The ’90s provided us with some great feminist anthems. Some were clearly written to break down the patriarchy and notions of how women “should” act, some were manufactured to sell albums through the popularity of “girl groups.” Some of these are true feminist anthems, some in retrospect are a bit problematic. But most of these were intros to feminism for me and a lot of grrls growing up in the ’90s, for better or worse.
1. Unpretty / No Scrubs
I just sang “Unpretty” at karaoke and drunkenly dedicated it to the ladies in the house so it seems appropriate to start with. I love the message of this song, especially the part that goes, “Maybe I’ll get rid of you and then I’ll get back to me.” Left Eye (RIP) even does sign language in the video. And of course, everyone knows “No Scrubs.” It’s what I yell back whenever I get cat-called. I recommend you do the same.
2. Destiny’s Child – Say My Name / Bills, Bills, Bills
These videos came out in 2000, but the album they’re from, “The Writing’s on the Wall,” came out in 1999 so I count them. Destiny’s Child has had an array of fantastic feminist songs, not the least of which is the call-out song, “Say My Name” and the end-of-the-line anthem “Bills, Bills, Bills.” Let’s just all forget about “Cater 2 U,” okay?
3. Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough For Me
Secret? I love Toni Braxton. I put this song on when I’m getting ready to go out and doing my hair and make up. I don’t know if this song is feminist but it certainly shames someone for not adhering to chicks before dicks. Come on, girl. That’s your friend’s ex. You couldn’t find ANYONE else?
4. Spice Girls
All right so I guess there’s some controversy over their manufactured “GIRL POWER” message, but I remember being 10 years old and never having heard of feminism before, and feeling really inspired by the Spice Girls. Their music made me feel confident and provided endless support for loving my friends and waiting on the whole obsessing-over-guys thing. I can’t be too mad at any group that made little-kid-me start to look into feminism, even if they were a shallow version of it.
5. Just A Girl – No Doubt
This song from 1995 speaks for itself. Feeling down? Blast this shit. Just blast it and smash the patriarchy.
6. Not A Pretty Girl – Ani DiFranco
Goddess. “I am not an angry girl but it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled / every time I say something they find hard to hear / they chalk it up to my anger / and never to their own fear.”
7. Goodbye Earl – Dixie Chicks
Controversial choice because it ends in murder. (Spoiler alert?) Wanda kills her abusive husband before he can kill her and it’s all sung about in an upbeat, jaunty way. (The song was officially released in 2000, but enjoyed radio play in 1999 and was written in the early 90s.) Also Jane Krakowski is in this video, which is awesome.
8. You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Alanis has had some more legit feminist anthems in her time but this was the big one. It’s one of her most well-known and well-loved hits because she really sticks it to Dave Coulier here. This is the lyrical equivalent of ramming your car into his front window. It’s “crazy” but it feels so, so good.
9. Bitch – Meredith Brooks
Reclaiming the word “bitch” long before Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did, Meredith Brooks actually may have also contributed to my interest in feminism as a young girl. I remember hearing this song and being shocked that it could be okay for a woman to identify as something other than “sweet, nice and polite.” And she does not feel ashamed! New worlds were opening up for little Gaby.
10. Man! I Feel Like A Woman – Shania Twain
Cheesy as all hell. But this is another gain-confidence-while-I-get-dressed-to-go-out jam. I don’t know if it’s actually feminist. I suspect it’s not. But it tries! A for effort, Shania.
11. Gotta Be – Des’ree
Yes. I will be all of these things, Des’ree. I can do it. I can chill out. I can herald what my mother said and I can read the books my father read.
12. None of Your Business – Salt N Pepa
Anti-slut shaming anthem. This song is amazing. I can’t believe we’re still having to fight this fight over two decades later. Did no one hear Salt N Pepa? Our sex lives are none of your business!
13. Human Nature – Madonna
Madonna: Is she a feminist icon? Is she not? Most would say she is. This song certainly has feminist themes, unapologetically. After all, she’s not sorry. It’s human nature. She’s not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on her.
14. Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
This list has been mostly pop music, which is a valid critique of it. But there’s a whole other genre of 90s feminist anthems that would probably fill a hard drive if I started to list them here. My advice is to start with Bikini Kill, listen to “Rebel Girl” and then delve into the whole genre. Search “Le Tigre” and “Sleater Kinney” and just really get into it. That’ll do it more justice than this short list ever could.
15. Live Through This – Hole
I put “Doll Parts” here but just the whole album. Listen to “Live Through This” and you’ll also want to be the girl with the most cake.