Recently Jezebel broke this story about Jack White’s estranged wife filing a restraining order against him. As a die-hard White Stripes fan and a dedicated feminist, I was upset and bummed out, but hardly surprised. When you’re constantly enmeshed in the field to end sexual violence, you get used to this kind of news.
This doesn’t make it easier, though. And, to be fair, this is not the first time my devotion to Jack White has made feel uneasy (see: Jessica Misener’s brilliant review of Blunderbuss). However, this news, in particular, seemed to raise a lot of questions for me: Should I throw away my White Stripes records? Should I make sure not buy a concert ticket the next time he’s in town? What does that solve? How do I reconcile the fact that Elephant and Icky Thump got me through some hard times (like great albums do) with the reality abuse and aggression? How do those things fit together?
What, exactly, is the proper response and course of action for these multitudes of feelings? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that my immediate inclination to turn this situation into something with rigid black and white boundaries won’t work. Neither 1. You are a Jack White fan and you stand behind his work no matter what nor 2. You better never nod your head to a song of his on the radio or you don’t support women will help me figure out the reality of my feelings. There’s not enough space in the margins for me to exist.
Enter the both/and. The both/and is a powerful little device that was presented to me within my first day as a Gender Studies grad student. It can be applied to something like your feelings toward Jack White all the way to your feelings on your own identity. The wonderful feminist theorists use this device to remind us of the complications with existing in the reality of daily oppression and simultaneously trying to celebrate resistance. Within this framework, I am given more freedom (and kindness!) to reject rigid binaries of good/bad and allow some space for reflecting and understanding.
Ani Difranco also sings in “What if No one is Watching”
We have to be able to criticize/
What we love/
Say what we have to say/
‘Cause if you’re not trying to make something better/
Then as far as I can tell/
You are just in the way”
This way of thinking is rooted in a hope for a better society based on accountability, long lasting change and honesty. The personal dialectic that occurs in these moments is valuable and so is sharing these feelings with others. Criticizing the music you love doesn’t mean you don’t love it anymore, but that you can’t idly stand by and accept it without thinking about it.
Critically analyzing the things we care for the deepest will only confirm or deny the importance of their existence within our short lives. The importance of his music on my past cannot be changed, but moving forward, there is no way my consumption and opinions will remain the same. And that’s a good thing. However, it also doesn’t undermine the importance of calling out an artist’s messed up actions and still, periodically, find some nostalgic joy when their song shows up on an old mix tape.