By Alexandra Few
Simply put, a feminist is someone who wants equality. Throughout various points in history in Canada and around the world, music has been one of the vessels that many women in particular have used to discuss issues of inequality and injustice. Whether you’re blasting Independent Women by Destiny’s Child or Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko, you have most likely heard a feminist-inspired anthem in your lifetime that has intersected music and empowerment to send out a message to its listeners.
Feminist music was introduced in Canada in the mid 1970’s and emerged when political and feminist uproar was filling the streets. This was a time where sexism was heavily fought against in reference to the patriarchal heteronormative ideal set in society that restricted women, particularly women of colour, in various forms. Rethinking the roles in the household and taking autonomy for the self was also the focus during that time, and many songs released focused on celebrating being a woman.
Feminist music was most commonly performed at folk festivals and events that were sponsored by women’s organizations. More specifically, coffeehouses, which have been used throughout history to discuss important matters, was the setting for female performers to play music that had a feminist message. Clementine’s, Three of Cups, and Fly By Night in Toronto, Full Circle in Vancouver, and the Powerhouse Gallery and Co-op Femme in Montreal were some of the coffeehouses in Canada, but art galleries and centres for health were also utilized.
The Red Berets
The Red Berets are a Toronto example of a women’s singing group that fought for women’s rights. The Red Berets released songs that touched on solidarity and the turmoil that women faced. They would perform at rallies, women’s benefits, and on the picket lines from 1981 to 1988. Being an open group, many women joined over the years and it was encouraged. The Red Berets sang about a diverse set of issues, such as workers’ rights and anti-racism, and would often rewrite lyrics to songs so it would fit a given issue they were protesting for. Their first performance was at the International Women’s Day rally in 1981 at City Hall and that was where many of their songs debuted. The Red Berets have resurfaced and have performed at various locations in Toronto in the last decade, still fighting on various feminist and political issues.
Female Canadian Artists Today
A lot has changed in music since the 1980’s and topics around feminism have become very familiarized through various forms. All-female groups throughout history were rare, but now in 2019, seeing an all-female group is not questioned. Below are some Toronto examples of all-female groups and powerful artists that are paving the new generation of music for women in various genres.
The Beaches are a Toronto-based group that are breaking barriers in the rock and roll genre. With a new and fresh sound, The Beaches have released numerous singles and EPs, and released their debut album Late Show in 2017. Jordan and Kylie Miller, Eliza Enman-McDaniel, and Leandra Earl, didn’t plan on making an all-female group, as Jordan says they “all grew up in the same area and met each other at school and found that we liked playing music together.” Although it wasn’t intentional, Jordan states that she “personally loves being in a band full of girls” and mentions that she “wouldn’t want to play with a bunch of gross dudes.”
© The Beaches | YouTube
The rock and roll genre has been heavily male dominated throughout history, but The Beaches have proven this is not the case anymore. Jordan says: “I believe that we defy gender expectations with rock music in two ways. First, by showing that a group of young ladies can play harder and better than all the ‘ol [sic] dudes out there, especially those that don’t try or care anymore. Secondly, by writing songs from a new, young and female perspective.” Their hit songs such as Money, have an independent and confident underpinning, and Jordan mentions “I guess girls and guys like us and see us as empowered women [because] we don’t really care too much about all that. We aren’t trying to represent any ideals, and we don’t take anything too seriously. We are just ourselves.” The Beaches are only gaining recognition and they plan on “releasing new material over the course of the next few months and will then hit the road, touring extensively across the U.S., Europe and Canada in 2019 and 2020.”
Pakistani-Canadian musician Urvah Khan is making major waves in the music scene with her strong and influential voice and message. Urvah says: “My music is a broken mirror reflecting the culture clash I experienced upon moving to the West. There is a lot of anger, but also moments of serenity and appreciation.” Within her genre of music, there is not a lot of female representation, let alone women of colour, but Urvah is changing this. She states: “I was born in Pakistan. The idea of a female rock singer is antithesis to the culture there. I get a lot of online hate, but also a lot of young people find me inspiring so I keep making music and moving forward without expectations”. Urvah says that she enjoys “fusing the Eastern musical flavours from my youth with Western styles of rock and roll” and she eventually hopes her music will “contribute to a broader cultural perspective”.
© URVah Khan | YouTube
“I personally and professionally use music and art as my form of self-expression and hope more people like me can find outlets to be themselves and be free”. -Urvah Khan
Urvah is breaking down stereotypes and expectations with her music, which is evident through her albums Rock Khan Roll and The Wrath of Urvah Khan, along with her many singles and EPs. She states: “I am proud of my Pakistani heritage, but I am a proud Canadian too. I believe that in time, global attitudes toward women and LGBTQ2 communities will shift, and hopefully my music will be part of the chorus of change.”
Female groups and artists in the past that focused on feminist issues were mostly middle-aged adults, as many used their past experiences as the base of their songs. In 2019, this has changed and the younger generation is largely contributing to issues that are presently occurring in today’s society.
Pop- rock girl group Girl Pow-R has done exactly this and are inspiring youth their age with songs about current topics that are extremely prevalent. The group members mention that their music touches on the “struggles that young girls face in their daily lives and how they can overcome them” such as in their original song titled Krisi, which is “about how a young girl was consumed with how she looked on the outside, and how she was perceived by others [but] she forgot what’s on the inside.”
© Girl Pow-R | YouTube
Being an all-girl group is important to Girl Pow-R, as they state: “I have noticed recently that there are not enough positive influences for children and teens to look up to.” They believe their music “can be an outlet for people to listen to that lifts their spirits” which is their goal and they state that they want to “inspire others through the lyrics in our songs and through the messages in our social causes.”
Girl Pow-R have released an array of songs that coincide with their goal of inspiring youth, such as with their song Stronger than Yesterday which they say is about “moving forward from a bad situation and becoming a better version of yourself.” Girl Pow-R hopes to spread the message of ignoring haters and believing in oneself and they acknowledge that their music “shows that we are a strong group of vocalists who have the ability to create dynamic harmonies and fun adlibs. When our fans are going through a hard time, they can use the lyrics to our songs to remind them that they are strong enough to get through it.”
Music surrounding feminist issues in Canada was extremely prevalent in the 1980’s and even earlier, and it paved the way for a lot of women in music. Today, there are many artists and groups that are continuing to pave the way and are breaking down stereotypes and expectations to create more inclusivity within the music industry.