Protest: Tegan and Sara | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, December 7th, 2023  

Protest: Tegan and Sara

Redefining Feminism

Dec 20, 2021 Photography by Trevor Brady (for Under the Radar) Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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Tegan and Sara have always been deliberate in using their platform for social good. In 2012, the Canadian duo appeared on the cover of that year’s Protest Issue wielding a sign that said: “The rights of the minority should never be subject to the whim of the majority.” Sara Quin, who has been making music alongside her identical twin sister, Tegan Quin, for over two decades, fondly remembers how those words strongly resonated with her. “It was a quote that I had heard for the first-time during Canada’s marriage equality debates. Ultimately, the legislation that went through allowed all Canadians to get married to whomever they wanted to get married to. I remember hearing that quote and thinking, ‘God—that just makes so much sense.’” However, over eight years and a Trump presidency later, that optimism was overshadowed by a grim reality.

“I’m not certainly speaking for every person in Canada, but I will say that everything about Trump was a nightmare. You know, everything that is happening right now in the world really in general feels really scary. I feel like that’s part of my mission and privilege…I’m in this fight until I’m not here anymore. I always think about in life how to be good and do good and then I look at Trump and I think about the people who support him. Of course, I felt anger and disgust and all of those things, but I just kept thinking, ‘It’s so, so sad.’” She pauses as if these emotions are hitting her like a wave all over again before she completes her thought, even as Americans ease into a period with Joe Biden as their leader. “It just didn’t make sense to me.”

Tegan and Sara released their debut album, Under Feet Like Ours, back in 1999, but it wasn’t until the 2004 release of So Jealous that they started receiving major radio airplay with the breakout hit “Walking With a Ghost.” Right from the beginning of their career, though, Sara states that maintaining their authenticity—especially as part of the LGBTQ community—was something that was never up for debate. “I was never in the closet…I wasn’t pretending I was writing songs about my boyfriend or whatever. If I’m going to treat myself as a sophisticated, serious person with something important to say, then I need to be honest about what I’m talking about—and right away we started taking people to task.” She shares a few painful experiences that showed the musicians the exact type of ignorance they were going to deal with.

“I was in my early 20s when the Internet really started to get going. Whenever I would find reviews or articles [about us] that I thought were homophobic, sexist, or misogynistic, I fucking wrote them and said, ‘This is homophobic.’ But everybody—our publicists, our record labels—was like, ‘Pick your battles carefully.’ I didn’t have this term when we started out, but I felt like everyone was gaslighting me saying, ‘Oh it’s not that big of a deal that a radio DJ asked if you and your sister are incestuous live on air.’ Like, what the fuck? I would just cry and remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to be successful or famous or whatever.’

“Thankfully, we overcame that stuff and realized the power we had to hold these people accountable,” Sara continues. “They may not change or apologize but we’re not going to sit there and take it…we started to feel empowered. We told people you couldn’t talk to us like that. Then every time we would go somewhere, they’d say, ‘Tegan and Sara are going to tell us we’re doing something wrong.’ And we were like, ‘Yep—so you better behave.’”

In 2019, the pair released their ninth studio album Hey, I’m Just Like You, at the same time they published their memoir High School. Both projects delve into how both women have come to embrace queerness—even in the face of bigotry—and reiterate how the world still doesn’t know how to grapple with their complexity. “I think broader culture and society doesn’t know what to do with women who they can’t fit into the male gaze, you know? It’s like, ‘Oh my god—a woman making things from the perspective of a woman about women and not about men…what is that?’ And I think people are still confused by that,” Sara concludes.

Despite her strong allegiance to feminism—and ultimately women’s rights—Sara knows the term can be quite problematic. “We understand that there is a legacy attached to feminism that was not inclusive,” she admits. “And I think a lot of people reject that word because of the history of the feminist movement. It left out women of color and didn’t do right by the queer community and trans women—so I totally fucking get it. But if my feminism is making you uncomfortable because you’re unsure if women should be considered equal to men—then I don’t want to hear what you have to say. It’s almost like an internalized sexism.”

Even though Sara’s role in social activism has required an immense amount of resilience, stamina, and determination, she knows it’s necessary if we want to see change in the music industry and ultimately society overall. “It’s a privilege to say, ‘I don’t want to be political’ or ‘I don’t care who you sleep with.’ That doesn’t do me any good for when years and years and years I couldn’t join your stupid marriage club,” she says. “It doesn’t do me any good when people are spitting in my face or telling me that I should die because I’m weird. We’ve been doing this for 20 years and believe that with the right, aggressive instruction we can be better. It’s not time for you to defend yourself—it’s time for you to shut up and try to fucking change this.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. The issue was our 2021 Protest Issue, in which we once again examined the intersection of music and politics and conducted photo shoots with musicians holding protest signs of their own making.]

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