Oh, the ‘90s. Back then, we watched Kelly Kapowski saunter through another episode of Saved by the Bell and Donna Martin try to graduate on Beverly Hills, 90210, but there were a lot of feminist lessons we needed to learn. That need came in part from the fact that we were young and our pliable minds needed molding, but it also came from the fact that, during the ‘90s, a new era of feminism was on its way in. After the ‘80s gave us power shoulder pads and working women, the feminism that started gaining ground in the ‘90s encouraged women to own their power, but also their femininity if that’s what they wanted to do. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? The ability to be who you want to be and make no apologies for it? And, in their own way, these 14 songs taught us feminist lessons that we desperately needed to learn.
Amidst the rump shaking power of hip hop and the sugary sweet sounds of Britney Spears begging someone to hit her one more time, there were a number of artists creating songs that were empowering and educational in what they had to say about equality.
1. “Unpretty” (TLC)
Feminist lesson learned: It doesn’t matter what you look like, how you do your hair, the clothes you wear, or the way you wear your makeup. You are beautiful because you are you. Also, if TLC can have beauty insecurities, then we need to all realize that the way we feel unpretty is societally influenced and not in any way based in reality.
2. “You Oughta Know” (Alanis Morissette)
Feminist lesson learned: Never let yourself fade into the background, even if that means writing a pissed off love song to the partner who burned you.
3. “I’m Just A Girl” (No Doubt)
Feminist lesson learned: Hi, you might be a girl, but you’re 100 percent capable of seeing, thinking, and standing on your own. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.
4. “None Of Your Business” (Salt ‘n Pepa)
Feminist lesson learn: The feminist anthem for sexual freedom, this song taught us that we can do whatever the hell we want to do with our bodies, thank you very much.
5. “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Those Days)” (Monica)
Feminist lesson learned: Sometimes we all have bad days, and it has nothing to do with you. Also, it’s totally cool if you don’t feel like turning on the sunshine and smiles every day of your life. You do you, girl.
6. “Wannabe” (Spice Girls)
Feminist lesson learned: The way to every girl’s heart is through her friends. If you want to get with her, well, you know how the song goes. Also, it’s totally OK to express your needs on the regular. In fact, it’s highly advised. Because taking is easy, right? The harder part is to find someone who gives.
7. “Goodbye Earl” (Dixie Chicks)
Feminist lesson learned: Take good care of your friends. Work hard to build each other up, support each other’s goals, and kick their boyfriends’ asses if need be.
8. “Passionate Kisses” (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
Feminist lesson learned: Don’t we all deserve careers, love, family, and emotional support? Why, yes. Yes, we do. And it’s also not too much to ask. This country classic is all about having it all and expecting the best.
9. “All I Wanna Do” (Sheryl Crow)
Feminist lesson learned: Life is short. Do the things you love when you want to do them, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
10. “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Feminist lesson learned: Another ‘90s classic about sexual politics, Hill taught us what it’s like on both sides of the gender coin. The major takeaway: Respect yourself. And find someone who respects you too.
11. “Any Man Of Mine” (Shania Twain)
Feminist lesson learned: Keep your expectations high. For yourself and for the people you bring into your life.
12. “Bitch” (Meredith Brooks)
Feminist lesson learned: Women can be all things — mean, kind, soft, strong. Also, it’s super empowering to reclaim the words that people have used to oppress you.
13. “Not A Pretty Girl” (Ani DiFranco)
Feminist lesson learned: Let’s just take the qualifiers out of the way we describe women, because we’re more than our looks or our behavior or our feelings. Got that?
14. “No Scrubs” (TLC)
Feminist lesson learned: Girls, you got better things to be doing than worrying about someone who takes advantage of you emotionally and financially. You have your life together, so surround yourself with other people that do too, OK?
Thank god for these classic ‘90s songs. I don’t know how we would have learned these feminist lessons without them.