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Best feminist songs
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The best feminist songs for any playlist

Crank up these feminist songs—from Nicki Minaj to Le Tigre—and raise a glaring middle finger to the patriarchy

Written by
Time Out editors
Amy Plitt

If the term "feminist music" conjures up images of the Lilith Fair—or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Spice Girls and their message of "girl power"—that's great! Our goal here is to expand your worldview. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite feminist songs, including powerful tunes by Sleater-Kinney, Aretha Franklin and more. Our selection is a diverse mix of old and new songs, including notable hip-hop artists such as Nicki Minaj and the best punk bands like Le Tigre and The Slits. What these feminist songs all have in common is a decidedly pro-woman message, perfect for literally every occassion.

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Listen to the best feminist songs

Best feminist songs of all time

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

1. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin

Okay, yes, this was written by a man: Otis Redding penned the tune in 1965. But the Queen of Soul's version is the definitive take on the song, in no small part because, by changing the gender roles, she subverts the original intent. But credit must also be given to the soul singer's powerful performance; Franklin doesn't just ask for her man's respect, she flat-out demands it.

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“Just a Girl” by No Doubt

2. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt

Mischievous punk queen Gwen Stefani insists she didn't write this tune as a feminist anthem ("I just wrote it because my dad wouldn't let me drive at night!") but intention doesn't equal impact, you know? Her parodic takedown of misogynistic stereotypes casting women as frail, dependent and needy became an essential sonic centerpiece for all '90s teen-girl bedrooms, and that opening riff is nothing short of iconic.

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“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
Image: Kill Rock Stars

3. “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill

Despite frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s objections to being pegged as the mouthpiece of riot grrrl, this Bikini Kill song is among the movement’s most enduring anthems. As an ode to female bonds, the tune was downright revolutionary for girls who may have otherwise felt alienated from their peers. Any young woman who’s found themselves in the throes of a girl crush—be it romantic or simply a deep platonic admiration—will recognize themselves in the lyrics: “I really like you / I really wanna be / Your best friend / Be mine, rebel girl.”

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“Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex

4. “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex

The song starts off quietly enough, with frontwoman Poly Styrene (who passed away in 2011) reciting the hoary proverb, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,” in a bored monotone. But she follows it with a gloriously angry rallying cry: “But I think, oh bondage, up yours!” Sometimes the simplest message is the most effective.

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"Typical Girls" by The Slits

5. "Typical Girls" by The Slits

With its dub-infused 1979 album, Cut, the Slits laid the groundwork for riot grrrl and other feminist punk to come. In this single, lead singer Ari Up makes efficacious use of incisive wit and irony to protest stereotypes of woman as passive, frail and submissive: "Typical girls you can always tell / typical girls don't rebel."

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“#1 Must Have” by Sleater-Kinney

6. “#1 Must Have” by Sleater-Kinney

If “Rebel Girl” was one of the songs that fueled riot grrrl, this song—from Sleater-Kinney’s album All Hands on the Bad One—offers a more caustic take on the movement’s success. Singer-guitarist Corin Tucker, who played in the influential band Heavens to Betsy, starts off on a pessimistic note (“Bearer of the flag from the beginning / Now who would have believed this riot grrrl’s a cynic?”), then shifts into anger over the co-opting and watering down of the movement’s message. But the song is ultimately hopeful, with Tucker suggesting that “Culture is what we make it / Yes it is / Now is the time / To invent”—in other words, encouraging women to create a new feminist revolution.

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“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!
Image: Xtra Mile

7. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!

With her history of anarcho-leftist leanings, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace has always deftly melded the political and personal (see "Baby, I'm an Anarchist"). In and of itself, that's nothing new to punk, but the narratives her album Transgender Dysphoria Blues introduced into the male-dominated punk mainstream—her explorations of coming-out as a trans woman—transformed the genre's patriarchal terrain. The veritable lesbian trans girl's punk anthem, this visceral title track narrates the violence of transmisogyny ("You want them to see you like every other girl / they just see a faggot") through a yearning appeal to a lover ("Wish I could have spent the whole day alone / with you").

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“U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah

8. “U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah

Nearly 30 years after “Respect” was released, another Queen stepped up to speak out against society’s continued contempt toward women. Queen Latifah takes on issues like domestic violence, misogynist language and street harassment in this empowering anthem, calling out those who would try to tear ladies down. If you don’t want to high-five her after she sings, “I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame,” then you’ve completely missed the point.

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“Hot Topic” by Le Tigre

9. “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre

Anyone looking for a feminist education should turn to this song: Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna and her bandmates call out a list of artists, musicians, writers and other strong women and men—Angela Davis, Yoko Ono, Joan Jett, Nina Simone and Kara Walker, to name a few—whose work has inspired the group. This is punctuated by Hanna imploring these artists to keep on keepin’ on for the sake of forward-thinking women everywhere: “So much bullshit but we won't give in / Don’t you stop / I can’t live if you stop.”

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“You Don't Own Me” by Lesley Gore

10. “You Don't Own Me” by Lesley Gore

New York native Gore’s sultry and cautionary number has inspired women—and threatened controlling men—since its 1963 release. Serving as an anthem for the second-wave feminist movement and beyond, the defiant song continues to make an impact. It was covered by Joan Jett, memorably belted in the 1996 flick The First Wives Club and most recently modernized by pop artist Grace. It’s safe to say this is a song that withstands the test of time. —Jennifer Picht

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“Kool Thing” by Sonic Youth

11. “Kool Thing” by Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth were never going to be the huge stars Geffen had in mind, but they served a deeper purpose every time bassist Kim Gordon stepped up to the mic and added her surliness to the mostly male alt-rock hegemony. “Kool Thing,” SY’s first single after being signed to a major label, was based on an awkward Spin interview Gordon did with LL Cool J. Turning the tables on the rapper’s sexism, Gordon spits, “I don’t wanna / I don’t think so.” Drenched with the band’s patented guitar distortion and downtown squeals, the tune is as angry as you want it to be. —Joshua Rothkopf

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“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe featuring Erykah Badu

12. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe featuring Erykah Badu

Conversations between fresh-faced soul-royalty Monáe and none other than R&B empress Badu inspired the two to write this anthem to the marginalized—so you know the bold tune packs some seriously proud and powerful feminine energy. Taking an intersectional approach to its black feminist underpinnings, the title is an acronym for “Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated and Negroid.” The message there is explicit: "Even if it makes others uncomfortable / I will love who I am."

“Trans Day of Revenge” by G.L.O.S.S.

13. “Trans Day of Revenge” by G.L.O.S.S.

Sadie Switchblade's trans punk outfit G.L.O.S.S. led an unfortunately transient existence, intentionally closing up shop once hints of mainstream recognition began to cloud over the band's radical DIY vision. Nonetheless, the band left a slew of equally brief-yet-immense insurrectionary anthems in its wake, demanding a queer-feminist politic that springs from anti-police and anti-racist praxis. This song in particular pulls no punches in its championing of a "bash back" policy: "Put through hell, torn apart / chicks with dicks kill from the heart!"

“Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj

14. “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj

Each time Nicki drops a new song, pop culture pundits race to reductive dialogues on "feminist?" vs. "totally not feminist." And inevitably, the latter camp's arguments generally reside on some combination of racist notions of a universalized womanhood, the hyper-sexualization of black women's bodies, and so on. "Anaconda" might have raised the biggest hubbub with its infamous music video scene—Nicki flexes her lap-dance abilities and leaves Drake head-in-hands—and despite what the misguided haters attest, it's one of the most unforgettable statements of an era-defining career: co-opting a canonized hip-hop tune concerning the triumph of the male gaze and inverting it into a declaration of femme supremacy.

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“None of Your Business” by Salt-N-Pepa

15. “None of Your Business” by Salt-N-Pepa

The phrase slut-shaming didn’t really exist in the mid-‘90s, but this song nevertheless rails against the concept. Salt-N-Pepa challenge both men and women who would judge them for daring to enjoy sex. We also love this line: “How many rules am I to break before you understand / That your double standards don’t mean shit to me?”

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“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn

16. “The Pill” by Loretta Lynn

Not everyone in the world of country music was pleased when Lynn released this hilarious paean to sexual liberation through birth control. “I’m tearin’ down your brooder house / ’Cause now I’ve got the pill,” declares the song’s defiant narrator to the husband who has treated her like a farm animal.  Lynn may well have been singing from experience: She had seven siblings and six kids of her own. —Adam Feldman

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“Independent Women Part 1” by Destiny’s Child

17. “Independent Women Part 1” by Destiny’s Child

Beyoncé and crew released several songs that address the theme of female empowerment, but this single is Destiny’s Child’s fiercest ode to strong, self-sufficient ladies. In addition to singing the praises of fiscal independence—and not relying on guys for houses, cars, shoes or anything else—the ladies encourage women to keep their emotional independence, too. (Bey admonishes any potentially domineering dudes: “Try to control me, boy, you'll get dismissed.”) We'll always throw our hands up for that.

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“Human Nature” by Madonna

18. “Human Nature” by Madonna

Although songs like “Express Yourself” and “What It Feels Like for a Girl” assert the Queen of Pop’s feminist attitude, it’s on “Human Nature,” off the 1994 album Bedtime Stories, that M most profoundly strikes a chord by questioning whether her lyrics “would...sound better if I were a man?” —Andrew Tess

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“Men Explain Things To Me” by Tacocat

19. “Men Explain Things To Me” by Tacocat

Seattle quartet Tacocat takes on feminist issues in a number of its tunes. Here the punk group uses its razor-sharp rock chops to dismantle tiresome mansplaining.

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“Monstro” by Downtown Boys

20. “Monstro” by Downtown Boys

Between the repeated blare of a five-note sax line, singer Victoria Ruiz announces, "We must scream at the top of our lungs that we are brown! That we are smart!" The political charge behind Downtown Boys' tunes is anything but implicit, issuing uncompromising feminist demands for prison abolition and government deposition. "Monstro" takes up that project in a more personal anthem to self-validation among the women of color who bear the brunt of those social apparatuses' violence.

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“Can’t Stop Fighting” by Sheer Mag
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

21. “Can’t Stop Fighting” by Sheer Mag

Singer Christina Halladay leads the riff-armed Philly garage-punks through this song about the plight of the women who've gone missing in Ciudad Juarez. It's as strong a rallying cry as any we've heard.

“Reflection” by Lea Salonga

22. “Reflection” by Lea Salonga

If anyone remembers watching Mulan, this song is sung when the title hero reveals the true version of herself. She rejects the traditional and stereotypical views of women, yet still struggles due to familial expectations. Disney out here challenging stereotypes—even in the ’90s. —Danny Yu

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“Tomboy” by Princess Nokia

23. “Tomboy” by Princess Nokia

New York City emcee Princess Nokia brings plenty of her own swagger to this tune about being true to yourself.

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“Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain

24. “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain

In the 20 years since Twain first sang “Let’s go, girls,” this hit has become the ultimate anthem for a girls’ night out. Read between the lines about hairstyling and outfit choices and you’ll find a message of empowerment, confidence and how awesome it is to be a woman. —Annalise Mantz

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“This Is Serious” by Lunachicks

25. “This Is Serious” by Lunachicks

As an early ’90s NYC all-female punk band, these women rarely shared a bill with a band of similar genes. This song reflects tour life, as they yell, “Lunachicks make lots of noise / Now you know rock n’ roll’s not just for boys!”—Brian Martens

“Suggestion” by Fugazi

26. “Suggestion” by Fugazi

This intense antirape song is written from a female perspective, with the first two lines (“Why can’t I walk down the street free of suggestion? / Is my body my only trait in the eyes of men?”) offering an indictment of the sexual harassment and assault that too many women are all too familiar with. But the final verses pack the biggest punch, when frontman Ian MacKaye implicates society at large for women’s suffering: “We blame her for being there / But we are all here / And we are all guilty.” An even more powerful version can be seen in a clip from a 1991 gig, during which Amy Pickering—singer for the D.C. all-girl punk band Fire Party—screams through a visceral performance.

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“Tummy Ache” Diet Cig
Photograph: Andrew Piccone

27. “Tummy Ache” Diet Cig

"It's hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt" sings Alex Luciano, on this song about finding one's voice amid the overwhelming maleness of many music spaces, punk and otherwise.

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“Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld

28. “Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld

With lyrics like “Can’t help myself, no, I don’t need anybody else / Anytime, day or night,” it’s rumored this song is about masturbation. But whether the tune is a testament to putting yourself first or putting your orgasm first, I celebrate it. —Jillian Anthony

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“Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett

29. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett

There’s no denying Joan Jett’s feminist bona fides: She was a member of the trailblazing all-girl glam-rock group the Runaways, forged a successful solo career (and founded her own label, Blackheart Records), and has worked with artists like Bikini Kill, the Gits and Peaches. Her first single as a solo artist, released in 1981, is a punky flip-off to those who believe she should care what others think of her. (“A girl can do what she wants to do / And that's what I'm gonna do,” she snarls.)

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