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15 Female Empowerment Anthems You Must Know

It should come as no surprise that whether it’s through literature, television, or song, strong women prevail. Historically, however, much of film, television and other mediums have reduced women to plot devices and objects.  

In spite of these limitations, many women, through their music, have subverted these tropes by attuning their songs to their own feminist mindsets.  In the process, they’ve manifested their strength in songs that speak to millions.  While feeling empowered is a subjective feeling and it varies individually, these are 15 anthems about female empowerment that echo waves of feminism, equality and what it feels like to be a woman, as they have lived it:

15. “These Boots Are Made For Walkin” by Nancy Sinatra

With a voice that could cut through any person’s bullshit, Nancy Sinatra sings of walking all over a lover who cheated on her instead of playing his game and dismissing his infidelity.  A song like “These Boots,” entrancing listeners since ‘66, echoes the assertive nature of a woman who won’t stand for anyone’s nonsense and cuts ties when people “keep playing where you shouldn’t be playing” because they “keep thinking that you’ll never get burnt.”

14. “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill

Bikini Kill, a pioneer of the riot grrrl movement, was at the forefront of embracing female empowerment through their radical feminist lyrics in the punk rock scene.  “Rebel Girl” sings about a rebel girl whom the singer admires so much she calls her the queen of her world.  The singer, who feels attracted to the rebel girl’s striking split from the norm, “hears the revolution” when she speaks, sees revolution in her hips, and even tastes the revolution in her lips.  In a cleverly worded anthem, “Rebel Girl” works as a feminist anthem of heroic admiration for subversive feminist women, a song about freely expressing how admiration for a woman can also be non-platonic, and a song about solidarity in sisterhood.

13. “You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore

Though Grace’s modern cover alongside G-Eazy may be the first exposure to Leslie Gore’s 1963 song “You Don’t Own Me,” this song took off way ahead of its time.   Despite that the Women’s Liberation Movement did not take off until the ‘70s, “You Don’t Own Me” is one of the first songs that went against the narrative that women belonged to men while asserting their rights as people to their own space, liberty, and ownership of their bodies and choices.  In an era where pervasive ideas of submission to a man was customary, Gore’s demand that her partner not tie her down “’cause I’d never stay” deserves its rightful place as a female empowerment song.

12. “Army of Me” by Björk

Icelandic superstar musician (and semi-frequently sighted visitor of Rincón) Björk delivers a song rejecting the societal expectations that women’s roles are to be caregivers who side-step their comfort to appease their partner’s, family’s or even friends’ damaging behaviors.  “Army of Me” combats the idea that a woman exists to be a pushover or “rescue squad” by cutting off anyone who oversteps their boundaries:  “and if you complain once more / you’ll meet an army of me.”  

11. “Soy Yo” by Bomba Estéreo

Through Bomba Estéreo’s “electro tropical” flow, “Soy Yo” encompasses a broader message that everyone should revel in their individuality.  The music video for the song cast a girl, Peruvian-Costa Rican Sarai Isaura González, who the director thought perfect because she “represents a whole community of immigrants living in a foreign country, so she’s representing what’s happening in the world.”  She was a brown girl warding off disdainful looks and grooving to her own drum, which, to some, may seem revolutionary in its own right.

10. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone

Written by English songwriters Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, Nina Simone’s rendition of “Feeling Good”  could be rendered as a message of women’s empowerment.  Simone, a civil rights activist and singer, withstood the harsh nature of existing as a black woman under the systemic oppression and racism of her own country.   For Simone to sing of how “this old world is a new world and a bold world for me” is a decision to continue battling through her life with a tinge of optimism.

9. “Hey Girl” by Lady Gaga (ft. Florence Welch)

 In a wonderfully sonic change of heart, while Lady Gaga’s album “Joanne” was either loved or hated by fans, “Hey Girl” is a standout track featuring lead vocalist of Florence and the Machine, Florence Welch.  “Hey Girl,” in an 80s sounding-synth bliss, which plays like a dialogue between two women, deviates from the notion that women are out to get each other by suggesting that successful women and lifting each other up are not mutually exclusive.  “Hey Girl” also alludes to adult friendships between women, and all the magic and support paired with them.

8. “No Scrubs” by TLC

TLC’s “No Scrubs” has been dubbed an anthem by women everywhere since its release in 1999.   “No Scrubs”, in all its smooth R&B glory, was blasted in radios soon after being released, and addresses the men who lack aspirations or money “scrubs” and how they won’t get “no love” from the singers because they would just be wasting their time.  Why not?  Because in their minds, these independent, successful women would rather spend their time with people who are on their wavelengths and pursue their ambitions rather than men who resort to hollering from their best friend’s car just to get her attention.  Boy, bye.

7. “Antipatriarca” by Ana Tijoux

Ana Tijoux’s “Antipatriarca” is a feminist anthem denouncing the patriarchal structures imposed in modern-day society.  Tijoux outlines that as an anti-patriarchal woman, she rejects being submissive or obedient to a society that denigrates and humiliates her. It’s an emboldening feminist anthem by a sharp Latinx woman in hip-hop format over music that intersects hip-hop with percussion.  

6. “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” was certified a gluten-free, cage-free organic jam since its conception in 2010.  With its alluring Indian hooks and Middle Eastern influences, “Bad Girls,” a counterculture song which embodies a carpe diem attitude “live fast, die young” attitude, coupled with a defiance of the conservative culture revolving sex in Middle Eastern countries like her home country of Sri Lanka.  While the music video for “Bad Girls” has been criticized as controversial for perpetuating Arab exoticism, the song itself is not just incredibly danceable, but welcomes the idea of female sexual empowerment, rather than dismissing it.

5. “**Flawless” by Beyoncé (ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

The far-reaching effects of Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album are still being felt today, namely in feminist circles.  One of Beyoncé’s most fascinating songs from the album is “***Flawless”, where Beyoncé not only established her position as a successful and independent woman to not “get it twisted” because she goes beyond her status as Jay-Z’s “little wife”.  Beyoncé’s sampling of famed author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, “We Should All Be Feminists,” introduced the concept of feminism as “the equality of the sexes” to mainstream media through Beyoncé’s brand and marked a more political shift for Beyoncé’s music.

4. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe (ft. Erykah Badu)

Janelle Monáe, famed singer-turned-actress-in-two-Oscar-nominated-films extraordinaire, worked with singer Erykah Badu to deliver an uncontestedly empowering song called “Q.U.E.E.N.”  In an interview with Monae, she stated that Q.U.E.E.N. stands for marginalized communities, namely, the Queer community, the Untouchables, the Emigrants, the Excommunicated, and those labeled as Negroid.  While “Q.U.E.E.N” stands for women’s empowerment, it is also a song of empowerment for other oppressed peoples.   Badu takes a jab at inequality with her verse: “Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal / She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel / So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?

3. “Don’t Touch My Hair” by Solange (ft. Sampha)

Solange’s smooth delivery of “Don’t Touch My Hair” touches on the everyday microaggressions black women are subjected to when they inhabit primarily white spaces.  In a personal letter she published prior to this song’s release, she emphasized that “people of colors’ ‘spaces’ are attacked every single day, but many will not be able to see it that way”, as it happens whenever black people are called the N-word or white people touch their hair without their consent.  Solange prides herself on her natural hair, which, to many black women, “it’s the feelings I wear,” an immense source of individuality, pride, and magic.  

2. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Ms. Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill achieved the singular feat of writing, producing, and recording a #1 song on her own since Debbie Gibson.  Grammy-winning masterpiece “Doo Wop (That Thing),” is a song meant to warn men and women to ward off from people becoming exploited by others for “that thing”, a euphemism for sex.  In some verses, she sang to women, asking them to listen to her and not be “hard rocks” because she’s been “through the same predicament” of dating men who are not good for her.  When addressing men, Hill questions men’s ability to be “quick to shoot semen” but their inability to be mature about the repercussions of their actions by asking “how you gonna win when you ain’t right within?” By establishing to people of all genders that “respect is just a minimum,” Hill crafted a song with a universality that will transcend generations.

1. “Formation” by Beyoncé

On February 6, 2016, the world spun on a slightly different axis.  Coincidentally, Beyoncé invented feminism…or released the music video for her new song “Formation.”  “Formation,” a tribute to Beyoncé’s Southern heritage and a call for black people, specifically women, to resist and get in formation because they “slay” and any of them could be a “black Bill Gates in the making.”   Music critic Rob Sheffield named “Formation” the “essential ammo for the struggles to come in the next.”  

Sophomore English major who enjoys hanging out with dogs, watching the X-Files, and crafting mixtapes for friends.
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