A Playlist to Empower You This Women's History Month

Graphic by Cate Lolan-Banks

By Anne O’Leary

Womanhood is a beautiful and amazing thing to experience. While it can be difficult growing as a woman in a patriarchal society, I  find the women in my life keep me going because of the collective bonds we share. Everyday, I see the amazing things women do, all while being undermined by men. Yet, everyday us women wake up and try our best to overcome the obstacles placed in front of us. Because music is such a male-dominated industry, most, if not all, the women on this playlist have had to overcome oversexualization and exploitation. Yet, these women have still risen to the top and flourished. From modern pop to punk, in honor of Women’s History Month, I have curated a playlist of some amazing female artists who empower their audience. 

You Don’t Own Me by Lesley Gore

“You Don’t Own Me” is regarded as one of the first feminist pop anthems. Lesley Gore was just 17 when she recorded this track in 1963, yet it was number two on the charts for three weeks. The lyrics are powerfully defiant, even now, but especially in the early 60s. In this song, Gore is clear that she is not to be owned by her partner, “You don’t own me / I’m not just one of your many toys / You don’t own me / Don’t say I can’t go with other boys” At the time Gore said “boys,” but later came out as a lesbian and expressed her disgust at homophobia in the music industry censoring her message. Artists like Gore have paved the way for so many feminist and queer artists to be open with themselves in their music. 

Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill

You can’t make a feminist playlist without the iconic DIY Washington Riot Grrrl band, Bikini Kill—they were the leading pioneers in feminist 90s punk. “Rebel Girl” is known to be their most popular and defining song for the genre. The song was recorded three times in 1993, including one with Joan Jett on guitar. The song screams female empowerment as well as female queerness, “When she walks, the revolutions coming / In her kiss, I taste the revolution” and “They say she’s a dyke, but I know / She is my best friend, yeah” I won’t lie, lead frontwoman Kathleen Hanna is the queen of MY world. 

Don’t Touch My Hair by Solange ft. Sampha 

Solange is an underrated Black female artist in the industry. She’s known to be Beyonce’s sister as well as a backup dancer in Destiny’s Child, she is so much more than that. “Don’t Touch My Hair” is the ninth track off of her 2016 album, “A Seat at The Table.” This song alludes to how the intersectionality of race and gender affect Black women and puts a personal boundary against those who feel entitled to Solange’s autonomy.

La Femme Fetal by Digable Planets

This 1993 jazzy spoken word track is about the complexities surrounding abortion. A topic that is extremely relevant now with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, this song’s message is unfortunately fighting for the same reproductive rights we still are having to continue doing today. “La Femme Fetal” directly points out the hypocrites of pro-life people in the lyrics, Supporters of the H-bomb and fire-bombing clinics/What type of shit is that? Orwellian, in fact/ If Roe v. Wade was overturned, would not the desire remain intact/Leaving young girls to risk their healths/ Doctors to botch, and watch them kill themselves?” Something interesting to note is that only one member out of the three is on the track, Butterfly, who is male. He felt that the song was complete once he finished it. 

Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko

You cannot have Women’s History Month without mentioning the work queer women have done for feminism. Known as “Lesbian Jesus,'' Hayley Kiyoko rose to stardom with this 2015 track with the simple statement: “Girls like girls like boy’s do / Nothing new.” Kiyoko helped normalize female queer relationships in contemporary pop music. Oftentimes in pop songs, queer women are fetishized for men’s pleasure. But “Girls like Girls' ' simply normalizes female queerness. This song definitely sent a lot of young closested sapphics into a crisis, myself included. Because there was no particular reason why a 14-year-old me was looping the music video…

Oh Bondage Up Yours! by X-Ray Spex

X-Ray Spex paved the way for female rockers. “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” is a rally cry about how many girls and women are subjected into silence. Lead singer Poly Styrene released this song in 1977 as a call for not only the liberation of women but capitalism as well. The sound is a combination of classic punk as well as a saxophone solo from band member Lora Logic. While it didn’t chart at the time, likely due to the fact that Poly was a woman of color who openly spoke out against social injustices; this is a classic for early punk and Poly Styrene deserves to be up there with Sex Pistols and The Clash. 

Ladies by Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple has never been shy about her feminist views. “Ladies” is off her 2020 Grammy winning album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” The song is dedicated to women who have been cheated on by men but it encourages the women in the lyrics to not be mad at the other women but instead, be mad at the man who actively chose to ruin the relationship. Apple is in solidarity with these women. This delicate track has some clever lines like, “There's a dress in the closet / Don't get rid of it, you'd look good in it / I didn't fit in it, it was never mine.” 

Run The World (Girls) by Beyonce

It would be a crime to not have Queen B on a Women’s History Month playlist. Beyonce needs no introduction for all her success and hard work she has achieved in the past decade. This drum heavy dance track is off her 2011 album “4” and makes you feel like you are making six figures even if you only work the Emerson Tap Desk eight hours a week. But we run this!

Respect by Aretha Franklin 

Aretha is the Queen of Soul, and her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” is one of the best of all time. Everyone knows the classic “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” but Aretha was asserting that women must be respected in their relationships, an unpopular idea in 1967. Franklin was a large activist for gender equality as well as civil rights and her legendary status will never be forgotten. 

I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan

The final song to wrap up this playlist is something a bit more upbeat in both sound and lyrics. I think this song perfectly encapsulates how I want to go about this month, bright, cheerful, and feeling connected to my fellow women. Chaka Khan released this song in 1978, but the message still is just as powerful. It’s about the connection between women and how we should lift each other up and embrace the beauty of womanhood! Have a happy Women’s History Month!