There's no singular way to be a woman (or a femme) and no one way to be a feminist. So it shouldn't be a surprise that when we began compiling the most empowering songs about the female experience, we wound up with a list spanning punk pioneers, house DJs, 21st-century rappers, country singers, grunge howlers, and everyone in between.
In every era of popular music, there has been a handful of women doggedly pursuing their own visions in a space that has always been dominated by men—and it's always been a joy to stumble upon their music, whether it makes you feel validated, pumped up, or just plain old understood. Read on for 53 of the best feminist songs by artists ranging from Blondie to Björk, Megan Thee Stallion to Bikini Kill.
“Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé
This is an obvious choice, but sometimes that's the best place to start. Queen Bey's high-energy anthem is a crowd-pleaser and a battle cry at the same time.
“You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
A theme song for the woman who is in control of her body, her choices, and her life. More than half a century after its original release in 1963, the track is more relevant than ever.
“Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Rock 'n' roll queen Joan Jett doesn't care what people think: She's going to live life to the fullest, and she thinks you should too. (This one gets bonus points for scoring the credit sequence to the seminal smart-girl coming-of-age drama Freaks & Geeks.)
“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu
This power duo shows it's okay to be provocative in the face of judgment on this funky collab, which ends with a powerful rap from Janelle Monáe on equality.
“Bad Girls” by M.I.A.
A mantra for those who simply DGAF.
“Independent Women” by Destiny's Child
The girl group pays tribute to the woman who is self-sufficient, self-motivated, and self-made.
“I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan
Nothing helps you acknowledge your inner greatness better than Chaka Khan's power vocals.
“Wonder Woman" by Lion Babe
This is the soulful, groovy superhero anthem for the everyday Diana Prince.
“WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion
One of the best songs of 2020, this unapologetically salacious track broke new ground in talking about female sexuality. Cardi and Megan exchange lines that are as funny as they are filthy, like Cardi's immortal proclamation: "I don't cook, I don't clean / But let me tell you how I got this ring."
“***Flawless” by Beyoncé featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This fan favorite, which includes snippets from Adichie's "We Should All Be Feminists" TEDx Talk, is a no-brainer addition to this list. It juxtaposes an academic analysis of gender inequality ("We say to girls / 'You can have ambition / But not too much'") with Queen Bey's personal self-empowerment mantras ("I woke up like this").
“Woman” by Kesha featuring The Dap-Kings Horns
Ever since coming back from a grueling legal battle with producer Dr. Luke, Kesha has used her music to fight sexual harassment—witness her moving set at the 2018 Grammys. On this feel-good track, the singer proudly embraces being "a motherfucking woman."
“Doves in the Wind” by SZA featuring Kendrick Lamar
SZA's willingness to voice her insecurities makes her endlessly relatable, but she's never afraid to live her truth. ("/ ," she sings in a verse.)
“Nasty” by Janet Jackson
After Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton "such a nasty woman" during the 2016 election, Spotify plays of this 1986 hit increased by 250 percent. But long before the upheaval of the last decade, Janet Jackson was proudly claiming her space.
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin
What do women really want? Aretha's been spelling it out for years.
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
The ultimate motivator for getting through dark times, this one has been cheering people up since 1978.
“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn
Historically, country music tends to embrace traditional American life, but Loretta Lynn, an icon of the genre, took great pride in breaking a lot of those confinements. In 1975's "The Pill," she basks in the newfound freedoms that come with birth control, including making her husband stay at home while she spends a night out on the town.
“Tomboy” by Princess Nokia
Princess Nokia empowers people who don't adhere to stereotypically feminine body standards with this song. "I make my own shit work for me—I manipulate the male gaze," she told Genius about the track. "This is my body, and you’re going to look at me, world, whether or not you like it."
“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys
Leave it to Alicia Keys to give you an instant confidence boost with one fired-up song.
“Quiet” by MILCK
MILCK's power ballad became the unofficial anthem for the Women's March after women sang it at demonstrations around the world. Years later, its uplifting message still sticks.
“Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
Released at a time (2011) when social justice wasn't as visible a part of mainstream dance-pop, Lady Gaga's track is still an inspiration to Little Monsters from all walks of life.
“Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B
This is the ultimate song for the woman who's pulled herself up by the bootstraps to reach red-bottom-wearing success, much like Cardi B.
“I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
The disco legend inspires us to not just make an arrival, but to also announce it in the most glamorous way possible.
“Just a Girl” by No Doubt
Gwen Stefani originally wrote this song as an act of rebellion against her strict parents who wouldn't let her drive late at night, but thanks to lyrics satirizing the way society shelters young women, it became a '90s feminist anthem.
“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Solange featuring Sampha
Solange's A Seat at the Table honors her identity as a Black woman. On "Don't Touch My Hair," she voices the frustrations of enduring racial microaggressions and reclaims her body and personal space.
“Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige
The R&B queen imparts a lesson on accepting yourself with class ("So I like what I see when I'm looking at me / When I'm walking past the mirror") and not letting anybody kill your vibe.
“U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah
The hip-hop game changer stands up for fellow women and calls out men for wrongs ranging from street harassment to domestic abuse. "Who you callin' a bitch?" she retorts.
“No Scrubs” by TLC
You deserve better than the easy, sleazy guys. Let TLC help you brush them off.
“Pynk” by Janelle Monáe
Monáe pays tribute to women's bodies in this fresh and funky cut from Dirty Computer, her 2018 album celebrating sexual freedom. The "vagina pants" from the music video are a major plus.
“Juice” by Lizzo
In this instant classic about self-love, the flute-playing superstar celebrates herself and everyone around her: "If I'm shinin', everybody gonna shine," she sings in the chorus.
“God Is a Woman” by Ariana Grande
Ari likens women to divinity in this powerful pop banger. When she released the music video, she dedicated it to "my fellow goddesses who work their asses off every day to 'break the glass ceiling.'"
“Pussy Is God” by King Princess
Pop up-and-comer King Princess also equates womanhood to holiness in this proud celebration of queer love and women’s bodies. The track challenges the taboo nature of the word pussy and embraces “the anatomy that has been marginalized through all of our history,” she explained in one interview.
“Girls Need Love” by Summer Walker
Rising R&B star Summer Walker calls out the double standard between men and women openly discussing sex and desires. (“Girls can’t never say they want it.”) On “Girls Need Love,” she delivers an honest, sensual, and at times provocative picture of a woman as a sexual being.
“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
An anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal anthem in the guise of a 1980s country hit, this one resonates with working women to this day.
“Nameless, Faceless” by Courtney Barnett
Indie rocker Courtney Barnett responded to misogynistic trolls with this grungy track that cites a famous Margaret Atwood quote: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.”
“Asexual Wellbeing” by Okay Kaya
Rather than gloss over the intricacies of womanhood, Okay Kaya states them plainly and colloquially. The Norwegian singer-songwriter fumbles through confessions about yeast infections and adequate sex, making music that feels oddly sexy and sweetly comforting through its depressive tendencies and Jon Bon Jovi jokes.
“Poppin” by Rico Nasty
In women, rage is often considered "unnatural" or "unpretty." When a woman is angry, it's easy for detractors to dismiss her by claiming she's just the more emotional gender. But Rico Nasty pushes against that. The rapper uses rage effectively and decadently, shouting affirmations of self-worth and reassurance: “I’m a poppin’ ass bitch, let me remind ya.”
“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain
Shania Twain’s "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" works because on its surface, it’s just about going out, dancing, and drinking. But it’s the song’s underlying message of androgyny that nail it in (without alienating her country audience), as she sings about skirts and “men’s shirts,” while wearing a top hat and thigh-high leather boots.
“Girl Blunt” by Leikeli47
Leikeli47’s "Girl Blunt" is satisfyingly simple perfection, with a syrup-smooth beat built off Harlem's Litefeet dance movement—a shout-out to the artist's New York roots. Leikeli hops on only to remind us of her one rule: “This shit is a girl blunt / I only smoke girl blunts.”
“She Wolf” by Shakira
On “She Wolf,” Shakira unapologetically warns about indulging in her animal instinct, howling into the depths of a pulsating disco beat.
“D.I.Y” by Bbymutha
A single mother of two sets of twins, Bbymutha has a sound that is a swaggering display of female dominance and unadulterated confidence. The Southern rapper bounces across the beat, demanding respect and loyalty over money and fame.
“Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy
"Sad girl" singer Soccer Mommy pushes back against the male gaze and the kind of suffocating ownership women can find in relationships, declaring, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog.”
“Hot Topic” by Le Tigre
Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” runs through a litany of the (mostly queer) women who have influenced them, from Sleater-Kinney and Angela Davis, thanking each one respectively. The track acknowledges the ageism and frustrations that come with being a woman in power, but nevertheless, urges their inspirations to keep moving forward: "'You're getting old,' That's what they'll say / But don't give a damn I'm listening anyway."
“Hyperballad” by Björk
Björk’s appeal lies in her apparent dichotomies. She’s a soft-spoken woman who dresses and sings loudly and defiantly, and a musical mastermind who mixes techno’s intensity with poetic lyricism. On “Hyperballad,” Iceland’s brightest experimental pop star proves the power in nuance as she asks for more independence in a committed relationship. It’s the rare ballad that centers on autonomy, self-assurance, and communication.
“Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)” by Patti Smith
Patti Smith’s “Horses” is a beautifully dense, symbolically rich 10-minute journey through the troubles of life via one of the generation’s most notable poets/singer-songwriters. Smith propulsively moves through the confinements and restraints that life seems to put on us, and then unravels them frantically in a sonic battle for freedom.
“Celebrity Skin” by Hole
Courtney Love's biggest hit, which grapples with Hollywood beauty standards and the quest for fame, has gained new relevance in the pandemic era with a nearly identical cover by Doja Cat. You can see why it had to be so note for note—nothing conveys the anger and urgency of the lyrics like Love's famous snarl.
“In the Party” by Flo Milli
“Dicks up when I step in the party,” are some of the first words that come out of Flo Milli’s mouth on “In the Party.” Straight out of the gate, Flo Milli brings nothing but unadulterated affirmations and attitude.
“Free” by Ultra Naté
In electronic music, most of what makes the mainstream is business techno. Rarely do the Black women who pioneered the genre and its sound get their rightful acknowledgement. “Free” is not only a must-listen for house music historians, but also a triumphant track about breaking free: “You've got to live your life / Do what you want to do.”
“Go Where You Wanna Go” by The Mamas and the Papas
“Go Where You Wanna Go” opens with a minute of chaotic repetition. The quartet harmonizes through the lyric, “Go where you wanna go / Do what you wanna do,” over and over until singer Michelle Phillips breaks through for a solo, belting, “You don't understand that a girl like me can love just one man." The song has its own built-in lore: Phillips, a non-monogamist, was accused of cheating on her husband and bandmate, John Phillips, with fellow bandmate Denny Doherty. But '60s gossip aside, the song is about demanding independence and a sense of self.
“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes
What’s more feminist than existential dread? On “What’s Up,” front woman Linda Perry— who went on to write aughts-era hits like Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful"—begs for the end of her own system disillusionment while puffing on a joint: “I pray every day for a revolution,” she belts with force that only a woman could really feel.
“Venom” by Little Simz
“Venom” is a song that sounds exactly like its name. British rapper Little Simz furiously delivers a diatribe built to combat ages of oppression and frustration. “Never givin' credit where it’s due 'cause you don’t like pussy in power,” she spits just as the beat trails off for a moment, giving her rage center stage.
“Ain’t No Use” by Nina Simone
Over the course of her career, Nina Simone shifted the focus of her music to civil rights advocacy, demanding the kind of reform that the general public deemed too extreme. “Ain’t No Use” isn’t about the civil rights movement, but rather an early track about a tired and fed-up woman whose emotions can no longer be pushed down—an ode to Simone’s resilience and strength as a woman.
“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
Bikini Kill itself is a feminist act. The all-woman quartet pioneered the riot girl movement, creating some of the best punk rock to come out of the state of Washington at the height of its early-'90s reputation as a male-dominated music factory. “Rebel Girl” is an exemplary tale of women supporting women. Singer-songwriter Kathleen Hanna sings about a girl who “thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood,” a line that would usually point to some sort of jealousy. But instead, Hanna befriends her: “Love you like a sister always / Soul sister, rebel girl.”
“Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera featuring Lil’ Kim
Before all-female collaborations were the norm—especially collaborations between the pop and hip-hop worlds—Christina Aguilera enlisted the help of the Queen of Rap herself, Lil' Kim. "Can't Hold Us Down" is an infectious track where both Aguilera and Kim wax poetic over the tribulations of womanhood. "So, what, am I not supposed to have an opinion? / Should I keep quiet just because I'm a woman? / Call me a bitch 'cause I speak what's on my mind / Guess it's easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled."