Feminist Culture in Music


This afternoon I’m doing a guest lecture for Sidney Shaw on Feminist Theory and Therapy. In honor of this, I’m posting an excerpt from our “Study Guide” for Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice. Here you go:

Most dominant cultural media is clearly NOT feminist. A quick perusal of movie trailers (which generally include men with guns and women quickly undressing because they’re so darn aroused by men with guns) or popular music filtering into the ears of our youth will affirm this not-so-radical-reality.

For this activity we were interested in music, films, and books that ARE feminist in orientation and so we conducted a non-random survey of participants on counseling and psychology listservs and online blogs. We simply asked: Please share your recommendations for first, second, and third wave feminist songs, films, and books (and then did a few online searches). Interestingly, the most significant finding was that listserv respondents clearly had a much stronger passion for music than anything else. We received only one book recommendation and one film recommendation. In contrast, we got flooded by song recommendations. Consequently, we decided to focus our survey specifically on songs and will leave the books and films for another project.

Before we get to our non-comprehensive and nonrandom feminist song list, we should briefly discuss the three waves of feminism . . . despite the fact that doing so may raise issues and stimulate debate. No doubt, individuals who experienced or are knowledgeable about each wave may take issue with the distinctions offered below. Nevertheless, here’ son look (Susan Pharr, 1997) at the evolution of feminism:

We are examining sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, ageism, ableism, and imperialism, and we see everything as connected. This change in point of view represents the third wave of the women’s liberation movement, a new direction that does not get mass media coverage and recognition. It has been initiated by women of color and lesbians who were marginalized or rendered invisible by the white heterosexual leaders of earlier efforts. The first wave was the 19th and early 20th century campaign for the vote; the second, beginning in the 1960s, focused     on the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights. Consisting of predominantly white middleclass women, both failed in recognizing issues of equality and empowerment for all women. The third wave of the movement, multi-racial and multi-issued, seeks      the transformation of the world for us all. (p.26)

If we go with Pharr’s distinctions, we would broadly categorize first, second, and third wave feminism as:

 

  1. Campaign for the vote
  2. The ERA and abortion rights
  3. Multi-racial, multi-issued world transformation

 

What’s problematic about this categorization is that it’s too darn simplistic. The vote, ERA, and abortion rights were key or central issues, but first and second wave feminists we know would take issue with the narrowness of this depiction and would rightly point to first and second wave feminist efforts at including—not marginalizing—minority groups.

With this in mind, although we initially anticipated creating a nuanced and organized Table with books, films, and songs tightly organized by their connection with a particular “feminist wave” we’ve now decided to make a less organized list of feminist-oriented songs that have inspired individual women and men. And while the less organized list is perhaps less satisfying to our more compulsive sides, it also provides freedom for you as a reader to listen to the music, appreciate or explore the various messages, and then categorize or refuse to categorize the songs based on your preference. In the end, we found ourselves a little surprised to find that this less categorical, more dimensional, and more personal approach feels more consistent with feminist ideals . . . ideals that focus on the personal as political and that assert that authority figures should resist the impulse to tell others what and how to think.

As you read through these recommendations we suggest you think about what songs hold meaning for you and why. Along with many of the recommendations listed, we also received explanations for why the particular song was meaningful—in a feminist way. There’s always space in any list for additions and subtractions and your personal additions and subtractions might help you create an inspiring feminist playlist for yourself.

One final caveat: When we searched online for top feminist songs and anthems, we came across the occasional angry blog or posting demonizing the feminist perspective. We found this a little creepy and a little fascinating. One example was a comment (we’re paraphrasing now) about the heathen feminists . . . who sing into microphones and sound systems all of which were ‘invented’ by men. We include this comment primarily to emphasize that, in fact, you also may find yourself having strong emotional reactions to the music or the lyrics or the preceding comment. If your reactions are especially strong, we recommend you conduct a feminist power analysis and/or have a discussion about your reactions with someone you trust (and who has a balanced feminist perspective).

 

Table 10.1: A List of Feminist Songs that Counselors and Psychotherapists have Found Inspiring

 

18 Wheeler – Pink

A Sorta Fairytale – Tori Amos

Alien She – Bikini Kill

All American Girl – Melissa Etheridge

Ampersand – Amanda Palmer

Androgynous – Joan Jett

Be a Man – Courtney Love

Beautiful Flower – India Arie

Beautiful Liar – Beyonce and Shakira

Been a Son – Nirvana

Black Girl Pain – Jean Grae and Talib Kweli

Butyric Acid – Consolidated

Can’t Hold Us Down – Christina Aguilera

Cornflake – Tori Amos

Crucify – Tori Amos

Daughter – Pearl Jam

Double Dare Ya – Bikini Kill

Express Yourself – Madman

Fixing her Hair – Ani Difranco

Glass Ceiling – Metric

God – Tori Amos

Gonna Be an Engineer – Peggy Seeger

Goodbye Earl – The Dixie Chicks

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter

Hey Cinderella – Suzy Bogguss

Human Nature – Madonna

I am Woman – Helen Reddy

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

I’m a Bitch – Meredith Brooks

I’m Every Woman – Chaka Khan or Whitney Houston

It’s a She Thing – Salt and Peppa

Just a Girl – No Doubt

Man! I Feel Like a Woman – Shania Twain

Me and a gun – Tori Amos

My Old Man – Joni Mitchell

No More Tears – Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer

Not a Pretty Girl – Ani Difranco

Not Ready to Make Nice – The Dixie Chicks

One of the Boys – Katy Perry

Poker Face – Lady Gaga

Pretty Girls – Neko Case

Professional Window – Tori Amos

Promiscuous – Nelly Furtado

Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Silent All these Years – Tori Amos

Sisters are Do – Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox

Sisters are Doing It for Themselves – Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics

Spark – Tori Amos

Stronger – Britney Spears

Stupid Girls – Pink

Superwoman – Alicia Keys

Swan Dive – Ani DiFranco

The Pill – Loretta Lynn

This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush

Why Go – Pearl Jam

Woman in the Moon – Barbra Streisand

Women Should be a Priority – Sweet Honey and the Rock

You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore

You Oughta Know – Alanis Morisette

Your Revolution – Sidebar

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