Feminist Music

Feminist music (or Women's music). Pop music with lyrics written from a feminist perspective and usually, but not exclusively, sung for feminist audiences.

Feminist music (or Women's music). Pop music with lyrics written from a feminist perspective and usually, but not exclusively, sung for feminist audiences. The description has also been applied generally to pop music performed by groups whose membership - ie, all, or in the majority, women - implies a statement of self-determination. Employing folk, rock, punk, reggae and rap styles, women's music has given voice to the issues raised by the feminist movement of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Subject matter includes childbirth, parenthood, sexual orientation, violence against women and children, and discrimination and equality in the workplace.

Feminism first found expression in Canadian music in 1975 in the songs of Rita MacNeil's first LP, Born a Woman, and in Jacqueline Lemay's 'La Moitié du monde est une femme'. Other early feminist singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists included Eileen Brown, Ferron, Jeanette Gritanni, Jane Perks, Connie Smith (Kuhns), Carol Street, and the band Contageous on the west coast; Heather Bishop, Connie Kaldor, Noelle Hall, Kris Purdy, and the band Walpurgis Night on the prairies; C.T. and April, Sara Ellen Dunlop, Marianne Girard, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Marie-Lynn Hammond, Arlene Mantle, Lorraine Segato, Sherry Shute, and the band Mama Quilla II in Ontario, and Angèle Arsenault, Edith Butler, and the bands Marianna Bazooka and Wondeur Brass (Justine) in Quebec.

In Canada the feminist and folk music scenes overlapped in the 1980s - ie, feminist singers have appeared at folk festivals as well as at events sponsored by women's cultural or political organizations. (This, in marked contrast to the USA, where women's music is generally independent of the mainstream of contemporary folk.) The earliest Canadian performers, however, worked exclusively within the women's community - at coffeehouses (eg, Full Circle in Vancouver, Clementine's or the Three of Cups, and Fly By Night in Toronto, and the Powerhouse Gallery and Co-Op Femme or Co-Op Lesbienne in Montreal), art galleries, and social and health centres - and have continued to flourish through an independent network of production groups (eg, Womankind Productions in Vancouver, Sappho Sound in Toronto), community and college radio programs, etc. For the most part, recordings have been produced for independent labels owned by the musicians themselves - eg, SPPS-Disques (Arsenault, Butler, Lemay), Mother of Pearl (Bishop), and Lucy (Ferron).

Feminist music has been a major component of the small West Kootenays Women's Festival started in 1974 at Castlegar, BC (continuing in 1991 near Nelson). Many concerts and larger events have been organized in Toronto by Womynly Way Productions (established in 1980), while a Canadian Women's Music and Cultural Festival was held 1984-6 in Winnipeg, and a Festival International de musiciennes innovatrices was organized by Productions Super Mémé (see Justine) in 1988 in Montreal. Women's music was first introduced into the contemporary folk mainstream with the 1980 Vancouver Folk Festival and the 1982 Winnipeg Folk Festival, subsequently taking its place at many similar events across the country.

Among other Canadian women aligned in the 1980s and early 1990s with feminist music were Lillian Allen, Suzanne Bird, Micheline Goulet, Faith Nolan, Alanis Obomsawin, Louise Rose, Itah Sadu, Djanet Sears, Lucie Blue Tremblay and Gwen Swick. Ensembles, in a variety of styles, have included Assar Santana and Chamel #6, Demi-Monde, Four the Moment, the Heretics, Moral Lepers, No Frills, Parachute Club, the Pillow Sisters, the Ruggedy Annes, and Tête de vache. Several Canadians have been popular on the US women's music scene, including Allen, Bishop, Ferron, Kaldor, Nolan, Tremblay (b Montreal 1958), and the guitarist Shute (b London, Ont, 1949). Ferron's 'Testimony' became an international anthem of women's music in the early 1980s. Other significant songs in Canadian feminist music include MacNeil's 'Born a Woman,' Kaldor's 'Strength, Love and Laughter,' and the Parachute Club's 'Rise Up'.


Further Reading

  • Schwartz, Ellen. Born a Woman (Winlaw, BC, 1988)

    Kuhns, Connie. 'Canadian women's music festivals,' Hot Wire: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture, vol 5, May 1989

    - 'Women's Music and the mothers of invention,' Living The Changes (Winnipeg 1990)