“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” — Victor Hugo
The subject of Violence Against Women (VAW) is a difficult one to discuss and face for most people, cultures and communities. Whether it is considered taboo, a non-issue or a private matter, a wall of silence often envelopes the issue, making it one of the most entrenched and difficult human rights violations to dislodge and eradicate. Therefore, activists, campaigners and charities/nonprofits often have to get creative in highlighting the seriousness and severity of gender-based violence and its impact on the well-being of communities and societies as a confrontational approach may backfire, cause a backlash or simply not work.
One of the most powerful and creative methods of raising awareness about VAW and spreading the message of saying NO to VAW is through music and song. From medieval bards to protest folk singers of the 1960s to today’s Pop, Rock and Country songwriters, musicians, singers and songwriters have always played a pivotal role in spreading the message about social issues via their lyrics and using musical hooks to ensure that the song stays with the listener until the message sinks in.
In recognition of the power of music to educate, enlighten and help with social change, The Pixel Project presents 16 songs about or related to VAW and women’s empowerment. While there have always been songs that are very explicit about domestic violence, sexual violence and other forms of VAW, we decided to select a mix of songs talking about VAW and songs that empower women because it is important to get a balance between the reality of violence and the message of hope for survival and healing.
Here are this year’s selection of 16 songs presented in alphabetical order. We hope they inspire and move you as much as they have inspired and moved us.
Song Number 1: 18 Wheeler – Pink
Pop-rock star Pink sings about standing up to one’s abuser and how abuse can’t keep a strong woman down and a call-to-action to women to draw on their courage and resilience.
Song Number 2: Behind the Wall – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman‘s powerful a cappella track from her 1988 album, Behind The Lines, about domestic violence from a next-door neighbour’s point of view and how ineffectual the police can be in dealing with the violence.
Song Number 3: Fighter – Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera and her mother fled the domestic violence of her abusive father when she was a child. Since she shot to stardom, she has always included a song about empowerment in all her albums. Fighter is an anthem for survivors who fight back against their abusers and who draw their strength from being able to face down the violence.
Song Number 4: Goodbye Earl – The Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks sing this song about an abusive husband and how his wife’s best friend found out and worked with his wife to poison him as a defensive move so she can escape the violence. This song riffs on the same theme explored in the movie and book, Fried Green Tomatoes. A tongue-in-cheek song that articulates the wishful thinking of many survivors/victims.
Song Number 5: I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
This is the classic Disco-era empowerment anthem of a strong woman who throws out a lover who treated her badly and who knows her own worth. As the chorus goes: “I will survive/ Oh as long as I know how to love/ I know I’m still alive/ I’ve got all my life to live/ I’ve got all my love to give/ I will survive”.
Song Number 6: Independence Day – Martina McBride
Country music star Martina McBride sings about how her mother finally stood up to her abusive father and left him and the town that ignored his abusive behaviour towards her. The rousing chorus makes this song a survivor’s anthem.
Song Number 7: King Of Anything – Sara Bareilles
In this catchy song, Sara Bareilles sings this uplifting song about the importance of having one’s own voice and identity and pushing back against people who try to try to belittle one’s opinion and worth.
Song Number 8: Luka – Suzanne Vega
This is one of Suzanne Vega‘s most famous songs. Here, she tackles the thorny subject of domestic violence from the point of view of a neighbour’s child who lives with and witnesses domestic abuse and the silence he/she imposes on his/herself because it’s too painful to talk about.
Song Number 9: Respect – Aretha Franklin
Aretha sings about the importance of demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T from one’s man. ‘Nuff said.
Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin duet about the joy of women’s empowerment and independence in this 1980s music video that features a montage of news visuals featuring everyone from 1920s suffragettes to female world leaders, sportspersons, astronauts and other high achievers.
Song Number 11: The Story – Annie DiFranco
Ani DiFranco sings about enduring street harassment and how: “I would have returned your greeting/ if it weren’t for the way you were looking at me/ this street is not a market/ and I am not a commodity.” With a thoughtful and lovely acoustic guitar melody, this song invites introspection and thought about what she has to say.
Song Number 12: Superwoman – Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys sings this inspiring mantra-like song about the long road to women’s empowerment, about women fighting to achieve as much as possible with their lives and about how women can brave even the most stressful and hopeless situations to live the lives they want to live.
Song Number 13: Temporary Home – Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood sings about the importance of hope in even the most bleak situations including a single mother struggling to get herself and her young daughter out of the halfway home. The slow, beautiful melody unabashedly plays on the heartstrings of many who listen to this song.
Song Number 14: Thank You – Jamelia
British R&B singer-songwriter Jamelia sings this autobiographical song about her abusive relationship and how she emerged from it as a strong survivor.
Song Number 15: Two Beds and a Coffee Machine – Savage Garden
Australian band Savage Garden (now defunct) sings about a woman who packs her kids in the car and drives away from her abusive partner without looking back and how she has to keep moving over the years while rebuilding her life.
Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn sing an updated version of this classic Lesley Gore song asserting their position as independent women and rejecting being a man’s property: “Don’t tell me what to do/ Don’t tell me what to say/ And when I go out with you/ Don’t put me on display.”