21 Feminist Anthems From the ’90s To Get You Through Your Day: A Playlist
There are feminist anthems from a lot of different decades, but the 1990s were a special time for women in music–or maybe I just think that because I came of age in the ’90s, but it still feels special to me. There were riot grrrls and third-wave feminism and women could sing nasty about how much they liked sex and they could make fun of dudes’ ridiculous behavior and mating rituals. They could stand up and say “no more of this bullshit for me, thanks” and people actually started to listen.
It’s unfortunate that people didn’t finish listening to feminists and like, do something about it, but maybe someday we’ll get there.
Regardless of whether the ’90s was the best decade so far for badass feminist ladies, it was certainly an excellent decade and I wanted to make a playlist of feminist anthems to reflect that. Also because I sometimes need a playlist that gets me. I need a playlist for those days when I am just done. When I’m pissed off and undervalued and invisible.
This playlist (click here to listen on Spotify):
“Girls! Girls! Girls!” by Liz Phair: This one was a no-brainer, given the name of this issue. Joe Vallese said this about the song, and I think it says more than I could ever say: “Musically, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” is one taut, stretched rubberband, a piece of sonic suspense that comes so close to snapping but never does. Phair speaks her vocals almost in murmur and the guitar—bouncy, bassy, nervous—matches the grayness of her tone. It evokes a sense of old Hollywood noir seduction crossed with the sensibilities of a Quentin Tarantino trailer. It’s fitting that the song would serve as [kind of sonic] blue-balling, refusing to offer any sense of release as Phair expertly weaponizes her sexuality.”
“Deceptacon” by Le Tigre: “Yr lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor / I’ll walk on it / I’ll walk all over you”
“Tired of Nothing” by 7 Year Bitch: “Whadya thinkin’ about? NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHINGGGG.” God damn, this song. If you’ve ever been the person in a relationship who has been forced to do all of the emotional labor, this song will punch you in the chest. It also speaks of emotional manipulation that is just so goddamn common: “Tired of you always put me down . . . Tell me I don’t care about you”. I love this song because it puts the blame on her partner instead of internalizing it; she’s not saying “what’s wrong with me that you don’t love me?” but “what the fuck is wrong with YOU that you treat me like this?” and that’s a better question.
“Been It” by The Cardigans: “I’ve been your sister, I’ve been your mistress / maybe I was your whore / who can ask me for more”
“Stupid Girl” by Garbage: “Maybe if I act like that / That guy will call me back . . . I don’t wanna be a stupid girl” While I don’t absolutely love girls ragging on other girls–I mean, have some compassion for this fucking rat-race we’re forced into–I wholeheartedly support the call for more women to exist for themselves and not to get the attention of men.
“Not the Doctor” by Alanis Morissette: Probably most people would have used “You Oughtta Know” but uh. Well, I love that song but I think this one is better for a playlist of feminist anthems. It’s also about emotional labor; Alanis uses the song to reject the work of keeping this man together at the seams. She didn’t sign up for this job and she doesn’t want it, fuck you very much. “I don’t wanna be your babysitter; you’re a very big boy, now.” “I don’t wanna be the sweeper of the eggshells that you walk upon.” Fucking right.
“Not A Pretty Girl” by Ani Difranco: “I am not a pretty girl / that is not what I do / I ain’t no damsel in distress / and I don’t need to be rescued / so put me down punk”
“No Scrubs” by TLC: So much “No” in this song and I love it. While their specific priorities are not necessarily mine, I can get all the way down with the concept of not being with a person who doesn’t want to bring shit into a relationship. No, I don’t want to give you a chance. No, I don’t owe you my time. No, no, no.
“If I Wanted To” by Melissa Etheridge: “If I wanted to I could turn mountains to sand / Have political leaders in the palm of my hand / I wouldn’t have to be in love with you”
“Trigger Happy Jack (Drive-by A Go-Go)” by Poe: “And after awhile he calms down / And he looks at me like a prince / But I know I better bite the bullet / ‘Cause it’s just another one of his / Jedi mind tricks” (Sidenote: Poe is the sister of Mark Z. Danielewski, author of House of Leaves!)
“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue: This is another song that would probably usually be replaced by another by the same artist, “Free Your Mind”. And while “Free Your Mind” is an excellent feminist anthem, I prefer this one for the list. It’s another song of “no,” and these songs are important because our “no”s are not always heard or believed or regarded.
“Right Hand Man” by Joan Osborne: “The sinsemilla salesman / and the cops on the block / they know what I’ve been doin’ / they see the way I walk” I love how unabashed she is about liking sex, wanting sex, having sex. And I like that she uses the word “panties” in the first verse.
“Jennifer’s Body” by Hole: A “captured girl song,” per Courtney. I don’t know that this technically fits the theme of feminist anthems, but I picked it because of that fear that we live with–the fear that is particular to women–of being captured and abused and seen as prize and property by seriously deranged men.
“Real Man” by Sleater-Kinney: “If you had it in your thighs / You’ll see that it feels so nice / You wait, you’ll cum every time / I’m not that dumb, I don’t wanna” GOD YES. That “it’ll feel good come on you know you want a real man” line is such fucking disgusting sleazy bullshit and Sleater-Kinney captured it perfectly in this song.
“Can I Run” by L7: “Are these sensible shoes on my feet / I wear my shades so our eyes don’t meet / I’m scared every fuckin’ day / I wear my headphones so I can’t hear what you say”
“50 Ft Queenie” by PJ Harvey: There’s something glorious about hearing a woman sing that she’s king of the world and telling dudes to bend over. #sorrynotsorry
“Cherry Bomb” by Bratmobile: A riot grrrl version of the song by The Runaways, “Cherry Bomb” implores women to “get down ladies you’ve got nothing to lose”. I love anything that presents female sexuality as a celebration rather than something to be ashamed of.
“Swimsuit Issue” by Sonic Youth: “Don’t touch my breast – I’m just working at my desk” This shit is seriously rage-inducing, the entitlement that causes women just trying to fucking come to work and live and do their jobs to have to fend off power-tripping skeezy dudes (mostly) who see the women working with and under them as being there for their pleasure. It happens. It happens a fucking lot. If you have a story about this and you want to share it in the comments, do it.
“Just A Girl” by No Doubt: Gwen Stefani’s first go at writing the majority of the lyrics herself were on this album, and when she got to write about her own experiences, we got “Just A Girl”, a song that made many girls my age lose their goddamned minds with recognition. I’m just a girl so I can’t do this; I’m just a girl so I shouldn’t do that; and I have HAD. IT. UP. TO. HERE. Women have always fucking known that we are more, can do more, can be more than what we’ve been told that we can be and it is frustrating as fuck that our abilities aren’t universally recognized because of the package they come in.
“Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child: Another song about scrubs and the extreme disrespect that you can expect from them.
“None of Your Business” by Salt-N-Pepa: I wanted to finish this playlist strong as fuck with a song that doesn’t just defend women’s sexuality but flat out says that what we’re doing sexually is none of your goddamn business. Women are often held up for examination when it comes to our sex lives: are we “virtuous”? Or whores? Salt-N-Pepa give ZERO FUCKS about what you think about their virtue, and the only reason you’re up in their business is “to stress and to spite [them]”, not because you have some kind of righteous charge to police women’s sexuality.
What songs would you add to this list?
Edited for clarity.