Feature Story

Women’s Rights in Music

The Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade impacted millions of women’s rights within seconds. Suddenly, reproductive rights considered constitutional for roughly 50 years were now gone. Women have been marching, protesting and putting their lives on the line for their civil rights for decades. Also, women have been voicing their rage, passion and activism in music for just as long. Some of the songs listed before I have written and talked about, but they are still great. As we prepare to fight for equality and civil rights, let’s take a look at the music that fuelled women activists for the past 6 – 7 decades:

Various Artists ft. Beyoncé: My Power

The reason for putting “various artists” at the top of the entry is that there are so many artists on this track I would have run out of room on the line. So, here they are: Nija, Busiswa, Yemi Alade, Tierra Whack, Moonchild Sanelly, DJ Lag and Beyoncé. Everyone has a chance to shine on this aggressive and tightly constructed track, which is part hip hop and Afro-beat. This is an amazing track about women finding power and strength in themselves and in their African heritage. My Power is not a gimmicky “girl power” track constructed in a focus group, but a proud declaration of self – actualisation.

M.I.A.: Bad Girls

This is a great track from M.I.A. that turns the male gaze and Middle Eastern stereotypes / gender norms on their heads. The track is about women racing cars and banging on the dash, while the video has women drifting BMWs in Morocco with women grinding in over the top leopard prints. M.I.A. has always been about being a “bad girl” and shouting down injustice. What makes this song to badass is that she shot the video with all women drivers at a time when women were forbidden to drive, by law, in Saudi Arabia. She supported the Women to Drive movement in Saudi Arabia in the video and women were eventually able to legally drive in 2018.

Kitty Wells: It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

At the time os this song, it was common for country songs to talk about how women did men wrong and they were left with nothing but sorrow / a need to get a new woman. Very little attention was paid to the other side of the coin and how women were being abused / exploited. Kitty Wells had enough of that and put the blame / responsibility for affairs on the men who through that they had the right to have sex with anyone they want. For Kitty, men weren’t made from God and allowed to do whatever they want…they are not Honky Tonk Angels and need to be held accountable for their actions. Kitty is a badass.

Dolly Parton: The Bridge

Dolly often wrote songs in the 60s that would never be played on the radio due to their content. The Bridge is one such song and was banned from radio play due to themes of having children out of wedlock. In the song Dolly sings about how a woman is at the bridge where she and her boyfriend met and he promised her the world. He then left her with a child and Dolly sings about this woman steps off the bridge and kills herself. Dolly will sing a number of songs about violence towards women and how women are left with unwanted pregnancies and the pain of men leaving them to raise a family on their own. Maybe the Supreme Court should have a listen.

Missy Elliott: Get UR Freak On

Women being overtly sexual has always been a political act in itself within society. It is more than acceptable, encouraged even, for men to objectify women and be as sexual as they want….but a woman rapping aggressively about sex…QUICK! BRING THE FAINTING COUCH!!! Missy had no time for that and brought it on every record. She paved the way for other tracks on this list and she told the male gaze to fuck off.

Madonna: Like a Virgin

I would be remiss if I didn’t have this track on the list. The is one of the first times in pop music where a woman overtly sung about her ownership of her own sexuality. Most of the time it was men singing about having sex or women singing about how great it was for a man to have sex with her. In this track, Madonna is singing about how sex is “like a virgin” implying that she has had sex before and that she is in charge of her sexual experience. This thought was revolutionary and caused quite a stir, which will continue for the rest of Madonna’s career. I love Madonna.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion: WAP

This is the track that took over the world when it was released. Cardi and Megan took Missy Elliott and Madonna to 11 as they rapped about sex and their sexuality. What makes this song a must have on the list is how they are owning how sex is done, what can be done to their bodies and how they enjoy sex. Many people cited the language as what they had a problem with, but men have been rapping about sex and their penis like this for decades with not even 1% of the outrage this song generated. People weren’t scared about the word “pussy,” they were scared about women in power and having agency over how they have sex.

Ani DiFranco: Not a Pretty Girl

Ani has taken activist music to new heights throughout her career. The song is about how men try to “save” women because they want to keep them in their place and they are afraid of women getting too much power. She sings about how people see her as angry when she is fighting for her rights, because it is easier to cast her as angry and not look at their own fear of women rising up. Ultimately, she says that she is a patriot and fighting the good fight for equality and women’s rights.

Courtney Barnett: I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch

I love this song and it goes on every women’s day / Mother’s Day / activist list I do. Courtney can “only put up with so much shit” before the has to call it out. Unlike many romcoms, and the new Top Gun movie to be honest, women are not meant to fix men’s problems and / or be objects for them to use how they like. Courtney makes that point perfectly clear in a banging 1 minute 50 second punk flame thrower.

Janelle Monáe: Django Jane

The record Dirty Computer has Janelle singing about gender, race, sexuality, women’s rights and how great she is…which is factually correct. This track seems to touch on all of those themes, but especially where race, gender and women’s rights intersect. Janelle is all about being true to yourself and speaking truth to power. Let your voice be heard and inspire others…killer track.

Thanks for having a read and I hope you like the tracks. Here is a link you can use to donate money if you want to fight for reproductive rights:

Planned Parenthood

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