Mannequin Pussy Learn to Accept Who They Are

Marisa Dabice unpacks the self-acceptance, self-hatred, and freedom of individuality that went into writing the punk band’s new album, Patience.

“Who taught you to hate the way you are?” Marisa Dabice queries on the second single from Mannequin Pussy’s new album, Patience, on which self-perception plays a recurring role. It’s a loaded question, and although “Who You Are” was written about a friend’s reflexive self-hating tendencies, the more time Dabice spent with the lyrics, the more they began to feel universal. “The press release said this song is about self-love/empowerment,” she tweeted after the single’s roll out, “but the more I lay awake last night thinking about it, I realized this song is more about dismantling the systems/people who actively encourage others to hate themselves. Self-hatred is taught to us so how do we unlearn it?”

“When I wrote the album, I was definitely aware that I was going through this pretty long process of unlearning negative behaviors and ways that I see myself,” Dabice clarifies of Patience, a record that, true to its title, sees the seething punk band catch a few breathers over the course of its near-thirty-minute run time. “I think in general, the whole concept of self-hatred is a learned thing—I don’t think anyone grows up thinking anything about them is wrong until someone tells them that certain things are, and then they have to recontextualize this new information with who they are as a person. As I was typing up the album’s lyrics, I came across the word ‘unlearn’ a bunch and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, what have I been going through in my head!’”

After this personal revelation, Dabice became more wary of the casual ways we’re conditioned to put ourselves down in everyday conversation, how certain negativities have crept into our cultural lexicon. While transcribing our interview, I realize how relatable this line of thought really is—before jumping into my questions, I tell her that “if all the things I say are really stupid” it’s because I hardly slept the night before, and if my questions get too personal she can just “tell me to shut up.” She laughs and goes along with it—as we’ve learned to do when confronted with such blithe self-deprecation—but it isn’t long before such behavior is addressed head on. 

“I think the more you’re aware of the way you speak about yourself to other people, and the more you’re aware of the way that the people around you speak about themselves, it really kind of clues you in to the way that they see themselves,” she offers before bluntly addressing her friend and case study for “Who You Are.” “When I hear them talk about themselves it’s really negative and self-deprecating—it’s not fucking cute to hear someone who thinks that they’re terrible at everything, or looks horrible all the time. I’m not talking about actions—people who do horrible things—I’m talking about good people who are just so lost with how to see themselves in any sort of positive light.” 

For a moment, Dabice struggles to maintain patience: “Just something as small as telling someone you think they did a great job, and them saying, ‘Oh no, everything I do is shit.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Like, why? Why do you have to deflect anything that is good?” 

Much in the same way Mannequin Pussy’s previous album, Romantic, felt dedicated to the brash allure of self-love (“I pledge allegiance to myself and nothing else,” Dabice chants on “Pledge,” a rewriting of the oath we’re taught to unthinkingly recite at a young age dedicated instead to something considerably more valuable than nationalist iconography), Patience is a more calculated evaluation of the self, with “patience” being perceived as something of a flex—a newly discovered tool for development that’s key to achieving self-acceptance. “It’s just the natural way of things,” Dabice explains of the band’s cooling down on tracks like the shoegaze derivative “Fear/+/Desire” and diary-extracted sing-a-long “Drunk II.” “I think there’s still some songs of absolute fury on there, but I think I’m less angry these days, and more thoughtful and cautious. I think anger has its place, but I’m a little bit more interested in beauty.” 

“I just have so much hope for how much better-adjusted people will be ten years from now, instead of turning thirty and being like, ‘Oh my god, what do I need to shed of all the bullshit that’s been taught to me throughout my life?’”

If the album’s patience is derived from its recognition and understanding of perceived self-hatred in others, its fury comes from the relationships that teach us to hate ourselves. Dabice cites a number of past romances as the source of her ire on hardcore quickburners like “F.U.C.A.W.” and “Drunk I.” Many of these relationships, like the one detailed on “Drunk II,” are several years old, and it’s “disappointing” to her that they continue to impact her thoughts. “I think that any sort of negative relationship experience can definitely set off that way that you view yourself, and the way that you wonder about who you are, and what you need from others. The bad ones can certainly inspire some self-reflection.” 

For Dabice, patience has become easier to come by in her thirties—suddenly it seems more natural. “There’s this shift in consciousness that happens where I feel so much more unaffected by negative patterns and the more superficial bullshit that could consume more of my mind in my twenties, which is definitely a big relief.” She sees the decade ahead of her as a time for stripping herself of anything that isn’t serving her anymore, most notably the relationships she attempts to exorcise on Patience, though she also mentions the occasional negative feedback she’s learning to disregard on social media. It’s a tough process, but one that she’s optimistic about for future generations who are growing up in a more liberal culture (“I grew up in a time when Ellen lost her TV show for coming out,” she reminds me). 

Once again, the term “unlearning” arises when we discuss growing up in the early 2000s, a period not only marked by a glaring lack of inclusivity in mainstream media, but also by a popular culture of irony and humor based on self-deprecation, particularly in rapidly growing online communities. “I feel very jealous sometimes of a twenty-year-old who gets to grow up now with terms like ‘radical self-acceptance,’ and feeling like therapy is this widely discussed thing,” she sighs. “I just have so much hope for how much better-adjusted those people will be ten years from now, instead of turning thirty and being like, ‘Oh my god, what do I need to shed of all the bullshit that’s been taught to me throughout my life?’”

Above all, this process of unlearning is rooted in a sense of individuality—which, she agrees, is being nurtured much more carefully in kids and teens today. “It’s OK to really like things, it’s OK to be very passionate about things, it’s OK to fucking care,” she stresses. “It’s also OK to be a different kind of human being from other people—that’s not the world I grew up in, where none of those things were tolerated.” 

In being a different kind of band from many of their peers in a generally more pop-oriented Philadelphia punk scene, Mannequin Pussy’s signing to Epitaph for the release of Patience proved to be the right move. “They’re this legendary punk label, but they seem to not care about us doing exactly what we wanted to do,” Dabice enthuses, countering the typical gripe of less creative freedom associated with a bigger label. “When they finally heard the record they were so excited about it off the bat, in part because it really is different from a lot of the albums they put out.” With Epitaph currently specializing in post-hardcore, pop punk, and emo with acts like La Dispute, Culture Abuse, and Joyce Manor gracing their roster, Dabice’s band stills feels more at home touring with their Philly peers Empath this summer, whose experimental noise rock isn’t quite within the punk-derivative label’s wheelhouse.

“I don’t ever want to be the kind of artist who’s making things because other people are,” Dabice says. “I think that’s what makes musicians boring for the most part—when they’re so obsessed with idolatry and mimicking the sounds that they’ve heard someone else do. What does that really do for art?” However, the recording process for Patience did see the band working with an outside influence for the first time: “It was fucking great,” Dabice raves of producer Will Yip, a much-in-demand Philadelphian who’s worked with everyone from Turnstile to The Fray. “Just to have someone whose whole ethos is to insert themselves as a fifth member of the band—which, at first when he said that I was like, ‘alright dude, back up—is that what you’re gonna come in here to do? Join the band?’ But what he meant by that was to really understand our vision—what he means by becoming a member of the band is that he cares as much as you do.”

“Sometimes I think basic human connection is the only thing that’s gonna save us from ourselves and feeling so alone. I don’t think that there are many completely unique human experiences. There’s someone else out there who’s gone through what you’ve gone through.”

The pairing feels more and more natural the longer she describes their working relationship, particularly Yip’s ability to recognize Dabice’s self-deprecation and offer support. “The studio is definitely a very easy place to kind of kick-start those self-hatred feelings where you’re like, ‘I’m fucking crap, this song’s fucking crap, oh my god, is this even worth being recorded?’ When you go through those crazy mental gymnastics, [it’s a blessing] having someone like Will to calm you down and bring you back to earth and allow you to see and hear that you’re on the right track and tell you to stop second guessing yourself.” Yip, it seems, provides a voice of reason to Patience, refusing to let Dabice censor herself in the album’s rawest moments, which, she acknowledges, tend to also be the most relatable to her listeners.  

“Sometimes I think basic human connection is the only thing that’s gonna save us from ourselves and feeling so alone,” she posits, speaking to the intimacy of her lyrics. “I don’t think that there are many completely unique human experiences. There’s someone else out there who’s gone through what you’ve gone through.” While she continues to struggle with the fact that such personal details of her past life as the ones detailed on “Drunk II” will be shouted back at her across the country in the coming months, there’s definitely a sense of gratitude that those doing the shouting seem respectful—if not empathetic—of her experiences. “We are so fucking lucky. Mannequin Pussy has the coolest fucking fans. They’re like the cool weirdos that I really identify with.” 

She continues: “I have the privilege of having built something that connects me to other people, and has people sharing their experiences with me, and building this small multiverse—like, there’s these different worlds within Mannequin Pussy that are somewhat escapist from the real world, but also put a magnifying glass on it. To be part of something so positive—to have people throwing positivity my way—it helps me to learn that confidence.” 

As for how to go about the process of unlearning self-hatred? “I don’t know,” Dabice admits. “I’m really still struggling very much to do those things. I think I have a lot of deconditioning to do with myself, and how I see myself.” With her newfound tricenarian wisdom, and the confidence afforded by a quickly growing fanbase of cool weirdos, it’s hard to imagine the band’s next record will be anything but utterly unique—a continued unlearning of their punk roots and another artistic statement of self-discovery. FL

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