Defending Alanis Morissette’s Feminist Honor

"Angry White Female." That's pretty 90s.

So, Ada, I asked Marisa (our friend, fellow EMP panelist, my Sassy book co-author, and author of Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music) if she wanted to chat with me about the much-maligned Alanis Morissette.  There are lots of feminist Alanis-haters, and while Marisa and I very much like some of them, we are die-hard defenders of Alanis and her feminist importance. As far as I am concerned, she is a total 90swoman! For real! We thought maybe 90swoman readers would be interested in why. So here goes.

Kara: So there is a big discussion on tumblr about Jessica Hopper’s blog post on women and music. We know Jessica and are fans of her writing. And you were saying that you are totally with her for most of it.

Marisa: I was and am. I mean: “Feminism has to move on, salute new icons, be excited by the varieties of archetypes of women in music, be they Gaga or Nite Jewel, that are self-directed, self-produced, not operating under the shadow of a Svengali hand.” YES. I am right there with her.

Kara: TOTALLY. But there is one thing neither one of us agree with and it is…..

Marisa: “If we are fondly recalling Alanis Fucking Morrissette as some sort of speaking-truth-to-power icon over supporting women who are making music today then punk feminism is in deeper shit than we ever were.” Now, let me start with some caveats. I might sound defensive. Just warning you.

Kara: Go for it.

Marisa: I didn’t like Alanis when I was a teenager. I wanted to be Summer from the Fisticuffs Bluff or Sarah Lund from Unwound or Kathi Wilcox from Bikini Kill. By which I mean that my girl icons were not on MTV.

Kara: I didn’t like Alanis either, and my taste was far more mainstream than yours. I was obsessed with Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco. (Shut up!)

Marisa: And yet 20 years have passed and I have met lots of girls for whom Alanis was like Kathleen Hanna. But that’s my point. And I actually think it’s Jessica’s as well, when she compares Lily Allen to the Sex Pistols. Like, your radicalizing moment can come in weird packages.

Kara: It OFTEN comes in weird packages! Scratch what I said before. I actually secretly liked “You Oughta Know.” Actually, I secretly liked Alanis. But I think I knew better than to admit it to anyone at my hipster college.

Marisa: I definitely enjoyed Alanis, but I felt bad about it. I had a lot of punk rock guilt then. Now I am blissfully free of it, thank god(dess). And you and I went to see Alanis two years ago. And it was fucking awesome, right?

Kara: Yes! It was so fucking awesome!

Marisa: I guess Jessica is doing the job of a music critic, but from the standpoint of feminism and teenage revolution, let’s keep it open.

Kara: Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift can totally sing together!

Marisa: Exactly. 20 years ago someone was probably going “ew” about someone finding themselves listening to Stevie Nicks. I’m not saying that Alanis is the revolution, but she totally speaks some truth. And her truths were heard by a lot more people than Corin Tucker’s.

Kara: Um, hi. I never heard Corin Tucker when I was in college. Never. And I am a pretty radical feminist. Fyi.

Marisa: I guess you and I have been very public about our nostalgia for the 90s. But I think nostalgia can be really motivating. I don’t think it has to be nostalgia vs. the future. It’s not about saying the microgeneration that I grew up in was somehow superior to anyone else’s. But it’s about looking at what worked and what didn’t work. I happen to think Alanis fucking worked.

Kara: I am all about political nostalgia. I think political nostalgia IS the future. It’s about looking at the past to be motivated to create a better present and future. That sounds more pat than I mean it to. Listening to Alanis can make me feel righteously angry, like I often did in the 90s, and that alone seems worthwhile.

Marisa: Also: archiving women’s history. Like, I’m not cutting Alanis out of the feminist history books because she’s cheesy. She deserves her footnote or whatever. And that has always been my and your whole thing with the 90s.

Kara: I mean, “You Oughta Know” was a hugely famous song. A lot of us grew up hearing that guys could basically say or do whatever they wanted to/with us. That we had to be nice girls.

Marisa: Yes, you and I both really suffer from the tyranny of nice.

[NB to all of you who know us and who think Marisa is joking in the line above: She is not joking! I went to Catholic school for 13 years! This is the pre-Alanis song that most encapsulates my youth.]

Kara: I think it was kind of a big deal to be like, “You know that guy who totally fucked you over? You are allowed to TELL HIM.” Or, more generally, “It’s fine to express your rage.” I expressed SO MUCH rage in the 90s.

Marisa: And she gave him a blow job in the theatre! She was kind of slutty!

Kara: I know! HOT!

Marisa: I have never given someone a blow job in the theatre, and I went to Evergreen.

Kara: LOL. Cars. I have given lots in cars.

Marisa: If Alanis was your conduit, that is fine with me.

Kara: I gave them before Alanis. However, Alanis made me feel like it was okay that I did so. I am laughing really hard. Are we editing out our blowjob history?

Marisa: No, we are leaving it the fuck in.


Marisa: But not to even make this about Alanis. You could say the same about Courtney Love or Liz Phair or Kathleen or Christina Aguilera or whatever. There is no perfectly pure role model, nor should we point to someone and be like, “girls, emulate this, it’s good for you.”

Kara: Absolutely. I mean, we all know Courtney Love is bonkers. But she still speaks to me.

Marisa: But I think we both 100% agree with Jessica when she says that we should honor older feminist work and look towards new paths to future generations can BLAZE THE FUCK PAST US.

Kara: YES! Go Jessica!


Filed under Kara

7 responses to “Defending Alanis Morissette’s Feminist Honor

  1. Dudes, YES!
    I mean, I’m a bit younger than you guys and Alanis was definitely one of my first idols. I listened to that record entirely too much, knew all the lyrics by heart and somehow pretended that my paltry boy experiences were TOTALLY was she was talking about. But it was necessary, because through her and Gwen Stefani I got really into music in general, so I started researching and buying music magazines and watching MTV and whatnot. And eventually I got into Sonic Youth, and Sleater-Kinney and even Ani DiFranco. Last January I was back at my mom’s house and I listened to it and half of it is really cringe-worthy but the other half still holds. I have no problem admitting this (especially that song “I see right through you”).

    I think there is a point in there?
    anywho, YES.

  2. Pingback: Weekend Bites: Cocteau Cult, The Salinger Plan, Intellectual War, Shteyngart’s Free Food, Playboy Cartoons, and More « Vol. 1 Brooklyn

  3. hello, can you provide a link to this?:

    “Kara: So there is a big discussion on tumblr about Jessica Hopper’s blog post on women and music. ”

    would like to read follow up discussion. thanks.

  4. Pingback: Boys vs. Girls on 90s Nostalgia «

  5. Pingback: Marissa Meltzer spreads Girl Power « Feminist Music Geek

  6. Pingback: Teenie blwjobs | Imagestore

  7. I absolutely think Alanis was one of – if not the most important – feminist icons of 90s music by virtue of how many women and girls she reached. For those of us who only knew mainstream music, the You Oughta Know video blew our minds. She danced like a male rocker, looked a mess, and referenced blow jobs. Aside from Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco, I’ve never heard of the other artists named in the above article. Well, wait. In ’99, I heard of Bikini kill because they were referenced in 10 Things. So they may have made great music but what does that mean to all the girls who embraced feminism through music but never heard of Fistacuffs Bluff.

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