Is “Single Ladies” a feminist anthem?


It wasn’t long after my sixth grade teacher introduced us to the women’s suffrage movement that I realized I was a feminist. All those years of calling my grade school gym teacher a “sexist pig” behind his back seemed to made sense when I learned the meaning of the F-word, and in 1995, at the ripe age of 12, I heard Alanis Morissette for the first time. I was obsessed.

I would scream the words to every angsty song at the top of my lungs in my room — I was fed up with the boys in class making fun of my red hair. I was done with my lame gym teacher having us do aerobics while the boys played dodgeball — I was a feminist, and I had Susan B. Anthony and Alanis Morissette to thank for that. But, as writer Amanda Hess explains in her syndicated sex and gender column , I may have been a little misguided.

Obviously, one is not fully capable of digesting feminist theory at the age of 12 or 13, but, in some cases, these misconceptions about certain songs being “feminist anthems” have persevered. It seems that every year now there is a new pop song telling the story of a woman in control, who is fed up with men, these songs may be dance-worthy, Hess argues, but really aren’t feminist at all.

Let’s start with my girl Alanis. “You Oughta Know” rang true to many women who had been cheated on by anyone (or in her case, Uncle Joey aka Dave Coulier). Yes, some of the song talks about how he is a jerk: “Cause the joke that you laid on the bed that was me and I’m not gonna fade as soon as you close your eyes and you know it,” but most of the song is spent hating on the other woman. Why is it some other woman’s fault that your man is a cheating bastard?

I want you to know, that I’m happy for you

I wish nothing but the best for you both

An older version of me

Is she perverted like me

Would she go down on you in a theatre

Does she speak eloquently

And would she have your baby

I’m sure she’d make a really excellent mother

Hess goes on to discuss other “pseudo feminist anthems” which include “Single Ladies,” Beyoncé’s hit of the summer: “Well — a few things,” Hess explains. “Beyoncé referring to herself as ‘it’? Equating herself to bling? Handing herself over to a man who will determine her self-worth through a demeaning, years-long game which can only end with Beyonce emerging triumphant as his symbolic property, or crawling away as a meaningless ex?”

While I’m not so sure Beyoncé is referring to herself when she says “it,” I do agree with Hess in that you should not have to beg someone to marry you. And while I can’t legally get married, I don’t think it’s healthy for any woman to feel that their life is somehow incomplete or their relationship is invalid without a ring.

Other songs that made the list? Meredith Brooks‘ “Bitch” (another junior high school gem) which implies that women can be either a “bitch” or a “mother;” a “sinner” or a “saint” — and “nothing in-between.” Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” for it’s obvious dismissal of actual queer women — but we already know all about that, Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” (“she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts”) Oh Taylor, don’t slam the girl in short skirts just because some loser won’t date you.

Besides, isn’t dating a werewolf the ultimate revenge?

The moral of the story of pseudo-feminist anthems is this: while I will never stop loving the Spice Girls in all of their fabricated “girl power” glory, there is a difference between real feminism and radio-friendly anthems of passivity disguised as empowerment.

Want a real feminist anthem? Listen to “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill; Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”; Le Tigre’s “FYR”; Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl”; Joan Armatrading’s “Me Myself and I” and even Christina Aguilera’s“Fighter” (she got screwed over and doesn’t feel the need to bash other women because of it).

What do you think of Hess’s list? Do you have a feminist jam we should hear?