10 of the Best Feminist Anthems in Rock
Rock stars have to be so bold: They will scream in your face for hours and charge you admission. Female rock stars have to be bold enough to (metaphorically, Will) slap you in the face if you act like they’re fortunate just to have an opportunity to play with the boys. The artists mentioned here beat the “lucky to have a seat” mentality to create killer rock songs with bold messages about women’s rights, safety and anger.
Other rock songs that crusade for feminism with flair include beachy banger “Men Explain Things to Me” by Tacocat; intersectional screamer “Monstro” by Downtown Boys; “I Believe You” by White Lung, which blares positive affirmations against a wake-you-the-fuck-up background; and “Diy” by Dream Nails, which turns everything from starting a punk band to making peanut butter into a revolutionary act.
Head below to see 10 of the Best Feminist Anthems in Rock.
Poppy, “Her” (2021)
Poppy’s wounded screams and the stop-motion animation music video flavor this song with a darkness that's absent from its nursery-rhyme rhythm. And the contrast works. The melody grows more hectic and ominous as the song progresses, mirroring the anger that seethes through lyrics such as “Run your mouth to keep her scared / You expected her to care / But when her mind made up / You were illfully prepared.” With this song, Poppy voices the outrage many women feel at being expected to tailor our outward presentation to other people’s whims.
Lilith Czar, “King” (2021)
This song expresses no intention to vie for whatever people consider the best “girl role” and as such isn’t asking to be regarded as a “girl song.” It invites you to judge it against all the rock. It knows the echo on that chorus-ending “king” feels reverent and chilling. It knows Czar’s voice is the perfect amount of smooth for indicating steely self-possession. It knows its celebratory ’80s bigness smartly turns it into a victory song—as though the battle’s over and Lilith Czar is king already. Judge away.
Larkin Poe, “She’s a Self Made Man” (2020)
This song may pour like honey from Rebecca and Megan Lovell, but its message is barbed. A celebration of bootstrapper women — in rock and in life — “She’s a Self Made Man” is smokey, smooth, and, most of all, self-assured. It swaps anger for breezy confidence as it declares independence and says so long to the dead weight. With a chorus fit to introduce the hero of a western and a hook that’ll plow into your brain, this is the perfect song to blast as you speed out of town to chase your dreams.
Sleater-Kinney, “#1 Must Have” (2000)
A raw exposure of injustice, “#1 Must Have” doesn’t back down from thorny issues — from size and beauty standards to the violence perpetrated against women at events such as Woodstock ’99. The message comes from the POV of a Riot Girl who’s watched the cause go mainstream, where it was funneled into “girlpower.com,” and now struggles not to feel jaded. The vocal and the beat are both, appropriately, vexed but determined. At its core, this is a song about not giving up.
X-Ray Spex, “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” (1978)
Masters of the reggae-pop-punk combo, X-Ray Spex produced one of the most memorable, enduring war-cries of all time. And no wonder it came from them. Singer Poly Styrene upset the idea of what a front person in rock could be, much in the way that Brittany Howard later would with the Alabama Shakes. Styrene had a way of casting positivity over the generally nihilistic vibes of punk that made “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” a triumph over subjugation. While the message was aimed at shackles of all sorts — from the commercial to the spiritual — it was widely adopted by feminists as a way of protesting patriarchal bondage.
Veruca Salt, “Seether” (1994)
The lyrics of “Seether” (“I try to knock her out / I try to cram her back in my mouth”) are subverted by the song’s upbeat, pop-inspired tune along with an innocent-sounding vocal. The frank, childlike rhymes reinforce a contained cheeriness that reflects what the song describes: efforts to keep your rage in check. While songwriter Nina Gordon has said the meaning of the song is flexible, it has been annexed as a feminist anthem that comments on the pressure women often feel to present a tranquil front, regardless of we feel.
Hole, “Asking For It” (1994)
Inspired by a real-life instance in which Courtney Love stage-dove at Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow and was stripped naked, groped, and digitally raped by the crowd, this became a banner song for Hole despite never being released as a single. The track, written by Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson, uses gripping imagery (“I will tear the petals off of you”) and murky chords to create a disquieting exposé on rape culture. Late in the song, Love’s powerful yell-singing sells the fury at the heart of “Asking For It.”
PJ Harvey, “50ft Queenie” (1993)
The legendary P J Harvey didn’t set out to write a feminist hymn with “50ft Queenie,” but culture decided it was one. Thematically, this song has a lot in common with Lilith Czar’s “King.” Both claim dominance via a royal role. Both have (literal) big-dick energy. Both are unintimidated by their male counterparts and creatively make sure their male counterparts know it. “50ft Queenie” is a thumping, cluttered boast-fest, as effortlessly confident as it is silly.
Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl” (1992)
This song was considered an emblem of the Riot Girl movement long before it showed up in MOXiE! (book and movie) as the main character’s personal fight song. There’s a reason this one is regarded as a classic, destined to keep bobbing to the surface of pop culture. It captured the unpolished, fast-and-furious groove that was that soul of Riot songs. But it was also brave enough to embrace so-called feminine venues of admiration. The narrator admires Rebel Girl so much she wants to be best friends, wants to try on her clothes. Bikini Kill’s most famous song hits the sweet spot of sisterly togetherness and rock-hard rebellion.
Le Tigre, “F.Y.R.” (2001)
Feminism, as with most progressive causes, has been through a real two-steps-forward, three-steps-back process. At times, its victories have been over-hyped. Things have looked fair on paper, while behind the scenes the same-old sexism has surged. “F.Y.R.” (for “fifty years of ridicule”), the most open feminist anthem on this list, recognizes that problem and frames it as “too dumb to bring us down.” With this intersectional track, Le Tigre calls all feminists to the front to expose nominal progressivism and press for real change.