Day 6

Why one fan says the Tragically Hip is a feminist band and not just for 'bros'

Day 6 columnist and resident music expert Andrea Warner says Gord Downie and the Hip don't get enough credit for the quiet and sometimes loud, ways they challenge power and hold institutions to account.
The Tragically Hip has a reputation as a 'bro band.' (Tragically Hip/CP)
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By Andrea Warner (@_AndreaWarner) 

In 1996, the Hip released Trouble at the Henhouse. And I was a 15-year-old who had just begun identifying with feminism.

That was a powerful thing. But it also meant re-examining my musical heroes, dividing them up, basically, into those who were sexist dumpster fires and those who weren't.

The Tragically Hip made the cut without question. Even as their bro-dude fans challenged my affection and mansplained their lyrics to me. Even when some feminist friends looked at me sideways, like, 'Really? White guy rock?'

But I think Downie and the Hip are so much more than that. Yes, the Hip is five, middle-aged white guys, But that's not exclusively who they're writing for.

Downie writes what he knows: hockey and Raymond Carver; politics and Shakespeare; water and love. Canada. But he also listens to music, all sorts of music. He believes in youth and the power of young artists. He deplores violence.

He asks questions all the time, and his brain goes places few others bother to look. I think it's this, his curiosity, his instinct to challenge the status quo, that I identify with most as a feminist.

Women as people and not just props

For the most part, Downie's lyrics afford women agency. That's so important and seemingly simple: women get to be people, not just a prop of male fantasy or wish fulfilment.

There's one track in particular, from their first record, that shows what I'm talking about. It's a great, dark story-song called "I'll Believe In You." It's a revenge fantasy about a woman who stands up to a very bad man in her life. With a shotgun.

I'll believe in you I'll Believe in You from the album  Up to Here

An activist band 

I also really love that the Hip is considered "Canada's band," but they've been hugely critical of the country since day one. They know that you can love something and also see its problems.

They're also activists themselves - they talk about the environment, decolonization, racism, social justice and equality.

Let's just see what the morning brings- Wheat Kings from  Fully Completely

"Wheat Kings" isn't just a beautiful song about several terrible things including the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard, who served 20 years for the murder and rape of Gail Miller, it's an indictment of the spectacular failure of Canada's judicial and political systems.

While Milgaard sat in prison for a crime he didn't commit, the real murderer was a serial rapist, in and out of jail, hurting countless women.  

In spite of everything that's happened in spite of it all- Montreal, an unreleased Tragically Hip song

One of the Hip's unreleased songs is a beloved bootleg called "Montreal." Once in a while, they'll play it on stage.

It's about the Montreal Massacre in 1989, when a misogynistic killer who hated feminists, walked into Ecole Polytechnique and murdered 14 women, shooting and injuring 13 others.

The Hip challenge power

Downie and the Hip don't really get enough credit for the quiet, and sometimes loud, ways they challenge power and hold institutions to account.  

They demonstrate a different kind of middle-aged, white male Canadian identity: one that believes in equality.

On Saturday I'll be seeing Gord and the Hip for maybe the very last time, and I'll cry and hopefully sing along to Bobcaygeon. But I'm also so grateful, because the legacy of the Hip is one that belongs to everybody.

The band has advocated for a diverse, inclusive and just Canada. They've spent the better part of their careers pushing for equality.

Consciously or not, that means they've been helping dismantle the patriarchy from within, one song at a time, for almost 30 years.

That's feminism. And that's a big part of why I love them. Why they're my band, too.