Songs for the Struggling Artist

We Tried Asking Nicely.

The former prime minister of Australia was on a podcast talking about how the gender pay gap won’t be closed for decades at the current rate. She found this “frustrating.” I found it enraging. And it’s not new information. I know that every single measure of equality is moving at a glacial pace.

But it struck me as I listened to her that the problem is that we are attempting to make change without making waves. The current pace, the current rate of change is unacceptable – but anything faster or more aggressive will rock the boat. The waves will be too big to allow us to go along as we’ve always done. If there’s anything we’ve learned so far in the current pandemic moment it’s that going along as we’ve always done isn’t going to work anymore.

The upshot of it is – we won’t see real change without pissing a lot of people off. For all these years, many women have advocated for change, but, like, a nice change, a change that doesn’t really upset anyone. Like, just give us the right to vote. Just an itsy bitsy voting privilege. If you don’t mind. If it’s not too much trouble. We just want a tiny slice of reproductive rights, nothing greedy. You can have a slice first, of course. Yes, please.

I’ve been this kind of feminist myself. I called myself a Hello Kitty feminist a few years ago. You know – a non-threatening, cute, smiling, sort of feminist. The kind who’ll ask for her rights and give you a greeting card. I was nice and polite and didn’t want to trouble anyone. And honestly, I still don’t. I’d really much rather give you a slice of pie than demand one for myself. It is very confusing to have spent a lifetime trying to avoid confrontation and now be leaning into radical change. I’ve found myself in deep admiration of the early suffragettes who created chaos and anarchy in order to be heard. I’m impressed by the bomb makers, the balloon droppers, the strikers.

Did I really think equality would be given us if we just asked nicely enough? I might have. Or at least I hoped that the world would see reason and begin to adjust itself. It won’t. The rate of progress is embarrassing. The blatant misogyny that has risen to the surface is impossible to smooth away. My former self would have attempted it, would have found a way to see the good in even the worst perpetrators. No more. I’m in a head knocking mood now.

And not just about feminism, either. I saw a show about a coal mine disaster that was caused by corporate neglect and malfeasance and while I was touched by the stories the actors told us about the workers’ lives and attempts to get justice, all I wanted to do was go storm that CEO’s mansion. I came home and listened to The Coup’s “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO” on repeat. I haven’t stopped listening to it since. In this world of glaring income inequality, I have found The Coup to be my music medicine of choice. It’s always a good time to listen to “The Guillotine” for me these days. (“We got the guillotine. You better run.”) Do I really want to kill a CEO and/or bring back the guillotine? No. Of course not. I can’t even watch someone get an injection on TV without hiding my eyes so of course I don’t want to see an execution. But I think the fact that a peacenik like me is so thoroughly enjoying revenge fantasies in stories and music is a sign that a corner has been turned. I’m at the point where if I saw an angry group of Amazon employees who’ve been denied PPE and bathroom breaks drag Jeff Bezos from his home, I might just cheer them on. The revolution may be upon us and it might be violent and that might be just, actually, and what has happened to me that I feel this way?

I find myself in a constant state of flux – feeling both the, “It’s fine. I don’t need anything, thank you so much. You’re so sweet.” And the flames shooting out of the side of my head.

Watching Elizabeth Warren take Bloomberg to task was one of the most liberating things I have ever had cause to see. I’m sure Warren is a real sweetheart when ordering a tea but get in the way of her and someone’s rights and you’re in trouble. There she is, the best listener on the block, a model of feminine compassion – but not everyone deserves her kindness. Some deserve her fire. Just as some deserve mine.

I have to figure out how to find that pathway – how to be as courteous as I want to be and knock heads when it’s time to knock heads.

I find, having never really learned how to channel my anger, I tend to toggle back and forth between fury and accommodation and I don’t always get the settings right. Sometimes I automatically accommodate someone and then suddenly realize that they were not worthy of my accommodation. That makes me mad but it’s not nearly as tricky as the moments where I’m more aggressive than I meant to be. Those are harder to forgive myself for – because the niceness is the baseline and deviations are disruptive, not just to the person I am not nice to, but to me – because niceness is my baseline. But as the reality of possibility of change in the world sets in, as I realize how unlikely it is that we’ll see any gender parity in so many arenas, or economic justice, my baseline starts to shift. I feel less and less uncomfortable with not being nice and more and more ready for wave making change.

We tried asking nicely. We tried incremental change. We tried pointing things out in calm, bright, friendly voices and writing polite well reasoned articles. It got us next to nothing. Those in power will not release their hold on it until we wrest it from their cold dead hands, I guess. Maybe it’ll be the guillotine that gets them. Or just their own venality. There are five million ways to kill a CEO.

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