8 Awesome Feminist Anthems in Honor of Women's History Month

Songs serve as a way of peaceful protest and help spread a movement’s message to a larger amount of people.

Mar 11, 2019

The United Nations declared 1975 as International Women's year and the official anthem was Helen Reddy's "I am Woman," but it was a premature celebration. Feminism was still in its formative years, and while women were making gains, there was still a long way to go.

The modern – or second – feminist movement began in the 1960s when The Feminine Mystique written by Betty Friedan was published and lasted for roughly two decades. She was one of the 28 founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.

Women's Liberation – that’s what the movement was called then – activists Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972. The movement caught on and grew in leaps and bounds in the US and spread to other western countries.

In the early days, the women’s movement was primarily focused on discrimination against women. That's because, in 1960, women's freedom was severely limited and being a black woman made the issue even worse. Women couldn't get their own credit cards, serve on a jury, had limited access to birth control, and there wasn't any workplace equality. It really was a man’s world, and something had to change.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which ensured that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex” was approved by Congress in 1972, but the approval came with a deadline. The amendment needed 38 states to ratify it by 1979. Thirty-five states ratified the ERA before the deadline, which was extended to 1982, but it ultimately didn’t receive the number of votes needed. So even today, only women's right to vote is protected.

And just like the earlier social justice causes like the labor movement, the suffragettes, and the civil rights movement, the women's movement also had their songs that unified women and helped spread the message of discrimination and the need for equality. Here is a list of eight iconic feminist anthems:

1. Helen Reddy - I Am Woman

This song is an enduring anthem of the women's movement and was recorded by the Australian singer Helen Reddy on her debut album in Many 1971 and then as a single in 1972. It became a number-one hit and sold over a million songs.

“I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ‘cause I’ve heard it all before. And I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.”

2. Aretha Franklin - Respect

This song was written by Otis Redding in 1965, but Aretha Franklin the queen of soul's 1967  version switched the role of the sexes and changed it into the classic feminist anthem of all time. Respect supported both women's rights and civil rights.

"All I want you to do for me
Is give it to me when you get home (re, re, re, re)
Yeah baby (re, re, re, re)
Whip it to me (respect, just a little bit)
When you get home, now (just a little bit)
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T"

3. Lesley Gore - You Don't Own Me

This 1963 hit by 17-year old Lesley Gore has long been considered a feminist anthem. The singer tells her lover that he doesn't own her and cannot tell her what to do. It became an inspiration for young women everywhere.

"And don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to say. And please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.”

4. Loretta Lynn - The Pill

The meaning of country music singer Loretta Lynn's controversial 1975 song is very straightforward. It is sung from the perspective of a woman who just gained control of her body through access to birth control.

“I’m turning down your brooder house cause now I’ve got the pill. All these years I’ve stayed at home while you had all your fun and every year that’s gone by, another baby’s come. There’s gonna be some changes made right here on nursery hill. You set this chicken your last time cause now I’ve got the pill.”

5. Yoko Ono (with John Lennon) - Sisters O Sisters 

Yoko Ono calls upon her fellow women to rise up and help their oppressed sisters in this song that appeared on her 1972 album with her husband John Lennon.

“Freedom, O freedom, that's what we fight for. And yes, my dear sisters, we must learn to fight.”

6. Dolly Parton - 9 To 5

This song by country singer and actress Dolly Parton is about the struggle of the modern working woman and all about fighting the man. The song was featured in the 1980 movie with the same title as the song.

"They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it."

7. Gloria Gaynor - Will Survive

This song was recorded by Gloria Gaynor in 1978 and is about a woman who finds personal strength and doesn't need a man to get by in the world. It sold 14 million copies worldwide and is still popular today as a feminist anthem and a great dance song at weddings.

"Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive"

8. Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Want To Have Fun

This lighthearted and fun song about self-care and women's friendship was recorded by Cyndi Lauper in 1983 towards the end of the Women’s Liberation movement but it highlights how much was accomplished.

"Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they wanna have fun
Oh girls just wanna have
That's all they really want"

BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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