Because I still romanticize physical forms of music, I've made mix CD's for the whole class with a playlist of 17 songs that chronologically maps out the path of women in music. I wanted the project to reach beyond the class, so I made sure this collection lived somewhere digitally. I've created a "digital booklet" that anyone can access complete with embedded streaming of each song with it's lyrics along with the date it was released.
When I started to compile my playlist, I was stuck on where exactly I wanted to go. Whether I wanted to zero in on a specific genre, era, or even artist. There were so many options to choose from and so many themes to discuss, so I eventually decided that my mission was to represent as much as possible, even if it had to get a little manic.
The final playlist
We start our musical journey with Bessie Smith, often regarded as the "Empress of Blues." Active from 1912 until her passing in 1937, her strong vocals aren't the only intriguing thing about her. The title of the song I included, "I'm Wild About That Thing" should give you a hint as to what she likes to sing about. This song was released in 1929, not even a decade after the 19th amendment was passed. Yet here we have a women caroling about how she can't get enough of her partner in bed in a song lush with innuendo. Whether Bessie intended for it or not, with her repertoire illustrating female sexual desire and agency, she was laying the groundwork for many artists to come.
Skipping a few decades and genres ahead, at the suggestion of my classmate Julie, I used a 1975 song by country artist Loretta Lynn called "The Pill." A self explanatory but surprising title, Loretta muses about her new found freedom and liberation that she's experienced after discovering the oral contraceptive. Needless to say, this isn't a very common theme in music, let alone country music, making her casual crooning about it pretty groundbreaking.
As the listener makes their way through the playlist, my hope was for them to encounter different themes that are relevant to feminism.
Jump to the 1990's and we have R&B voices like Janet Jackson calling for a "New Agenda" and sisterhood between women, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth lamenting eating disorders, and Kathleen Hannah from Bikini Kill demanding revolution. We also have Lauryn Hill in the Fugees exemplifying her lyrical prowess (and alluding to legends like Nina Simone, who is included earlier in the playlist) and killing it an otherwise male dominated trio, and genre in general.
As we get closer to the new millennium, we see the rise of pop music. This is where most people assume the road for feminism in music is bleak, but I wanted to prove otherwise. Say what you will about the Spice Girls, but for many women the girl power power group was a "gateway drug to feminism." Many will disagree, even claim that the message was exploited and commodified; but it wasn't dead. We then see other girl groups like Destiny's Child singing about financial independence, and pop queen's like Christina Aguilera calling out double standards and slut shaming in her chart topping songs. Just because these themes live on a grander scale, doesn't mean they should be dismissed.
My ultimate goal for this project was to be as inclusive as possible. I wanted to prove that feminism and various messages of female empowerment can not only live, but thrive in any genre or era of music, and that it's vital to our culture that it does so.
Davis, Angela Y. "I Used To Be Your Sweet Mama; Ideology, Sexuality, and Domesticity."Blues Legacies and Black Feminism Gertude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. 1998: <http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/d/davis-blues.html>.
Wald, Gayle. "Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth
Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy. "The Spice Girls were my gateway drug to feminism." TheGaurdian.com 13 12 2012, n. pag. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/spice-girls-feminism-viva-forever>.
O'Dair, Barbara. "Kim Gordon: The Godmother of Grunge on Feminism in Rock Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/kim-gordon-the-godmother-of-grunge-on-feminism-in-rock-19971113