Since the dawn of time, and in every iteration of established society, women have played second fiddle to men. Whether that be in the home or at work until very recently, the established order has been a deeply-entrenched patriarchal behemoth that has needed pulling down. Consequently, the spectre of male dominance did not save itself from the music industry either.
Still, the music industry is largely a male-dominated environment. From the boardrooms of the record label executive down to the Tuesday night bills of our local grassroots venues, music is full of men. This isn’t to say that we’re aiming to be disparaging towards those gents, rather to display the fact that gender inequality still pervades.
Thanks to the advent of technology, and the progression of some aspects of westernised society, the musical landscape is starting to shift. If we were to hold a mirror up to today and compare it with 1965, we would see that the gender landscape is starkly different. Societal developments have lead to 21st-century music being stuffed with strong, independent female artists from across the board, such as Lizzo, Pussy Riot and Bjork. However, there still exists an unfair balance between genders in the music industry and society, with horrific tales of abuse still being a regular occurrence.
The tectonic plates are shifting, though. The advent of the ‘Me Too’ movement has given rise to brilliant and necessary online communities such as shesaid.so, which are starting to pave out a fairer landscape within the artistic industry’s. It gives us hope.
We want to see women promoted to the protagonist, front and centre of the stage, rather than being a footnote in a man’s story. This has so often been the case; for example, take John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia’s story, and to a lesser extent, his second wife, Yoko Ono’s. In fact, the latter is a brilliant social activist in her own right, but her life often gets trivialised and whittled down being simply the woman who “broke The Beatles up”. Furthermore, If we heed the way that Elvis Presley made Big Mama Thornton’s single ‘Hound Dog’ his own by reappropriating it in a white, male format, you get the picture.
We’re on our way, but not there yet. For TRNSMT Festival’s founder, Geoff Ellis, to come out and proclaim in the wake of an announcement of a heavily male-oriented lineup that even a 50/50 gender split lineup is “a while away”, it is not hard to notice that music is still in transition to a fairer gender format. Ellis even claimed, “We need more females picking up guitars, forming bands, playing in bands.”
Whilst, Ellis’ statement isn’t necessarily true, as there are innumerable female musicians thriving within today’s industry, it does go some way in painting a picture of today’s present juncture. This is why it is brilliant to see the likes of Billie Eilish, Little Simz and Angel Olsen sticking it to the mainstream and established order, giving us banger after banger that can only be described as feminist anthems. Additionally, lesser-known acts such as Amyl and the Sniffers, Loose Articles and Deep Tan are all carving out their own paths, all the while sticking a big finger up to gender-normative restrictions.
As consumers of music, we have been incredibly lucky. Regardless of the barriers in their way, since the dawn of popular music, we have been blessed with courageous female artists who have railed against the male-dominated order through the medium of song.
The most iconic of these feminist anthems is, without a doubt, Aretha Franklin’s 1967 take on Otis Redding song ‘Respect’. She took the 1965 original, turned it on its head and made it into a certified civil rights and feminist bopper, the crowning status of which it still holds today. Espousing what it says on the label, Franklin’s ‘Respect’ is a timeless summary of other genders’ demand of mutual respect off of our heteronormative, male counterparts.
Furthermore, punk and the ensuing riot grrrl movement also went to considerable lengths of destroying gender barriers. The original punk movement gave us trailblazing female icons such as Patti Smith, Poly Styrene and The Slits. The riot grrrl groundswell of the 1990s gave us legends such as Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, who tore up the rule book in a total affront to gender norms. More recently, we have been blessed with The Linda Lindas and their unapologetic challenge on misogyny, ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’.
The list of pioneering women in music is actually endless. We continue to be offered feminist anthems that get the blood boiling, making us realise as men that there is still much to do in our quest for gender equality. Accordingly, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the ultimate 40 feminist anthems. Expect to see some of those mentioned above, and some of our other favourite women in music.
Join us then, as we list in no particular order the ultimate 40 feminist anthems.
The ultimate 40 feminist anthems:
- ‘Sue Me’ – Bjork
- ‘Woman Power’ – Yoko Ono
- ‘Cherry Bomb’ – The Runaways
- ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ – Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu
- ‘Bad Girls’ – M.I.A.
- ‘Land’ – Patti Smith
- ‘I’m Every Woman’ – Chaka Khan
- ‘Lark’ – Angel Olsen
- ‘Barracuda’ – Heart
- ‘I am Woman’ – Helen Reddy
- ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ – Solange Knowles
- ‘Debout Les Femmes’ (Stand Up Women) – Monique Wittig
- ‘Rapture’ – Blondie
- ‘La Femme Fetal’ – Digable Planets
- ‘Woman’ – Little Simz
- ‘Flower’ – Sonic Youth
- ‘WAP’ – Cardi B
- ‘Respect‘ – Aretha Franklin
- ‘Rebel Girl’ – Bikini Kill
- ‘Hound Dog’ – Big Mama Thornton
- ‘Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow’ – Joni Mitchell
- ‘You Don’t Own Me’ – Lesley Gore
- ‘I Will Survive’ – Gloria Gaynor
- ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ – The Linda Lindas
- ‘Tomboy’ – Princess Nokia
- ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ – L7
- ‘Her Jazz’ – Huggy Bear
- ‘I’m Coming Out’ – Diana Ross
- ‘Just a Girl’ – No Doubt
- ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ – X-Ray Spex
- ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’ – Queen Latifah
- ‘No Scrubs’ – TLC
- ‘Juice’ – Lizzo
- ‘Nameless, Faceless’ – Courtney Barnett
- ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ – Shania Twain
- ‘Standing in the Way of Control’ – The Gossip
- ‘Snake’ – Loose Articles
- ‘Kill the Sexist’ – Pussy Riot
- ‘Gaslighter’ – The Chicks
- ‘Typical Girls’ – The Slits
Stream the playlist, below.