I was in the car with my 14-year-old daughter listening to the Hits 1 station on satellite radio and I think she was a little surprised at my reaction to what was the “song of the summer” a few summers back. I abruptly changed the station and couldn’t help but say aloud in an annoyed tone, “I can’t believe they are still playing this song.” You see, I actually LISTEN to the lyrics of the songs that come on the radio, especially the stations that my kids like to listen to, which I suppose you can call generically “pop music.” So anyway, I didn’t have to listen to any more than the first couple bars because how many times have I heard that song played? The song I’m talking about is “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams (or actually not penned by Robin, whom you may recall copped to being strung out on prescription painkillers through the entire process, and didn’t write the song at all), and featuring rapper T.I.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Tipper Gore, and can tolerate some explicit language and even sexual innuendo, but I do think there are some songs that have become so engrained into our culture and that have content that is seriously damaging to our kids. Take “Blurred Lines,” which includes lyrics such as “I know you want it . . . but you’re a good girl. . . .You’re an animal. Baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you. That man is not your mate and that why I’m gon’ take you.” The rap portion of the song is even worse. Did you even know that it contains this lyric: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your a$$ in two.”??? Date rape much?
It would seem that Robin, Pharrell, and T.I. are inviting men to question whether “no” actually means “no,” and to sexually harm women, but it’s set to such darn catchy music (still can’t get it out of my head after hearing it earlier today), that we all say, “Wow, what a great, fun song.” And (this is only as of June 2013—the summer had just begun) the music video was watched on YouTube over 73 million times, played over the radio over 50,000 times, had more than 1.4 million downloads, and made megastars out of Robin and Pharrell. Then, we are somehow shocked when we hear about the high rate of sexual assault and date rape on college campuses.
Context. It’s the only realistic answer when it comes to the non-stop popular culture that bombards our kids every day and leaves them with the idea that “no” might really not mean “no,” or that a girl is nothing without a boyfriend, or that appearance counts for everything in this world, or that sex is the end all be all. So, you can’t stop the culture bombardment—even those of you who may still be monitoring closely the content—because, face it, popular culture permeates our entire society and they are going to see and hear it: on iTunes, at a friend’s house, or on YouTube anytime he or she has a phone and you are not around. What you can do, however, is ferret out the truly pernicious aspects of our popular culture and point out to your teen that they are listening to a song about date rape, for example, and then talk to them seriously and meaningfully about date rape.
One more example: there was so much media attention directed at the book and movie “Fifty Shades of Gray,” but did anyone stop and think about how this so-called relationship might look to a teenager? The story is about a college woman who is completely submissive and subordinate to a much older (wealthy) man who won’t take no for an answer. And by submissive I mean, like S&M submissive, but also under his complete domination and control. Even if you think your daughter (or son) isn’t paying attention, you can’t know for sure unless you open up the dialogue. Tell your teen son that “no” means “no” and to respect girls and women, and tell your teen daughter that she has the right to choose when and how she allows others to touch her body—that she is the sole keeper of her body—and that she is worthy of respect. Because I’ve seen some rather ugly, scary things written on social media by middle schoolers about sex and date rape, which was so disheartening. It’s clear that these messages are coming from all corners and it is our responsibility to make sure that at least it is put in the proper context. I have so much more to say on this topic, but that will be for another day. In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive!
Our pop culture does have some saving graces. Every so often, a badass woman releases a song that becomes very popular, and that song is actually about female empowerment! I love these songs and fortunately since they are also set to catchy music they can also have an impact on our culture, our teens. However, some of these songs also need context, because sometimes the artist is being ironic or symbolic. So here are some songs—actually anthems—that I have compiled. The next time Hits 1 plays “Blurred Lines” I’ll be ready with the antidote. In fact, I think I’ll make an iTunes playlist!
16 ANTHEMS OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT (in no particular order)
Click on the song title to hear the song AND read the lyrics!
1. “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel
Ah, how many times have we moms heard this song from the Disney movie, “Frozen”? Actually my kids were a bit old to become obsessed with a Disney movie so I never heard it enough that I got sick of it. I still listen to it in the rare times that it still is played on the radio. First of all, it’s sung by Idina Menzel, who is possibly one of the best female vocalists of all time. But it’s more than that—the movie plus that song equals young girls growing up to see that not all princesses are crooning “Someday my prince will come…” and that they should be who they want to be: “Don’t hold it back anymore…” Also, the song teaches that everybody makes mistakes and to tune out the naysayers, something even we adult women sometimes forget to do.
2. “Run the World (Girls)” (clean version!) by Beyonce
This song just might be the quintessential female empowerment anthem. Who run the world? Girls! Well that couldn’t be further from the truth (unless a certain woman ends up winning the 2016 election—wink, wink), but isn’t it important that we teach our girls to think that they can or could some day? My favorite line is “Boy you know you love it how we’re smart enough to make these millions. Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business” Who runs the world? This song is a step in the right direction.
3. “Roar” by Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s anthem is the story of her evolution from mouse to lioness! (Well, she did come from a strict, religious upbringing so I’m going to assume without knowing for sure that it’s at least partly autobiographical.) This is such an inspirational song for girls with a message that it’s ok to be assertive and strong, and also how to be resilient. Coming from one of their faves, Katy Perry, it is a message that can really resonate.
4. “Material Girl” by Madonna
OK well this one is kind of the 80s—greed is good—version of an anthem, but it’s Madonna! Her entire career has been about female empowerment. Remember the time she said early in her career that her goal in life was “to rule the world”? To put that statement into context, this was the 80s—before there was such a thing as the concept of sexual harassment and relatively few women in professional careers or the upper echelons of power in our country—and she was a female symbol of strength and power (even though some of our own parents might have seen her as a bad influence). As for the song itself, the point is in the end, which in essence is: I don’t need you, a man, in any event, because I make my own money.
5. “Confident” by Demi Lovato
Well, what is wrong with being confident? Absolutely nothing–it should be no-brainer that it is better to be confident than not. The issue is that our girls have a confidence problem relative to the boys, which partly explains why girls do well in school and testing, but then get passed over for the guy when the time comes to get a job. So if one of their favorite artists is telling them it’s a good thing to be confident, well, that can only be a good thing.
6. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
An earlier feminist anthem released in 1978, within a year of when we learned that the Equal Rights Amendment was not to be, this song is actually about a woman’s plucky determination to get by without her man who wronged her. He has the nerve to walk through the door and she’s not having it. The emotion and passion of this song is impossible to resist.
7. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
This: “Like a small boat on the ocean, sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word can make a heart open. I might only have one match but I can make an explosion.” And it goes on from there. Beautiful, meaningful poetry set to a beautiful melody, and released in the year 2015, amidst a lot of bad, inappropriate fluff music. I love Rachel Platten’s defiant “Fight Song”! Apparently, so does Hillary Clinton, as the song is often played after her rallies and special events.
8. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper
This 80s song, widely considered to be and used as a party or dance song, actually has a “hidden” feminist message. The song is about a young, unmarried, working woman (an increasingly common demographic by then), who holds on to her right to live her life on her own terms. Not her mother’s, nor her father’s. And this: “Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world. I wanna be the one who walks in the sun. . . .” I have to give props to Cyndi Lauper too for “True Colors,” which has become an anthem for the acceptance of people who are different from the norm, including the LGBTQ community.
9. “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Invincible,” “strong,” “wise.” “If I have to I can do anything!” These are words that we want our girls to associate with being female. This early 1970s folk anthem—the original feminist anthem—does that and much more.
10. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
This still-beloved classic from the 60s still says it all in a word. Respect. Respect yourself, and respect others. Everything else will then fall into place.
11. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift generally writes songs about relationships, both good and bad ones, but every so often she makes an exception. This 2014 song off her smash “1989” album sends the message to girls that they shouldn’t get hung up on what others think or say about them. Just do what Taylor does and Shake. It. Off. In this era where cyberbullying happens all the time, and there have even been incidents of teen suicides at least partially attributable to cyberbullying, this message is a very important one to convey.
12. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson
While ultimately about the end of a relationship, this popular anthem is also about not needing a man for happiness. Kelly Clarkson sings this song like a mantra and it’s a good mantra to have during the times of trouble that we all face in a lifetime.
13. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt (Gwen Stefani)
So, the casual listener might think this song is actually about submission, but it is completely sarcastic and ironic. I love the lyrics to this song: “Oh I’m just a girl, pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights.” The lyrics also slyly get at victim/slut shaming: “The moment that I step outside, so many reasons for me to run and hide. I can’t do the little things I hold so dear, ‘cause it’s all those little things that I fear.” Make sure you point out the sarcasm to your kids—if not heard that way, it is actually a terrible song!
14. “No” by Meghan Trainor
What better antidote to “Blurred Lines” and “Fifty Shades of Gray” than Meghan Trainor’s new pop tune? Basically this song is about a woman repeating “no” over and over again to a guy who is trying to hit on her. It’s such a simple word and yet there is no word more empowering for girls and women. Really, just one “no” should suffice but Meghan has to say “no” to a number of come-ons because of some boys/men who have now been conditioned to think that maybe, just maybe, “no” means “yes.” “My name’s ‘no,’ my sign’s ‘no,’ my number’s ‘no,’ you need to let it go.” Yes!
15. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
A song from the early 80s from the great Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out” has a message similar to the one in “Let It Go”—I’m free to be me!
16. “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
Saturday Night Life satirized this song, and it was pretty funny, but really if you listen to the lyrics, they’re not about saying everything that’s on your mind with no filter, like your great-aunt Bertha. One big problem girls and women have is that over time we become increasingly silent. We are afraid of what others might think of us. We are afraid that our points of view will be belittled or worse. Sara Bareilles tells us we should be brave “and let the words fall out.”
So there you have it: 16 empowering songs that help counter the damage done by songs like “Blurred Lines.” Can you think of others? Are there any feminist songs that have been recorded by men?
With Love and Kindness,