Feminist anthems call in all shapes and sizes, from the riot grrrl hard-hitters to pop radio chart-toppers. The lyrics don’t have to read like Germaine Greer, but it doesn’t hurt when they do get into the nitty gritty of womanhood.
In celebration of empowering the female of the species on International Women’s Day 2019, here’s five fabulous feminist anthems to help get you through a Donald Trump presidency. Just don’t mention the pussy…
Aretha Franklin, Respect
What do women really, really want? Aretha was spelling it out for years. Watch the Queen of Soul own this live performance with determination and class. Aretha flipped this Otis Redding original on its head, turning a slightly misogynist song into THE all-time anthem of female empowerment.
Taking control in the studio of instrumentation and arrangement herself, Aretha’s version of Respect, the global sensation it became, and remains, would be a revered feat of artistry even by today’s standards. In 1968, it was simply unheard of. In 2019, and in a world where we have a Degrader-in-Chief, this song can be your reminder to yourself that you deserve nothing less than R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Further reading: Alive, She Cried! The Ten Greatest Women in Music Today
Diana Ross, I’m Coming Out
This song is all about a woman stepping out into her own, and owning it, doubling as both a femme empowerment and queer pride anthem. Any woman who dares to call herself, The Boss (but you can call her Miss Ross) and wear mountains of feather boas, ballgowns and sequins is clearly an inspiration.
The idea for I’m Coming Out started at a New York City gay bar in 1979. Chic’s producer guitarist maestro Nile Rodgers, producer of numerous dance floor dames from Sister Sledge to Debbie Harry and David Bowie, went to the bathroom when he noticed “a bunch of Diana Ross impersonators,” he told Billboard in 2011. “I ran outside and called Bernard [Edwards] and told him about it and said, ‘What if we recognise Diana Ross’ really cool alignment with her fan base in the gay community?’ So we sat down and wrote, I’m Coming Out. And it wouldn’t be a Diana concert if she didn’t open proceedings with this song either. The supreme diva inspires us to not just make an arrival, but to also announce it in the most glamorous way possible. She’s coming!
Further reading: Alive, She Cried! The Ten Greatest Women in Music Today (part two)
Dusty Springfield, You Don’t Own Me
This is the feminist classic for the woman who is determined to be in control of her body, her choices and her life. Over half a century since its original release in 1963 (sung by Leslie Gore, produced by Quincy Jones), the message is more relevant than ever, especially as it relates to women’s reproductive rights under a Trump administration. Covered by everyone from Bette Midler to Joan Jett to Grace, it would be churlish to not include Dusty Springfield’s version (from her debut album in 1964, A Girl Called Dusty) because she didn’t just cover the song, Dusty made it a personal anthem. You messed with this Irish Catholic firebrand at your peril.
Her romantic involvement with both men and women in an era that barely had a term for bisexuality, let alone an understanding of it, was boldly individual. Her defiant refusal to identify as being strictly gay or straight was ground-breaking territory for a female pop star of the cookie-cutter Sixties. Despite the fact it didn’t do her many favours in her personal or professional life, her bravery left a legacy that ranks pretty high in the precursors of change.
Further reading: The First Lady: Dusty Springfield, Simply… Dusty
Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive
If you’ve been listening to this daily since November 9, 2016, now is not the time stop. I Will Survive is the ultimate motivator for getting through the dark times and undoubtedly the most famous survival song of them all. Simultaneously marking the zenith and end of a decade dominated by disco, this ultimate tale of ‘moving on’ became an anthem for dancers, the gay liberation movement and anyone sobbing over a bottle of wine and nursing a broken heart.
The emotion and passion of this song is impossible to resist. And over the years, it’s taken on meaning for people who have overcome just about any difficult situation. And gawd knows there’s a few of them around these days.
Madonna, Express Yourself
Starting with “Come on girls!”, a camp, confident call to arms which sounds part Golden Girls, part Carry On film, this pussy-grabbing hymn to freedom urges women to always express their true desires and never settle for second-best.
But Express Yourself is not just an anthem of empowerment, it’s a musical statement on gender equality but also an objective lesson in how to treat a girl right – “It’s my take on how man can express what they want, the same prerogative should be there for a woman too,” said its reductive author, already LGBT deity. Quite forward thinking in 1989, for what’s now a hot topic in the equality discussion 30 years later.
Back when Madonna was quite good, the song was a more than memorable opener for her epochal Blonde Ambition tour of 1990, though how she didn’t get sued by the writers of Respect Yourself remains a (life is a) mystery.
Further reading: Causing a Commotion: 30 Stupid Things Madonna’s Done
Further reading: Trump’s America: As Fresh As a Stale Old Piece of Toast