What’s on Your Feminist Playlist?

What’s on Your Feminist Playlist?

Music played a pretty important role in my life as a kid, but I always listened to what my parents listened to — an interesting blend of 70s singer-songwriters, blue-collar rockers, and sugary 60s pop. When I was around 12, in an attempt to fit in better with my sixth grade peers, I decided to branch out and start listening to the local top 40 station. And so in an attempt to finally see what music was currently “cool,” I used my allowance to buy a shiny new copy of the new Alanis Morissette CD, Jagged Little Pill.

My parents had recently purchased our first CD player, a massive piece of equipment that was in our open living room — so if you wanted to listen to something, you had to do it in a very public space. Needless to say, my parents were less excited about Alanis than I was. My dad maintained that she sounded like a cat being tortured, and my mom was so offended by the swearing that I wasn’t allowed to listen to the first several songs on the album — including my favorite song, “You Oughta Know.” (What, did she think the references to movie theater fellatio were inappropriate for a 12 year old? *Eyeroll,* Mom!) But I was entranced. Alanis was so angry, and totally unapologetic for her aggressive bitterness. She didn’t apologize for her feelings, or try to make herself smaller or prettier or sweeter — in fact, she did quite the opposite. As a tall, gawky, not-so-cute preteen, I found it incredibly empowering.

Looking back, I can see that “You Oughta Know” was an important moment in my development into a feminist. There were other songs from around that same time — like Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” — but it wasn’t until I got to college that I became immersed in feminist music. I went to a very small, women’s liberal arts college where everything, from math classes to school traditions revolved around feminism, gender, and sexuality. The music of the campus was no exception. Much of the repertoire of the college’s two a capella groups, Whirligigs and Henry’s VIII, were by feminist artists like Dar Williams, Indigo Girls, and Ani DiFranco. Henry’s VIII sang “Goodbye Earl,” the Dixie Chicks song about two friends murdering an abusive husband. Whirligigs sang what was something of an anthem on campus, “As Cool As I Am” by Dar Williams, a song that seemed to perfectly capture the empowerment that many of us found at our little women’s college. Before I arrived, I had been so afraid of being “stranded” in an all-female environment, and had heard countless criticisms of women’s education, including the old line about how it’s hard to be friends with other women, since they’re so “catty” and “dramatic” — so the chorus of “As Cool As I Am” deeply resonated: “I will not be afraid of women, I will not be afraid of women.” And indeed, soon, I was not.

Since then, my iTunes has become an eclectic collection of political, feminist music. It ranges from those college classics to country from the Dixie Chicks, Kacey Musgraves and Mary Chapin Carpenter, to old school rock from Janis Joplin, Pat Benatar, and Chryssie Hynde, and modern anthems from Beyonce, Alicia Keyes, and Lady Gaga. When I was writing this post, friends suggested songs I’d never heard before, like Tori Amos’ “Me and A Gun,” and classics I’d forgotten about, like Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be You and Me.” When I need a little empowerment, or the ‘war on women’ has got me down, I know I can turn to this playlist for a boost.

What music made you a feminist? What do you think I should I add to my iTunes playlist?

Song list: “What’s on Your Feminist Playlist?”

  1. Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”
  2. Meredith Brooks, “Bitch”
  3. Dixie Chicks, “Goodbye Earl”
  4. Dar Williams, “As Cool As I Am”
  5. Dar Williams, “When I Was a Boy”
  6. Tori Amos, “Me And A Gun”
  7. Marlo Thomas & Friends, “Free to Be You and Me”
  8. Mary Chapin Carpenter, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”
  9. TLC, “Unpretty”
  10. The Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket”
  11. Shania Twain, “Man I Feel Like a Woman”
  12. Alicia Keyes, “Girl On Fire — Inferno Version”
  13. Beyonce, “Run The World (Girls)”
  14. Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
  15. Indigo Girls, “Least Complicated”
  16. Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
  17. Ani DiFranco, “Not a Pretty Girl”
  18. Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”

Featured image caption: Orange the World 2022 – Indonesia. (Flickr)

Sarah Handley-Cousins is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University at Buffalo. She is author of Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North (UGA, 2019) and a producer of Dig: A History Podcast.

4 thoughts on “What’s on Your Feminist Playlist?

    • Author gravatar

      From an older feminist…

      Chaka Khan – I’m Everywoman
      Chaka Kahn – Ain’t Nobody
      Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
      Helen Reddy – I Am Woman
      Pointer Sisters – I’m So Excited
      Sister Sledge – We are Family
      Janis Joplin – To Love Somebody

    • Author gravatar

      I have some vivid feminist memories associated with these songs. “I will survive”: Soon after college graduation, I was at a consulting firm morale boosting event with karaoke. The women all got up and sang along to this one. Loudly. It was pretty angry. The men watching were smiling at the beginning, but by mid-song they looked kind of terrified. People were otherwise very corporate-polite at that workplace, but some different feelings could be expressed in a song! Dar Williams: I learned about her from my women’s-studies-major sister, the year she and I shared an apartment. All Dar Williams makes me sentimental for evenings cooking and talking with my wonderful feminist sister. Free to Be You and Me: I cried when I found this in the children’s section at our local bookstore, the first year I was a stay-at-home mom with my infant son. I bought it for him. We listened to it as he got older, but he was really confused about why the song character, William, is teased for having a doll. (Yesss! Things have changed at least a tiny bit!)

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