Here are 10 new songs for us to march to on Sunday, March 8, for International Women’s Day. I believe that working towards equality is a balance between doing our own inner work and taking action in the world. We must be able to honour our pain and the learning we still need to do, and also look outwards to see where there is injustice in our communities and step forward proactively. The artists below are each striving for equality in their own way, using their platforms and voices to help us all learn and grow. We are each here to contribute to that greater purpose. Let this #IWD2020 be an inspiration for us on how we can march forward, and what direction we are heading in.
Bikini Kill, “Girl Soldier”
Bikini Kill, known for pioneering the Riot Grrrl movement, was one of the first all-female bands in punk to speak out against abuse and misogyny. “Girl Soldier,” truly an anthem to march to, points to the irony of men fighting overseas when there is a war happening on our own homes against women, women’s lives, women’s bodies, women’s rights. Seen here in a live video from the early ’90s with “Turn Off Your TV” draped behind them, Bikini Kill inspired a revolution and called us all to action. 2020 sees them reuniting in a world that just might be ready for their message.
Haviah Mighty, “In Women Colour”
Brampton rapper Haviah Mighty made history in 2019 when she became the first female rapper to ever win a Polaris Prize. The opening track to her album, 13th Floor, cuts hard to the truth of how racist and misogynistic our world (let alone the music industry) still is. She tells her powerful story, how none of it could break her, and now as she breaks boundaries with her art, she is changing the landscape for Black women in this country.
Rising Montreal rapper Backxwash identifies as queer and a witch—two communities that have historically been broken through hateful, patriarchal culture. F.R.E.A.K.S is an anthem to all the incredible people existing in the margins of society who are changing our culture by showing up unapologetically. Historical change has always come from queer and marginalized communities, pushing the restricted boundaries of normalcy and redefining identity. Today we celebrate all the amazing freaks.
Riit, a Juno-nominated and rising artist from Nunavut, is an embodiment of the slow but real change beginning to happen in the music industry. Her Inuktitut lyrics and throat singing speak of her experience growing up in the Northern Territories, and the strength she has found as a woman through much of it. “qaumajuapik,” the first video from her 2019 album, landed her on many incredible shows and festival lineups, a massive hurdle for an artist living in such an isolated population. Making space for voices like Riit’s is the reason our individual actions matter.
Tei Shi, “Alone in the Universe”
Colombian-born singer Tei Shi often sings on themes of love and loss but her 2019 anthem “Alone in the Universe” is a song for us to march to. If there is a God, and if she is a woman, she’s dropping the ball, Tei Shi proclaims. She follows it by promising to speak up for the sake of others, where she hasn’t been able to speak up for herself. It’s a powerful reflection on the isolation of being a woman, and the importance of taking action on behalf of ourselves and others.
Lido Pimienta, “Eso Que Tu Haces”
Lido Pimienta returns this April with her first album following her 2017 Polaris Prize win, titled Miss Colombia. “Eso Que Tu Haces” depicts the magnificent colour, warmth, and dance tradition of San Basilio de Palenque, the first place of refuge for those fleeing slavery in the Colonial Americas. Her magnetic voice and storytelling has begged Canada for years now to be accountable to continued racism in the country, and this song is no different as she sets a boundary around what can be considered a “loving action,” and what is false.
Sudan Archives, “Glorious”
This video is Black Girl Magic personified as Brittney Parks imagines her own prayer to God in the style of old oral tradition hymns. Inspired by Aisha al-Fallatiyah, the first woman to ever perform in Sudan, “Glorious” prays for money, a foundation of life in our world. It is a stunning and raw nod to intersectional equality—if we want an equal world, we have to understand that it takes marginalized genders, races, and identities that much more effort to get what they need to survive in it.
Austra, “Risk It”
Austra returns this year with new music after four years when we last heard “Future Politics,” a plea for a more equal, utopian world. “Risk It” is a call to action that can be interpreted in our love lives, our political lives, or both (since there’s really no separation in the end, is there?). As we march to the beat of this song, we can contemplate risk as an essential part of growth and change. There are places where we all need to risk it in our lives in order to see equality grow in the world.
Black Belt Eagle Scout, “Indians Never Die”
This song is a beautifully haunting comment on our Earth and the Indigenous communities that have cared for it over many generations. Colonial violence is still painfully active and destructive in the 21st century, and we are each responsible for our part in ensuring that the land we live on and the individuals who continue to care for it do not waste away. Perhaps the physical earth can be part of our vision for equality, too.
Vagabon, “Every Woman”
Do not be deceived by the gentle strum of this song. In the lyrics lives a war cry, a proclamation that Laetitia Tamko is not afraid of the battle that women face every day to exist and be free. There is a solidarity in her lyrics as we understand the importance of every woman coming together in the name of equality. We may be tired, but there’s a ways to go still before we sit down.
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Yesterday, while at a local theatre, I waited in line for the gender-segregated washrooms. As usual, the queue for the women’s went straight out the door and halfway down the hallway, while the men’s looked almost empty.
No More Nice Girls is a well-researched and infuriating (in all the right ways) book about power and how women’s and non-binary people’s power is routinely undermined. It’s packed with statistics on how marginalized people are taught to shoehorn themselves into a system intentionally designed not to fit. With an intersectional lens, the author lays out the way power inequities play out in politics, the economy, law, media, science, technology, city planning, and other areas.
McKeon challenges the myth that more women need to just work harder (and be “nice” while doing so) to reach for the top of existing power structures. Here’s one of the shocking statistics: when women CEOs do manage to reach the top, they earn $0.68 to every dollar their male colleagues make.
She also takes on the #GirlBoss trend, which encourages women to contort and bend instead of working to change the system. “They must be a boss, but not bossy; authentic, but Insta-trendy; real, but not harsh; beautiful, but effortless; killin’ it, but not thirsty; busy, but glowing with Goop-ified self-care; vulnerable, but just the right amount; tough, but just the right amount; confident, but not extra; warm, but not weak; decisive, but not rude; your bitch, but not bitchy.”
What interested me most about No More Nice Girls were the examples of how power might be reimagined and redefined, and how this power can lead to social equity.
For example, what if we viewed power as breaking silence and healing from trauma? Citing Tarana Burke, #MeToo’s founder: “What we’re doing with #MeToo is building something that doesn’t exist. Literally. It’s an international survivor-led and survivor-focused social justice movement.”
Power can also look like projects that intentionally decentre cis men and focus on the needs of women and non-binary people. McKeon offers anecdotes about the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the co-working space The Wing, all of which were created to be safe spaces and “where men no longer write the rules.”
But feminism is a work in progress, and McKeon raises essential questions about who gets included and excluded in these spaces, urging feminists to challenge their intersectional praxis: “In many ways, the women-only movement has mirrored the challenges of feminism itself: the centering of biological definitions at the expense of transgender women; the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour from its most visible and influential positions; claims of battling tokenism while institutionalizing that same philosophy in its own histories and organizations.”
Another chapter is devoted to the power of feminist entrepreneurship, such as Ali Ogden’s Bon Temps Tea Company, which gives micro-grants to women to encourage and support their feminist work, and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora’s Blume, a chemical-free period-product subscription box that includes politicized information about menstruation. These and other examples spotlight ways in which “a feminist-first enterprise that’s built with sincerity can phenomenally change the economic landscape.” They can create kinder workplace cultures that value mentorship, collaboration, staff wellness, and are trauma-informed. Among other things, they can include breastfeeding rooms, child care, and be more intentional in their hiring practices.
McKeon ends with reflections on Women Deliver, a global feminist conference that took place in Vancouver in 2019. Moderators closed main-stage panels with a question about how speakers would use their power. McKeon optimistically writes, “This question was a way of reminding everyone there that they did have power, now, even if it didn’t always feel like it—even if their power didn’t look anything like traditional power…. All of it put a drop more power into this new bucket. It evened things out. It remade the world.”
No More Nice Girls made me ponder the ways I use my power. I’m an author working within a publishing industry context that is still racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist. I do my best to mentor, share space (and when appropriate, make way for others), amplify the work of marginalized writers, collaborate to create opportunities, and push from the outside to help steer the slowly moving literary ship in the right direction. It’s easy to grow cynical, to question whether these efforts drive real change, or are just drops in a bucket. But McKeon’s optimism made me reconsider the power of this work. Could it remake the world?
I know that it’s possible to design washrooms to be accessible, safe, inviting, and not segregated by gender. It’s possible because people have done the advocacy and work to design them. Now it’s time to use our power to disrupt oppressive systems and create a world that includes all of us.
Farzana Doctor is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, August 2020).
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