In 1975 the United Nations declared ‘International Women’s Year’ with Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” as its official anthem. The song impacted many lives when it was released during the new wave of women’s liberation. Even now after Reddy’s recent death, it remains a global feminist anthem.
The lyrics of I Am Woman assert strength and power, “Oh yes I am wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain”. The song echoes the voices of women, past and present in addressing gender inequality and oppression during the second wave of the feminist movement.
Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” emerged several years before “I Am Woman”. The original version was released by Otis Redding in 1965 about a desperate man who doesn’t care if his wife does wrong by him, as long as he gets respect for bringing money home.
Franklin’s version is about a strong, confident woman who knows what she deserves and does not want to be taken for granted. Her addition of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” transformed the song into a feminist anthem.
The release of “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” in 1985 by Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin, is a song about women’s independence from men. It reiterates that feminism does not mean man-hating, but gender equality.
The third wave of feminism emerged in the ’90s along with “Just A Girl” by No Doubt. The sarcastic lyrics “Cause I’m just a girl, oh, little old me” revolve around women being constantly undermined in a patriarchal and sexist society.
“Independent Woman” by Destiny’s Child became one of the most iconic female empowerment anthems of the early 2000s. It was written for the 2002 Charlie’s Angels film and was the first number 1 song of the millennium on Billboard Hot 100.
Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” was released in 2012 and became an instantaneous international hit, reaching number one in several countries. The lyrics center around a woman being strong and untamed.
A recent addition to the list of classic feminist anthems is Janelle Monáe’s 2018 single called “Pynk”. Monáe’s recurring theme of female empowerment is echoed in this song about women’s sexuality.
“Mothers’ Daughter” by Miley Cyrus (2019) is another modern-day anthem for women. It asserts the freedom, power and confidence she has in her own skin. Qualities passed down from her mother, an inspirational woman in her life.
All of these songs have shown how women have expressed themselves throughout the generations of music. Sharing common traits of relatability and prowess.
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