At the 2017 CMA Awards earlier this month, Keith Urban debuted his new song “Female.” Written by Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman, the song was penned in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. But McAnally told the Los Angeles Times that the song was actually written in response to a multitude of issues, ranging from sexual harassment to the gender wage gap to the scarcity of women on the country charts.
It’s no secret that there’s a very real problem of sexism in the country music industry. As more and more women across the nation and within multiple industries speak out about their experiences of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination, women’s voices are still being silenced on country radio. (There are currently only four solo women on the Billboard Top 40 country charts.) No matter your opinion on “Female,” the song is yet another reminder that we need women’s voices and songs on country radio. Because women have been writing and singing about sexism, double standards, female empowerment and, well, their lives for as long as country music has existed. Here are 13 country and Americana songs about female empowerment.
Bluegrass pioneer, folk singer and activist Hazel Dickens modernized this 1911 song, which became an anthem for women fighting alongside non-unionized miners for workers’ rights. “The bosses know that they can’t change her, she’d die to defend the workers’ world,” Dickens sings.
There’s no shortage of country songs about leaving behind domesticity for the single life. But when Rose Maddox recorded “Single Girl,” about a woman who went searching for domestic bliss and came up short, it was a sentiment far ahead of its time. The 1960 recording, adapted from a classic folk song, was a message to women that marriage didn’t have to be the goal.
Written by Alan Jackson, “I Can’t Do That Anymore” follows a woman who quits her job and changes herself to please her husband. The song addresses the need for fulfillment and serves as a 90s country dismantling of sexism. Most epic lyric: “Now you’re Mr. Successful and I’m queen of the treadmill, trying to stay the size you think that I should stay/I used to dream about what I would be/last night I dreamed about a washing machine.”
Nashville hitmaker Matraca Berg and acclaimed author and songwriter Alice Randall penned this ode to women navigating the world of “TV diet gurus” and corporate glass ceilings. When Trisha Yearwood recorded it in 1994, the song about a woman “tryin’ to make it in her daddy’s world” became an anthem.
On this track from her 2015 album Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves calls out the Music City power structure and celebrates her independent streak. Written by Musgraves, Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird, “Good Ol’ Boys Club” is at once a jab at bro-country and an anthem for fighting the establishment from the outside.
In her nearly 60-year career, Loretta Lynn has written frankly about Appalachian womanhood, singing about marriage, motherhood and living in poverty. In “Rated X,” Lynn writes from the perspective of a divorced woman faced with sexist double standards and unwanted advances from married men. “If you go to far, you’re gonna wear the scar of a woman rated ‘X’,” Lynn warns in this 1972 single.
Written by Wayne Perry and Gerald Smith, “What Part of No” was a smash hit for Lorrie Morgan in 1993. The song centers on an all too familiar scene of a woman alone in a bar, warding of unwanted advances from a man who can’t (who won’t) take a hint. Morgan doesn’t mince words, coolly telling him she’s just fine drinking alone.
“I don’t need your company, I’m just here to unwind,” Morgan sings. “I’m not interested in romance or what you had in mind.”
Elizabeth Cook’s tongue-in-cheek 2007 single explains why underestimating a woman is always a bad idea. And being condescending to her? That’s even worse.
Caroline Spence‘s gorgeous and evocative “Softball” addresses gender discrimination, the pay gap and sexual harassment. (“When I’m done working, I wanna blow off steam and wear my best dress out/ but outside of my grass-stained jeans, they keep thinking that I’m asking for something I wasn’t thinking about.”)
A standout track on her fantastic album All American Made, Margo Price‘s “Pay Gap” addresses income inequality.
“Pay gap, pay gap, why don’t you do you the math?” Price sings. “Pay gap, pay gap, ripping my dollars in half.”
Hurray for the Riff Raff addresses violence against women in this take-down of murder ballads. Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra references the folk song “Delia’s Gone,” about the murder of a young girl told from the perspective of her murderer. Segarra turns the tables, giving a voice back to the victim.
“Like an old sad song, you’re heard it all before/ well Delia’s gone but I’m settling the score.”
In this 1968 song, Dolly sings about the societal pressures women endure. With the line “a man will take a good girl and ruin her reputation, but when he wants to marry — that’s a different situation,” Parton upends an age old double standard as only she can.
The most controversial song Loretta Lynn ever recorded, “The Pill” was released in 1975 and sang the praises of contraception. The song was revolutionary — not just for country music, but for the nation. “The Pill” envisioned a world where women were completely in control of their own lives and destinies. Many radio stations just flat out refused to play it. But it didn’t matter. The song, written by Lynn, Lorene Allen, Don McHan and T.D. Bayless, remains one of the most powerful country songs about female empowerment.