7 Of The Least Feminist Songs Of The '90s
It should go without saying that music in any era has its problems, and that sexism in music continues today. In the '90s, there was a lot of anti-feminist sentiment in music, and some '90s songs you bopped along to (and probably still do) are actually pretty sexist. The pop hits you loved in the '90s could be shockingly anti-woman, and sometimes it was even women who were behind these songs, which makes it all the more surprising. Back before a time when Internet think pieces would tear apart songs and music videos, '90s songs that were anti-feminist went by largely unchecked. So I'm going to check them now!
While this list isn't exhaustive (Can you even imagine an exhaustive list of songs that were anti-feminist from any given decade? We'd spend our lives writing and reading it!), it's a pretty good indication that the chart-topping hits you remember nostalgically and have on all your best '90s playlists are actually pretty disappointing for women. They might make you think twice before you belt out some awesome Backstreet Boys in the shower, for instance. Now that we're "woke" we can start looking back on our favorite era with a little more savvy, and scrutinize the hits we held up as gospel in order to expose the rampant sexism that has a long history in the music industry. Here are some of the least feminist songs from the '90s.
1. "The Boy Is Mine" - Brandy & Monica (1998)
Two women fighting over a man isn't exactly inspiring for feminism. Far from subverting the stereotype that women are jealous, petty, and competitive, Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" furthered the notion that women just can't get along, especially when there's a common love interest involved. Rejecting the Leslie Knope idea of "Ovaries before brovaries", Brandy and Monica fight each other in the song, rather than turning their anger towards the man that clearly played them both. The one redeeming feature of the song is the music video, in which they totally band together at the end to reveal to their cheating boyfriend that they've uncovered his cheating ways. They never reach this conclusion lyrically though, so without the video (say, if you just heard it on the radio or sang it at karaoke, something I admittedly do more often than is necessary), the song is pretty anti-feminist.
2. "... Baby One More Time" - Britney Spears (1998)
When we first met a teenage Britney Spears, her loneliness was killing her. Huh? Shouldn't a young woman with the world at her feet put her self worth in something more than the attentions of a boy? As she sings "The reason I breathe is you" and "There's nothing that I wouldn't do", she implores her love interest to tell her what to do in order to please him. It's not exactly inspiring for a generation of independent young women. And then there's the fact that she's dancing around dressed as a fetishized school girl, which is way creepier than we realized at the time.
3. "Big Pimpin" - Jay-Z (1999)
Jay-Z might be the husband of Beyonce, doting father of Blue Ivy, and shrewd businessman you admire him for being now, but earlier in his career Jay-Z didn't have much nice to say about women. "Big Pimpin'", something of a dance floor anthem, is actually one of the most terrible, anti-feminist songs to plague the '90s. I mean, the title should really tell you everything you need to know. Jay-Z's first line goes "You know I - thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em/Cause I don't fuckin need em" which sets the tone for the rest of the song, in which he treats women like sex objects to be disrespected at his will.
4. "As Long As You Love Me" - Backstreet Boys (1996)
You probably swooned over "As Long As You Love Me" in the '90s because it's "romantic". But consider this: the Backstreet Boys are singing "I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did, as long as you love me" as the video cycles through women who morph seamlessly into one another. The basic message is you don't need a personality or any individuality, just to unquestioningly love your man, and that will make you desirable to him.
5. "All That She Wants" - Ace Of Base (1992)
Ace of Base were purportedly Neo-Nazis. I'm just going to leave that information right there. Meanwhile, "All That She Wants", which is one of those amazing '90s weird hits you probably remember quite fondly, is about a woman who doesn't want to work, and spends her days trolling for dudes. It reinforces the manipulative, gold digger stereotype, and considering all the female protagonist of the song wants is "another baby", you can be pretty sure she's using child-bearing to pick up some sweet child support checks. It's a pretty nasty representation of womanhood, and a complete non sequitur to Ace of Base's frivolous dance music.
6. "O.P.P." - Naughty By Nature (1991)
Don't pretend you don't go bananas when you're on the dance floor and Naughty By Nature comes on. Unfortunately, "O.P.P." means "Other People's Pussy", and suggests that women are "owned" by their men. "O.P.P." isn't about "getting" with women, it's about taking another man's property. Which is the least feminist way to describe women, as chattels belonging to men.
7. "Barbie Girl" - Aqua
You might say "Barbie Girl" is satire, so it's fine. But what is the satire here? Is it making fun of women who prefer plastic surgery and blonde hair? And if so, what's wrong with that? Why should women be judged solely on their appearance and interests? What if that woman, the Barbie Girl, is actually a very nice, accomplished person otherwise? If it's not satire, the song suggests women exist only to be seen and stroked by men, and fetishizes beauty. So either way, "Barbie Girl" kind of sucks for feminism.
Images: JIVE Records