Holly Near’s Music and a Holistic Feminist Perspective of Peace by Elisabeth S.

It’s hard for me to be dignified and peaceful sometimes. To produce and sacrifice without rewards, making sure I’m not “sacrificing” in a way that quells my truth and power, making sure I look at dignity in a liberating way. Words continually need to be unpacked, and I do that. I know the work. According to the OED, it means “The quality of being worthy.” For me, ‘dignity’ is just being aware of your self-worth and celebrating that. It feels hopeful and romantic and raw. To sacrifice, to me, in the way I’m using it in this moment, is to be life-giving and co-creator; I think of it in the same way as what the earth does, so that it can continue. Like a leaf fallen to nourish its own soil.

The OED definition of ‘sacrifice’ I like is “The destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something regarded as having a higher or more pressing claim.” We can decide what is more pressing. For me it is the ethic of generosity and production in a non-greedy way. I do not sacrifice in this more self-empowered, law-of-the-universe way I’ve recently come to understand much. But I would like to. Sometimes, though, I feel tired in my production, like I need more feedback, even if it is another woman willing to listen to me, which is why posting on FAR is so healing and life-giving because there is all of you.

I’m glad I have wisdom in my body. Even if “I” (my mind?) goes chaotic, feels overwhelmed and lost, my body has this natural intelligence to heal and regain balance if I can listen and get out of its way. That reminds me a lot of the earth—regions harmed by human mindlessness have been known to restore itself, even after radiation or toxic explosions, when humans leave for awhile. But if “I” equate myself with my mind, isn’t that also a part of the body? Wouldn’t the mind (the brain? the processes that help mental consciousness and thoughts arise?) then be wise, seeking balance? It just does not feel like it. So if anyone can weigh in on that. . . why so easy for my body-body but not my mind-body?

On my journey of seeking peace for body and mind, I do not want to be reductive about peace. I desire knowing peace in a holistic, complex, authentic and dynamic way. It doesn’t really help to create a false monolith of a self regardless of what heightened descriptors house it.

Holly Near is a musician and activist, performing songs about relationships, identity, longing, desire, war, consumerism, feminism, and the environment. In 2005, she was included on the list of “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize,” a project which began by 20 female peace activists from different countries meeting in Switzerland to fashion a list of women that should collectively win the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize as “representatives of the hundreds of thousands of female peace activists and as a symbol of the courageous-but mostly invisible-peace work undertaken by women.” Take a look here.

I am most personally compelled by Holly Near’s Simply Love (2000) album and can envision an off-Broadway musical theatre production with it as the score – I see such a story in it – but that is for another post, maybe another forum. One of her songs that I feel help me walk toward a feminist perspective of peace is “Peace Becomes You.” Here is a selection of some of the lines of the song that speak to me.

“I like the way you look in your baggy jeans . . .The way you laugh when you’ve got something to hide . . . But most of all I like how you trust in change. And honey darling wonderful and true,
May I say, Peace Becomes You. [. . .].”

“I like the way it breaks your heart to see the cruelty of prison. . . .The way you show up to be counted time after time . . . I like the way you raise your voice to put an end to war . . . The way you celebrate a woman in her prime . . . . Ain’t no doubt about it, I like the way you speak your mind. [. . .].”

“I like the way . . . you know when its time to honor rage. . . . The way you stand on a picket line for a living wage. . . But most of all I like how you chose to love me.”

In Near’s lyrics, the key is “appropriate relationships.” Kind of in an Ecclesiastics 3:1-8 way (a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh. . .), although there is much to unpack in this as well.

It is appropriate and not against peace to raise our voices, to honor rage, to protest. Near even lets a girl like me “laugh when I’ve got something to hide” and can find something to like about that. The last line is “how you chose to love me.” I wonder if she is thinking about a specific person here, a passed on or moved on lover. But it suggests there is relationality in peace.

In Near’s songs, I find a liturgy for peace in the world and peace in self for my embodied female, women and earth loving self.

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland. 

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Holly Near’s Music and a Holistic Feminist Perspective of Peace by Elisabeth S.”

  1. Oh Holly Near and the women’s music circuit of the 80’s. Changed my life. Holly Near’s 2 record set Simply Love is described thus:

    Recorded between 1974 and 2000, Holly sings a collection of songs that document the height of the feminist and lesbian feminist movements. These are songs of joy, love, hardship, fear, and vigilance. Songwriters include Meg Christian, Ferron, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, Therese Edell, Margie Adam, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Jeff Langley, and Alix Dobkin.

    For old-timers, this is a lovely walk down memory lane—an acknowledgement of a terrific era. And for the young and curious, some herstory and perspective awaits you (as well as beautiful singing.

    For some time Holly was the straight feminist among a chorus of lesbians. Then she fell in love with Meg Christian. She has been with a man since 1994 according to what I found online. Thus her song, “Imagine My Surprise.”


    1. Thank you so much, Carol. I knew this woman would be a connection among some of us. She was so monumental when I first started researching feminist + female musicians, even woman-loving ones. I had no idea she collaborated with so many of the well-known musicians of the time, but I am familiar with Meg Christian, Ferron, Cris Williamson, and Alix Dobkin, so I’ll have to look up the others. Well, you’ve encouraged me to think about spending more time with Holly Near’s music for writing my musical fantasy synopsis. Thank you for the additional information about her and her relationships.


    2. Hey Carol,
      Just a thought. I looked up the lyrics to “Imagine My Surprise.” It really seems that it is written for another woman. What do you think? Or at least about women loving women. . .

      Imagine my surprise! I love that I have found you
      But I ache all over wanting to know your every dream
      Imagine my surprise! To find that I love you
      Feeling warm all over knowing that you’ve been alive
      Pirates off an Eastern Coast
      Women you lived in danger
      But I hear your laughter free of petticoats
      No need for foolish chivalry
      Though you’re living in the eighteenth century
      You make love to each other on your boats out on the sea
      Lady poet of great acclaim
      I have been misreading you
      I never knew your poems were meant for me
      You lived alone in a quiet den
      Pouring passion through your pen
      And weeping for your lady lovers
      As they safely married men
      Rugged women gone before me
      Paving paths like pioneers so often all alone
      I dreamed of queens and cinderellas
      Facing disappointment when I was grown
      Facing disappointment when I was grown


  2. Thank you for this wonderful article, and for honoring Holly as you did. Being an activist full-time is in itself a sacrifice, and she embodies the courage and beauty as few can. I loved the way you wrote about your own process. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. So amazing to be a full-time activist. Sometimes I am sure it feels we all are, just being embodied as women and going out into the world.


    1. Yes, as I was writing, the conversations all through out college in general and women’s studies/feminist courses about that dualistic mind-body split and the body’s association with women came into mind. I didn’t go much into it because I was already delayed from getting into Near’s lyrics, but it is an important piece to this conversation. But do dualisms always have to be problematic?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Very much enjoyed your post. I like this line particularly “It is appropriate and not against peace to raise our voices, to honor rage, to protest” – as a peacebuilder, too many times people have gotten upset when I critique injustice and work for change. People forget that true peace is not a calm status quo that includes oppression and violence. Nice work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It can be oppressive and dangerous to uphold a standard of “being polite”/”not complaining” when, as Foucault (I think) says, a healthy system critiques itself. I also remember bringing up certain injustices of the workplace to a colleague and him replying with something like “I think we should be grateful. I feel blessed.” That caused a feeling of heat and anger to rise within me, but like a coward, I let it shut me up. I think trying to shut people down with moralizing rhetoric like he did and as people perhaps have done with you in your activism is one of the most degrading things people can do. Fuck gratitude for something that upholds the status quo just so we can be “nice” and not cause “trouble.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had not heard of Holly Near so looked her up and learned there is to be a special about her on PBS soon! From the website: https://www.hollynear.com/

    “A short trailer of the film Singing For Our Lives, a documentary by Jim Brown. Watch it on your local PBS station March 1, 2019.”

    Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post and for the introduction to Holly Near, Lache!

    Blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, cool. Thanks so much – I will definitely seek it out. Be well. Thanks for stopping by – definitely take a listen to at least the Simply Love album. I feel honored I could introduce her to anyone! Thanks for sharing!!! Be well.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: