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Feminism is defined as the “advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford Dictionaries | English, n.d.). Since its beginning, feminism has been a quite large part of culture and shaping the way women think. Every wave of feminists brought about different movements such as the Guerrilla Girl movement and later the Riot Grrrl Movement. Since the Riot Grrrl movement, there haven’t been any major feminist movements in the arts, but a lot of musicians still do sing about feminist issues or publicly refer to themselves as feminist and support feminist matters. With recent happenings, it is even more important for feminist topics to be discussed. Many powerful men took advantage of women who were in vulnerable positions. During the Riot Grrrl movement, male dominance and sexual abuse were two important themes that the bands discussed. Strongly against both topics, the bands would use their music to convey messages discouraging the themes. After experiencing abuse, Kesha released her song Praying, after ridding herself of the man who abused her. In the song, her experience was one of the main themes. Overall, while the feminist music during the Riot Grrrl movement had a more ‘in-your-face’ approach to promote feminist music, the feminist music nowadays isn’t always as apparent as it could be. Nevertheless, feminist musicians are still often talked about and often advocate for equal rights and other topics. 

While the true beginning of the Feminist Movement was in the late 18th century, it became more popular in the 19th century thus creating first-wave feminism (En.wikipedia.org, n.d.). This wave focused on changing the legal inequalities such as the right to vote and property rights. The 60s to 80s saw second-wave feminism in which women from the civil rights movement joined, shifting the focus on discrimination, work place harassment and the right to ones own body. Then, in the 90s, third-wave feminism emerged. This wave focuses on abolishing gender roles, which included expectations and stereotypes, and transgender rights (Potterton, 2015). Along with the waves of feminism, there are both different types of feminism and various theories. As not every feminist believes the same, different types of feminism emerged; liberal feminism, radical feminism, womanism and sex-positive feminism being a few of them (Mastin, 2008). Each type considers themselves to be feminists, but with different beliefs. Meaning, while liberal feminism believes that rationality makes women deserve equal treatment, radical feminism believes that society as a whole is patriarchal and male-based, and that the only option is the reconstruction of society (Potterton, 2017). Womanism is an interesting type of feminism, as it adds the racial aspect and argues that sexism and racism are linked. The sex-positive feminists were introduced in response to the anti-pornography feminists who argued that pornography was a reason for female oppression (Mastin, 2008). The anti-pornography movement was a large aspect of feminism. It’s argument was that pornography objectives women, and that it causes rape or other violent acts towards women (Potterton, 2017). The anti-pornography movement is best recapitulated in the words of Robin Morgan, who said, “Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice.” (En.wikipedia.org, n.d.). As afore mentioned, this movement lead to pro-pornography theorists, most of which wanted to create better porn that reflects the women’s desires, body types and diversity (Potterton, 2017). In 1985, a group of anonymous feminists joined forced and created the Guerrilla Girls (En.wikipedia.org, n.d.). The group confronted the issues of racism and sexism in fine arts. They showed how few female artists were featured in museums, specifically less than 5%, yet the majority of art in which women are featured depicts them in the nude. Furthermore, they argued that bus companies are more inclusive than New York City galleries on their poster with the quote “Do women have to be naked to get into the MET museums?”. (Potterton, 2017). The Guerrilla Girl movement was important in shaping the future in feminism, including in music as it was a major movement within the arts.

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With the Guerrilla Girls somewhat paving the way for feminist movements in the arts, it was only a matter of time before a movement happened in music. Riot Grrrl was a feminism punk movement that sprung out of the grunge movement as a response to the movement. It’s origins were mostly in Washington state in the 90s, and is often linked to third-wave feminism. The women that were involved in the Riot Grrrl movement, however, all of the women were very likely to have grown up with feminist parents in the second wave of feminism. The bands in the Riot Grrrl movement were either female-only, or female-fronted bands that addressed issues such as rape, abuse, sexism and racism (En.wikipedia.org, n.d.). Within the movement, there was one band that was fundamental to the movement, the band being Bikini Kill. The band praised independent female sexuality, and were against male dominance and violence (Potterton, 2017). The front woman of Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, was important for the movement, so much so that she wrote the Riot Grrrl Manifesto in which she celebrates women. For example, the manifesto states;
“BECAUSE we wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other’s work so that we can share strategies and criticize-applaud each other.” (Riot grrrl MANIFESTO, 2017)
The Manifesto was focused on lifting other women up rather than tearing them down, and promoting the idea of sticking together. One of Bikini Kill’s most iconic feminist anthems was their song Rebel Girl, in which they focused on lifting women’s spirits, rather than tearing them down. The song mentions slut-shaming and the revolution, which refers to the Riot Grrrl movement. It also mentions sisterhood, alluding to how women should be united (Genius, n.d.). When performing, Bikini Kill would encourage women to come to the front of the crowd, since at the time men were often very violent at punk shows, and women would be pushed aside for the men to act out and ‘go wild’. Since the Riot Grrrl movement, feminist musicians have become more common, even though the songs messages aren’t as evident as some of Bikini Kill’s songs. 

Feminism is still discussed quite often in music today. Artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna are considered todays feminists in the music industry. However, there are people who believe that, due to how the feminists nowadays often embrace sexuality in performances or music videos, they aren’t true feminists. An example of this would be Fifth Harmony. The girl group often performs in quite revealing outfits despite some of their songs, such as “Bo$$”, having feminist messages. They always have videos, like the one for “Worth It”, in which they are all dressed up in power suits and are depicted as women in power-positions. This video received a lot of praise, but is one of the few in which they are not dressed in a body positive way. Despite the arguments that many of todays feminists aren’t really feminists, 2017 seemed to be a year of various steps forward for feminism. In an article about feminism in 2017, it was stated that “with the prevalence of sexual assault highlighted by the #MeToo campaign …} never have the ideas of female empowerment in popular music culture been more relevant” (MacAskill, 2017). Not only has this made an impact, but Cardi B has broken various records in the hip hop industry, which is a genre in which women are objectified very often. As well as breaking Lauryn Hill’s record set in 1998 for “(Doo Wop) That Thing” as a solo-woman rap single to get to the top of the charts with her single “Bodak Yellow”, “Bodak Yellow” also became the longest running number one from a solo female rapper in Hot 100 history (Miller, 2017a; Miller, 2017b). While male hip hop artists still often refer to women as ‘hoes’, the success of Cardi B’s single was still a big step for women in hip hop. Additionally, more and more artists have been speaking up about men abusing women during their shows, one of the most recent instances being at a Drake show. Males speaking up at shows shows more men in popular music getting involved in feminist issues. The recent allegations made with the #MeToo movement has also brought more attention to feminist issues, as wage equality issues have also been addressed. It’s possible that this movement may bring about more songs about feminist issues. Though the music today isn’t much of a movement, there have been achievements that are significant for women in popular music.  

Even after years of movements and little steps towards feminist issues being more talked about in popular music, there are still issues that haven’t been mentioned much in popular music, and still issues of inequality within popular music, specifically hip hop. The misogyny in hip hop music is still quite prominent, which shows that people still enjoy listening to misogynistic lyrics. Therefore, while there have been advances of feminism within popular music, there are still areas of popular music which would need more feminist aspects. Personally, I believe that feminism in music in the years of the Riot Grrrl movement was a bigger step forward than the music of feminists in more recent years. While there have been breakthrough songs such as “Flawless” by Beyoncé. Beyoncé’s concerts also have many female empowering messages, which is why she is considered one of the feminist icons of music today. Regardless of her empowering messages, the Riot Grrrl movement was a lot more successful in conveying feminist messages. A large part of this would be the fact that their music genre was punk; punk music is often the genre which challenges social norms and political issues, which is why it was perfect to exude the issues which they focused on. Pop music tends to be catchy lyrics and a catchy beat, rather than well thought out lyrics and loud projections of issues. Not only was the genre helpful in the impact of Riot Grrrls, but Kathleen Hanna was extremely devoted to the cause, which made Bikini Kill’s music that much more impactful. Meanwhile, empowering messages and lyrics seem to be more common, but there’s always the more conservative feminists who believe that Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Fifth Harmony are only promoting sexual abuse by dressing provocatively. Even though this is a belief, I think embracing their sexuality makes them powerful. To conclude, while I do believe the Riot Grrrl movement did more for feminism in music, the musicians of today are still raising awareness and confronting issues in their music, just not as aggressively as the Riot Grrrl songs did. 

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