Writing a feminist song is no easy task. There is a lengthy list of female musicians that have been able to translate their struggles to tape, but even then it can be hit or miss. Small contingents of male artists have advocated women in one way or another, and the following have created awe-inspiring works in the process.
1. P.O.S. – “Duct Tape”
Minneapolis wordsmith Stefon Alexander is possibly the only rapper in the game today that could pull off a feat such as “Duct Tape.” Equal parts admonishment of an absent father and championing of a strong single mother, P.O.S. lays out his entire family dynamic with crushing passion. When Alexander attacks his father with “You’re not needed/You’re not welcome back here in Minneapolis/You’re not worth shit,” he breathes fire only to ease back to the thesis. “Baby’s got a momma and a roll of duct tape/And that’s something/They’ve got a love that won’t break.” It is not often that we see those in hip-hop protect such a positive image of femininity, but “Duct Tape” does well enough for the entire genre.
2. Fugazi – “Suggestion”
Fugazi was one of the most outspoken musical acts to ever grace a stage and the world was all the better for it. On its very first release, it took on the issue of sexism with “Suggestion,” a song written entirely from the female perspective. Vocalist/guitarist Ian MacKaye poses rhetorical questions, such as “Is my body my only trait in the eyes of men?” and calls out perpetrators of misogynistic actions with “You spent yourself watching me suffer/Suffer your eyes, suffer your words, suffer your hands/Suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man.” MacKaye’s gut wrenching scream of “We are all guilty” at the song’s climax displays society’s failure as a whole, which still rings true well over 20 years later.
3. Billy Bragg – “Valentine’s Day Is Over”
Billy Bragg is one of England’s greatest musical exports. Equally capable of crafting poetic love songs and scathing political critiques, Bragg tells the story of a battered woman making a stand and finding strength within her own being. It’s a harsh tale of domestic abuse. “Don’t come around reminding me how brittle bone is” points out the brutishness men are capable of without ever feeling heavy-handed or overly accusatory.
4. Hot Water Music – “Tradition”
Hot Water Music, while musically complex, had a way of cutting through the fat and getting to the meat of an issue with relative ease. “Tradition” sees vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard trading off verses that chastise the upheld male ideal of past generations. While it is convincing, the song’s most powerful argument comes when Ragan and Wollard cut out exposition and scream “Respect” with bone-chilling aggression.
5. Strike Anywhere – “Refusal”
A song about male and female solidarity could easily come off as cliché and overly idealistic, but “Refusal” sees Strike Anywhere vocalist Thomas Barnett avoiding these missteps altogether. The song ropes you in with a melodic bassline, and before you know it, you’re singing along to “Embrace the whole world as your kin/Truth to truth and skin to skin/Begin,” without ever noticing the song has changed into a full-on hardcore attack.
6. Atmosphere – “The Waitress”
Atmosphere’s Slug would probably be the first to admit that he doesn’t have the best track record as far feminism goes. On past records, it was not uncommon to find less than ideal female representations, but it is on “The Waitress” where Slug appears to have turned a new leaf. The song’s protagonist is constantly bothered by the titular waitress who is portrayed as an ideal of strength and endurance, one that brings about a sort of epiphany in the male storyteller. “In the café bathroom drinking free tap water/Thinking ‘damn,’ I should have been a better father to my daughter.”
7. Tim Barry – “Dog Bumped”
Tim Barry’s post-Avail output has run the gamut from punk-inspired folk songs to traditional bluegrass arrangements without ever compromising the lyrical intensity for which he became known. On “Dog Bumped,” Barry tells a tale of a brother witnessing his little sister’s abusive relationship with a less than desirable significant other. The song’s chorus spells it out for the listener rather directly with “He laid his hand on my sister too many times when I was near/And I shot him dead/And I don’t care,” but the song’s final verse reveals a surprise twist that switches from being the story of male aggression to one of a female making her stand against all obstacles.
8. Lucero – “Mom”
Ben Nichols has made a career off of writing about his shortcomings with women, but “Mom” sees him earnestly apologizing to his mother for the life he’s lead with “No matter what becomes of us/You gave us enough/Know that we’ve tried.” The subtle ballad shows a remorseful side of Nichols that is in stark contrast to his drunken Southern gentleman persona and it’s all the better off for it.
9. Paint It Black – “Womb Envy”
There’s a number of reasons why “Womb Envy” deserves a place on this list, but chief among them is Dan Yemin’s ability to put his lyrics at a collegiate level – try to find another song with “denigrate” in it – and deliver them in such a rapid succession. Yemin cuts to the core of the issue, “So let’s step out of line and resist the roles we’ve been assigned” as the band blazes with hardcore intensity for the entire minute and a half existence.
10. Alice Cooper – “Take It Like a Woman”
It’s hard to believe Alice Cooper actually found his way onto this list. Much like Atmosphere, Cooper isn’t known for being a feminist ally, but on “Take It Like a Woman,” it almost feels like his apology for being a shithead for so long, “Pushed too far, pulled too hard/Deeply scarred/I know you must have felt the pain.” It’s a far cry from his early horror-themed shock rock, but here Cooper proves to be respectable, both musically and ideologically. It’s something shocking in its own right.