When one hears the word “feminist”, many different things may come to mind. One may think of the “bra burning” feminists of the 1960s or the “riot grrrl” feminists of the 1990s. It can bring to mind issues such as abortion, birth control, and unfair wages. There are many different aspects of feminism, some of which are understood only by those involved in the movement. But like most things people are passionate about, feminism has held a strong place in music since its very beginning, and can be seen in its festivals, its politics, and in the average American’s everyday life.
The textbook definition of feminism is “a doctrine that advocates equal rights for women” (WordNet, 2010). While this is correct, there is much more to it than that. Different feminists may hold different beliefs or place more importance on different issues. There is no “correct” way to be a feminist. Beliefs may depend on a feminist’s religion, political views, race, or many other factors. For example, some feminists may have no problem with pornography, while others may strongly oppose it. No two feminists hold exactly the same beliefs. But the overall universal belief held by feminists is that women should be treated equally and fairly.
Feminist beliefs have been around for centuries. However, the first real “wave” of feminism occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (History, 2010). This wave focused mainly on women’s suffrage, which was achieved in 1920.
The second wave of feminism came about in the 1960s and lasted into the early 1980s (History, 2010). This movement focused on many issues of equality in culture, politics, and many other areas. While this wave is often associated with bra burning, this is an exaggeration that actually never happened. The beliefs held during this wave are still held by many feminists today.
The third and final wave to date happened in the 1990s (History, 2010). While the second wave seemed centered on the rights of upper middle class white women, the third wave embraced women of all races, classes, and cultures. Many more specialized types of feminism arose from this wave, such as ecofeminism, which combines environmentalism and feminism, and womanism, which is aimed toward the rights of women of color. While the third wave has ended, there are still many active feminist movements happening today.
Although there had been female artists long before, feminist music did not really come to be until the early 1970s. One of the best known feminist songs of this era is "I am Woman" by Helen Reddy. Released in 1972, it eventually became the anthem of the women's liberation movement. Michelle Arrow described it as "the 'lightbulb' moment, the instant a new set of possibilities -- women's liberation -- became visible" (Arrow, 2007). Reddy herself also said of the song, "It's not just for women...It's a general empowerment song about feeling good about yourself, believing in yourself" (I Am Woman, 2010).
Also during this time,...