Feminist Punk: A Brief Retrospective

By: Tulasi Sundaresh, 6/8 Records Intern

For nearly 50 years, feminist punk has been a prevalent genre in which women and men alike can use their music as a platform to speak out against the polarization between genders in society. Women experience persecution in every realm of society, so the genre of feminist punk came about as a way to combat the ingrained sexism and societal expectation that plagues society. A movement beginning in the 70s, strong men and women of music have been using their platform to promote the feminist agenda, creating a whole subculture within itself. In an effort to condense the essence of this greatly impactful genre, these are what I believe to be 6 of the most representative songs and artists in the game.

The Slits- “Typical Girls” (1979)

The Slits were a British rock band and an all female group, focusing their music on the social commentary of females and males in society. One of their most popular songs, “Typical Girls” appeared on their first album entitled; “Cut”. The track is musically diverse, as it follows a very erratic rhythmic pattern and an ever changing time signature. As for the lyrics, they blatantly comment on the imposition of female societal norms and how women are pressured to conform. The style of the music paired with the powerful lyrics create a chaotic means of portraying an important message with great impact.

The Slits’ First Album; “Cut”

Bikini Kill- “Rebel Girl” (1993)

Bikini Kill was an American punk rock band, active throughout the 90s. They are believed to be the pioneer of the “riot grrrl” movement; a feminist subculture in the early 1990s including music and a corresponding zine. “Rebel Girl” is one of their most popular songs. It features an abrasive, classic punk feel to accompany the powerful lyrics about a rebellious young girl, defying the norms of society. “When she talks, I hear the revolution. In her hips, there’s revolution. When she walks, the revolution’s coming. In her kiss, I taste the revolution” These blatantly feminist lyrics embody the brutality and roughness of the feminist punk genre and the style with which it was used to portray an important message.

Bikini Kill 1990s

Patti Smith- “Piss Factory” (1974)

How could I not include the legend, Patti Smith. Known as “The Godmother of Punk”, she was a feminist icon as she strayed away from the conventional ideals of femininity. She was a symbol of androgyny in the public eye and used her lyrics as a means of expressing her ideals. “Piss Factory” is a renowned punk anthem, famous for its commentary and unique style. It is a mixture of spoken word and singing that creates a really impactful song.

"Patti with Bolex-1, 1969"
Patti Smith 1969


Patti Smith- “Pumping (My Heart)” (1976)

Another iconic track by Patti Smith; this song exemplifies the classic punk rock sound with its strong guitar and chaotic, intense vocals. Smith demonstrates her incredible lyrical talent and passion in this song with the powerful words about her activism. “And free the hurricane, oh I go into the center of the airplane. Baby gotta box in the center of the ring. And my heart starts pumping, my fists start pumping” These lyrics depict the tenacity and intensity of a woman and the feminist movement at this time. Pumping is another anthemic punk song that demonstrates the power and outspoken nature of the women involved in this movement.

Le Tigre- “Hot Topic” (1999)

Just on the verge of a new century, there was a lot of social change in the late 1990s. Le Tigre took advantage of the increasing social progression and put out a lot of music questioning the traditional roles of men and women. “Hot Topic” is an upbeat pop version of the feminist punk style. The track is an anthem for strong women and even lists women who are famous for their strong opinions and activism. It features simple, to the point lyrics paired with a strong beat and a punk guitar part, making it a classic example of female activism in music.

Le Tigre
Le Tigre

X-Ray Spex- “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” (1977)

X-Ray Spex used this song to comment on traditional roles of women in the 60s and 70s. This sort of blatant commentary was almost unprecedented at this time, making this song incredibly influential. They worked to challenge the patriarchal society they live in with hard hitting, important lyrics.

X-Ray Spex

The correlation between this style of punk rock and the message that these women are trying to portray is clear. The intensity of the music compliments the intensity of the message perfectly, thus creating a whole new sub genre and cultural scene thereof. So, these women are able to challenge ingrained patriarchy in society through their art, creating a movement and opening the door for men and women alike to follow in their footsteps.

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