music outside what my parents listened to, I was 11 years old. My older cousin was playing MTV (back when it still played music videos, dammit), and Green Day’s “Basket Case” came blasting on. It paralyzed me to the spot — I couldn’t look away. These people were singing about being crazy! OMG, you can DO that? And I’m still a Green Day fan to this day. In fact, I can go so far as to say that it was that song that opened my eyes to the power of hard-sounding, emotionally expressive rock.

    I had the same reaction the next year when Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill came out. But hearing a woman spitting out venomous lyrics about feeling out of touch with this crazy fucked-up world, and particularly hearing a woman expressing anger (even rage) towards men, was a full-on revelation.

    Oh, hello, Mister Man
    You didn’t think I’d come back
    Didn’t think I’d show up with my army
    And this ammunition on my back
    Now that I’m Miss Thing
    Now that I’m a zillionaire
    You scan the credits for your name and wonder
    Why it’s not there

    Yeah. Word.

    So I think that’s why “grrrl rock” in general, and Liz Phair in particular, never did anything for me. Too much cutesy singing about guys and sex with token gestures toward independence and selfhood, and not enough passion or self-knowledge to really connect with and learn something from. But that was just my experience of it. The deeper levels on which other people connect to Liz Phair are just outside of my ability to understand.

    And you know, my feminism really does have a relationship to my music choices. Because both are a natural expression of what kind of person, and woman, I feel myself to be. I personally feel that the music I love comes from the deepest places of the heart and soul that can be expressed through music, and I personally feel that the feminist issues that are closest to me are the ones that matter the most to the movement as a whole.

    All of us feel that way. And none of us are wrong. Respecting other people’s experiences and opinions, and what that says about what matters to other people, is not just a matter of inclusion (because who gets to do the including? and how did they claim that title?). It’s a matter of getting to the emotional bottom of it — why do you feel that this issue is the the most important? Why do I feel that this issue is the most important? What can we do for each other to see that both of those issues are addressed? And so on. And I think a discussion of something as mundane as music choices, and what they say about us as people and as women, is a good place to start a conversation that will eventually take us, full-circle, back to why we identify as feminists in the first place.

  32. exholt
    September 4, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Liz Phair was an alumnae of my undergrad and not surprisingly was popular with many college classmates. There were quite a few others, however, who felt she sold out to the “capitalist media industries”.

    IMO, her music was ok….but not something I’d go out of my way to listen to……even after the countless queries from fellow alums…..especially after she was mentioned in one issue of our alumni magazine a few years back.

  33. CBrachyrhynchos
    September 4, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Liz Phair came around after my college years and during one of the lean hand-to-mouth periods where I wasn’t buying music, or watching cable to see what was hot, or listening to much radio.

    For me, one of the big “click” musical moments centered on Melissa Etheridge, primarily because I was in the process of coming out of the closet and an entire album of gender-neutral songs about love and lust was just what I needed at the time. My first real boyfriend tipped me off to the fact that her sexuality was an open secret before releasing her first album, and then it all made sense.

  34. other orange
    September 4, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I heard Liz Phair back then; but for me at that time, if it wasn’t Hole, it wasn’t angry enough. I was enamoured of Courtney Love, and everybody else seemed too polite.

  35. September 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Woot woot Latoya! Super post.

    When I talk about the music that was meaningful to me as a grew into an anti-racist feminist, I always feel like I have to explain why I like the music. I don’t feel like I can just say “Mariah Carey and Kylie Minogue are my back-up singers” without having to go into a loooong explanation as to why, informed by my full ethnic, cultural and geographical bio.

    I don’t really mind that – I like talking about myself (heh). What does bug me is that others don’t have to do that. Generally you’re not going to hear a 30-something white dude tell you that Dave Matthews or Nirvana really effected him, because he grew up as a white middle-class man in the suburban mid-west in the 1990s.

    I guess that’s what Othering is – if you’re a person of colour who isn’t middle-class, or didn’t have an American-centric upbringing, or…you find that you constantly got ‘splainin’ to do.

  36. mermaidshoes
    September 4, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    i think a big reason this album has attained such “feminist” standing (and i’m surprised that no one has mentioned it thus far) is that it’s been described (by phair herself) as a direct response to the rolling stones’ “exile on main street” and as such represents a distinctly (and perhaps “new,” in the sense that people often don’t examine female perspectives) female voice in an often male-dominated rock world. i don’t know that the album would’ve garnered so much feminist cred without being framed as a reworking of a male group’s album.

    i think eva’s statement (“Liz Phair made me feel like the fact that I had been in a lot of hetero relationships that didn’t reach my own feminist ideals did not make me an idiot or a bad feminist”) is also a crucial part of the album’s appeal. sometimes it feels like a strong, feminist woman should only be in positive, progressive, fulfilling relationships, and it’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re really hung up on a dude or a relationship that you know isn’t worth it. “exile in guyville” makes you feel like someone else has been there, at least. AND songs like “fuck and run” (“whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who tries to win you over? … i want all that boring old shit like letters and sodas”) make it feel okay to sometimes want a sweet, chivalrous dude even if you’re a feminist (and even if you understand that a perfect relationship can’t exist). here’s an interesting (though i don’t agree with it) response to that song: http://thegazeblog.blogspot.com/2006/08/letters-and-sodas-partial-answer-to.html.

    and i (being white) never thought about “exile” as a white-centric album, but i can definitely see that perspective as well. i listen primarily (though not intentionally) to music by white men, and i sometimes wonder if i should make more concerted efforts to listen to music made from other perspectives. hmm.

  37. September 4, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    (standing ovation)

    Best. Post. Ever!


  38. September 4, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    My comment got way too long, so I made it a post.

    Awesome post, Latoya.

  39. September 4, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    literarycritic: Oo, yes, Alanis Morissette.  I played the hell out of that CD when I first got it.

  40. J.
    September 4, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I’m the same, though I’m also white. Not much for Phair. I think she was a little before my time. Right now I much more identify with someone like M.I.A., occasionally Neko Case.

  41. September 4, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Awesome post, Latoya. I first heard Liz when I was 16 or so and was a bit…underwhelmed. (This was only a scant few years ago, mind you). I do like some of her songs, but overall, she just sounds a bit bored to me. I’m a middle class white girl, and I suppose that, in some way, this album was supposed to click for me, but it just didn’t. To me, a lot of Phair’s songs on this album felt like a crystalization of something with which I did not identify with at all (white gal sings about sex! she has a lot of sex! and sounds bored and gen-xer-y and detached! and she’s HOT!). I was sort of a misfit as a young person (still am), so I gravitated toward musicians with a little more…rage, or who didn’t sound so bored (Alanis, Tori Amos, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Patti Smith). Yes, the aforementioned also sort of fit into the category of white-gal music, too, but they spoke to me in a way Liz Phair could not. Their songs had room for interpretation; the listener could take certain things and leave others if she or he chose. Most of all, they had feeling, and the overall message that having strong feelings was okay for young women.

  42. September 5, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Just had to second that emotion for U.N.I.T.Y. And though I would never curse, I would [at random times] just be thinking – “Who you callin a b—-?”

    Queen Latifah made me feel proud. Alanis invigorated me when I was angry. But I only ever read about Liz Phair. [Maybe Sassy had a piece on her?] I’ll have to look up some of her music this wknd – I might like it – I dunno. I know I never got into the Indigo Girls – though it seemed everyone at the women’s college I went to just loved them.

    I think it’s a combination of taste and relatability. And exposure.

    Oh, and Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’ was actually really nice for me, too.

  43. napthia9
    September 5, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Awesome post. I love this sort of stuff- the culture-as-feminist-origin-story and the culture-as-subject-of-feminist-analysis modes of looking at things. Sometimes it makes it difficult to revisit one’s personal classics, but on the other hand, it can also motivate one to look for (and possibly create) something that shares the good parts of the personal classic, but improved and with the offending parts smoothed away. I wonder if fanfic occasionally serves this purpose for fans- a way to create the show with offending content explained away or eradicated. Probably It certainly functions that way with plot-holes and canon events one doesn’t like, so why not with racist, sexist, etc issues?

    (Oh, and may I say that I’m waiting with crossed fingers, hoping that one of things you’re planning on posting here is the ‘manga-style feminism’ one? I love manga and comics a LOT, the Racialicious posts on comics are always fantastic, yet I am not sure yet what you are talking about with manga-style feminism and I want really badly to know.)

    Okay, I realized that I didn’t say much about music here, probably because as a young adult I listened exclusively to musicals and the Oldies channel, and consequently missed out on a lot of critical music theory all my peers seem to have. A lot of my musical exploration appears to have played out in my first year of college. I enjoy the band Army of Lovers, especially their (contextless, for me) campy gender-play in their videos (King Midas in particular). I like Kylie Monogue, Pulp, and Feist, but I also like female singers who are a bit tougher, both lyrically and style-wise, so I think I will try adding Queen Latifah, MIA, TLC, Salt n’Pepa to my playlist to see what I like. After all, what’s the point of sharing our cultural feminist-origin stories if it we’re all swapping the same album?

  44. September 5, 2008 at 9:01 am

    I was too young for a lot of this music (although I appreciate Liz Phair now, after having heard her music as a college student). I grew up listening to a lot of mainstream music like Destiny’s Child and TLC (who were definitely mainstream by the time I got to hear them anyway). Those spoke to me a lot.

    However as I grew older my tastes changed on a fundamental level from mainstream pop or hip hop to rock…then alternative…etc,etc. So in that sense, I’m attracted to different music, regardless of the message it sends.

    All of this being said, I think the problem is that the white feminists you mentioned didn’t qualify their statements. They said “this album is universal” or claimed that it represented feminism as a whole. Obviously, that isn’t true from so many perspectives. For example, my mom introduced me to Fiona Apple as a child. I liked her well enough, but it wasn’t until I started listening to her as a depressed teenager that I started to understand her lyrics & feel a connection to them. It wasn’t because I’m a fan of her musical genre. Perhaps some would say it’s because we’re both white and possibly have similar life experiences. However, I’d argue that it was neither (I grew up in a city, I had not been raped as a child, etc). Mostly, she put her depression on the table and that resonated with me.

    I guess my point is this: we are all so different. Not even all white or black women are the same (let alone asian, hispanic, arab, homosexual women, and so on). I think one of the goals of this wave of feminism should be trying to find a collective voice for our generation. However, that voice should not be one kind of music or one novel, but a collection of all the music and novels and websites and people that influence us & awaken us to feminism.

  45. September 5, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Goddamn Latoya, I love your posts. I never had a thing for Liz Phair, but even made my parents listen to Salt-n-Pepa on repeat (and they kinda liked them too – imagine two middle-aged Eastern European immigrants going wild over Ain’t Nothin’ But a She Thing). I admire Liz Phair as a cultural icon, but her music never moved me.

    It all comes down to different strokes.

  46. September 5, 2008 at 10:35 am

    So, how many times can we say great post? In fact, I just bought the CD yesterday so I could listen and understand. I don’t. Coming from a different class, I had no interest in listening to her then because I did not feel that she spoke for me. My feminism was shaped by more appalling/controversial musicians such as L7 (mentioned here several times). What influenced me more than the music , however, were the “incidents.” Such as when, tired of having mud thrown at them while playing, Donita removed her used tampon and threw it into the crowd…disgusting and awe inspiring for a white trash, punk rawk, feminist girl.

  47. Crys T
    September 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Can I just say how much I’m liking reading about different people’s “click” moments and about what sorts of music talk to them?

  48. Some Dude
    September 5, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I was in college when Exile came out (originally). It was awesome alternative music. I had no idea there was a feminist meaning behind it — obviously, I realize it was written by a woman and spoke to what i realize are women’s issues. But except for a few darker and more introspective tracks it just seemed to me to be largely a female perspective on life as a female and /or f*$ked up relationships. I saw in her in concert in Town Hall, NYC, back in the ealry 90s and I instantly became a fan. I think it’s one of the best solo artist albums ever and I’m just glad it can be re-released to some acclaim for the younger kids.

  49. Lisa
    September 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Great post! I really like Exile in Guyville, but I was already a (white) feminist when I heard it. so, you got me thinking…what music represented that click moment for me and now I can’t stop singing Ani Difranco’s song, Not A Pretty Girl.

    I am not a pretty girl
    that’s not what I do
    I ain’t no damsel in distress
    and I don’t need to be rescued
    so put me down punk
    cause I am not your maiden fair
    and I am not a kitten in a tree somewhere

    that’s not necessarily word for word…just from memory. Man, I really identified with her music back in the day (oh, 13 ish years ago as a 19 year old just entering university).

    Eva: “I guess what I am trying to say is: Liz Phair made me feel like the fact that I had been in a lot of hetero relationships that didn’t reach my own feminist ideals did not make me an idiot or a bad feminist. And in that sense it was empowering, and also thought provoking in that it made me really think about why and how those things happened.”

    I would also add that it was empowering to speak these kinds of words through the music of people like Difranco (you know, while I was singing) – even though I never felt like I exhibited that type of awareness or strength in my own relationships.

  50. Alara Rogers
    September 5, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Liz Phair was okay. I used her to totally pwn a guy in an Internet argument about Kathryn Janeway, of all things, where he was arguing that women are “just different” from men and men will never see a woman without thinking about sex and he pulled up Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” as an example — “I wanna fuck you like an animal” — so I retorted with “I want to fuck you like a dog” from “Flower” by Liz Phair.

    But really, she was just okay. When I felt like listening to women singing about the experience of being a woman, I felt more connection to Tori Amos or P J Harvey (I loved Kate Bush but totally saw her as a woman of my mom’s generation/perspective, which since she’s much younger than my mom probably wasn’t fair.) But I never felt that there were *any* bands or singers who gave me a “click” moment regarding feminism, as I had identified as a feminist since I was three. So I wasn’t actually aware that Liz Phair was supposed to be like this great feminist icon who turned hordes of women my age onto feminism.

  51. V
    September 5, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I read this post yesterday, and the comments, let it all digest and came back with…

    If you don’t like Liz Phair, don’t listen to her. If you don’t like Queen Latifah, don’t listen to her. If you like either of them, then by all means, give them your ears…

    It’s not a question of “I’m a white suburban feminist who is x years old, therefore I must listen to Liz Phair”.

    How many times have you had to listen to someone (male or female) say something like, “You know what the problem with feminism is, you don’t support women who want to be mothers instead of being purely career-minded”. Oh? Don’t we? Or how about, “I’m wouldn’t say I’m a feminist because, you know, I like to wear makeup and stuff.”

    Did I miss the memo that decreed that as a feminist, I must also toe the line on everything from food choices (Why are all feminists vegetarians???) to music choice (Oh, no, you can’t listen to *insert music genre* and be a feminist, you have to only listen to female folk singers)?

    I loved Exile in Guyville when it first came out… and I still do. I just got to re-listen to a lot of the songs, and play them for my fiance – at which point we talked for hours about the impact that music can have on your life, by opening doors to a new form of expression, or by making you question the influence that all media seems to have on us.

    What it comes down to, however, is your own personal opinion.

    And nobody should dictate to you what that “should” be.

  52. September 5, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    how did I forget India.Arie? I think she was my first feminist love of the 00s. But my *click* was before I started school, and highly influenced by Miss Piggy. I’ll have to flash that out a bit more for a blog post of my own.

  53. September 6, 2008 at 9:33 am

    V – I do not feel that generalization was made by anyone here but I acknowledge I could have missed a comment or two…

  54. charles
    September 6, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    interesting and useful post. obviously anyone who says “all women/feminists have to like this” is very deluded. i would have hoped we’d all figured that out long ago. (but obviously we haven’t)

    but i think i’ve identified another reason you had such a nothing response:

    “I listened to “Flower.” Then I went to “Fuck and Run.” I spent some time pondering “Hot White Cum,” switched over to “The Divorce Song” and then, listened to “6″1.”

    After that I gave up.”

    like any work of art, Guyville needs to be heard from start to finish. if you only listen to the sensationalistic sex-drenched songs you get a totally distorted image of the record. (especially if one of the worst songs you heard isn’t even on the record you’re talking about.) I’m pretty sure if the first songs i heard were flower, fuck and run, and white hot cum, i wouldn’t have liked it much either.

    I assume, however, that the critique would be the same if you did listen to all of it. this is Liz Phair speaking HER story. her story is hers, not yours. none of our stories are universal. while overzealous Phair fans might have claimed that, i’m fairly sure Phair herself never claimed it was.

    but thanks for another reminder that NOTHING is universal.

    and thanks especially to Latoya and everyone else for the music recs!

  55. kw
    September 8, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I’m not a music connoissieur. I’m sure I’ve heard Liz Phair’s songs, but I don’t remember them, despite being right in the middle of the “Liz Phair” demographic. But this argument reminds me of so many long-ago discussions about the art form I love, literature. The other woman (invariably a very young woman) would claim that no real feminist wouldn’t love “The Yellow Wallpaper” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” or whatever other novel caused her personal feminist awakening. Since I detest “The Yellow Wallpaper”, I got pretty pissed off!

  56. yolio
    September 18, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Way late to the party, but just wanted to throw in a few comments. First off, I think your post is dead on correct. This is an album embedded in a very specific cultural experience that is far from being universal to all feminists.

    That being said, I think Liz Phair is an all out genius, one of my all time heroes of american culture and continue to follow her career with fascination. I won’t bore you with ALL the details of why I feel this way. But, most of the commenters so far have focused on what she has to say about sex and relationships and I want to point out one of her songs that I think is actually more universal than those. My current favorite song on Guyville is “Help Me Mary” and it is about what it is like to be a minority trying to succeed in a dominant culture. She is singing about being a woman trying to make it in the man’s world that was rock n’ roll, and specifically she is talking about a time in Chicago when her roommate would have all his guy musician friends over partying all the time, and what that was like for her. I can actually reproduce the lyrics from memory!

    Help me mary please
    they bully the stereo and drink
    they leave suspicious things in the sink
    they make rude remarks about me
    they wonder just how wild I would be
    as they egg me on, and keep me mad
    they play me like a pit bull in a basement
    and for that
    I lock my door at night
    I keep my mouth shut tight
    I practice all my moves
    I memorize the stupid rules
    I make myself their friend
    I show them just how far I can bend
    as they egg me on, and keep me mad
    they play me like a pit bull in the basement
    and for that
    I am asking you, Mary, please
    temper my hatred with peace
    roll my disgust into fame
    and watch how fast they run to the flame

    This is practically a blueprint of a career strategy for career climbing in a hostile culture:

    step 1: accept your isolation and protect it
    step 2: refine your skills until you 4x as good as anyone else
    step 3: conform and generally make nice with people in power
    step 4: try to contain your rage sufficiently that it doesn’t destroy you from within

    I am not exactly recommending the strategy, but I think it represents a path chosen by many people trying to reconcile their “different” status with their ambition. Phair articulated it here as clearly as anyone that I am aware of. She also hits on the fatal flaw of this “keep your head down” approach, which is that there is no known solution for the rage issue. Here, she is resorting to appealing to a higher power because she hasn’t got any better ideas.

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