Women in country music have historically had a lot to say, across a wide spectrum of politics and experiences. The genre’s female artists have, for decades, produced thought-provoking art.
Many country women have used their music to make a statement: about different views of womanhood, relationships, double standards and life in general. They come from different sides of the political spectrum, different social classes and different parts of the country, and their varied experiences have connected with generations of listeners.
When considering country music’s history of statement songs, these 10, all from powerful women, have made an impact.
“Not Ready to Make Nice”
After the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines made a comment about then-president George W. Bush during a concert in London, England, in 2003, the band was swiftly blacklisted from the genre. “Not Ready to Make Nice” is their response to the harsh criticism, in which they sing, “How in the world can the words that I said / Send somebody so over the edge / That they’d write me a letter, saying that I better / Shut up and sing or my life will be over?” In the song, they confront their critics and state that, even though they faced repercussions, they weren’t going to back down.
“The Pill” is one of the most notable and classic country feminist anthems out there. While it was controversial at its time of release in 1975, Lynn wrote and recorded the humorous, but grateful, song about the invention of birth control, a topic to which she could relate as a mother of six. Not only did it cause a stir, but it genuinely informed women in rural areas of the benefits of the birth control pill while becoming one of the biggest hits of her career.
“Girl in a Country Song”
Maddie & Tae hit country radio at the same time that “bro-country” was king. To combat the tropes they saw perpetuated in many popular songs about women, they wrote this one. They cleverly turn commonly used phrases about tailgates and shaking moneymakers into phrases of rejection that show their distaste for the way women are represented in country music.
“What Part of No”
Morgan discusses the concept of consent in this powerful ’90s country hit. She reinforces the importance that “no” means no to a man who is trying to push her into engaging when she doesn’t want to. She breaks down the idea to its simplest form, and asks men what they don’t understand about her response to get them to stop persisting.
“Good Ol’ Boys Club”
Musgraves has always done things her own way. In this song from 2015’s Pageant Material, a record that acknowledges the tropes of Southern womanhood and turns them on their head, she denounces the “boys club” that is the music industry, saying that she wants no part in it because it “don’t sound like fun to [her].”
“Just Because I’m a Woman”
Parton has long held the status of country music queen, thanks to songs that cover a wide range, from emotional to confrontational. In this track, Parton takes on the double standards women face when making the same mistakes as men, unafraid to point out their faults and offer criticism right back.
In “Pay Gap,” Price is fed up. She states her opinion on the wage gap, by which women make cents to every man’s dollar, crooning, “In this institution and dead revolution / It’s given young women abuse,” and, “Women do work and get treated like slaves since 1776.”
“Harper Valley P.T.A.”
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” is a textbook example of A+ country storytelling. In this theoretical tale, Riley sings about a mother who is sent a letter about her exploits as a single woman: “Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high / It’s reported you’ve been drinkin’ and runnin’ round with men and goin’ wild / And we don’t believe you oughta be a bringin’ up your little girl this way …” The mother marches down to the PTA meeting and points out the hypocrisy in the P.T.A. members’ own behaviors in order to shut down their criticisms.
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels”
This song by Wells is a direct response to Hank Thompson‘s ”The Wild Side of Life,” a song in which he blames loose women on men cheating at honky-tonk bars, and tells these particular women that they’ll never make good wives. Wells sings her thoughts to the exact tune of his song, pointing out that it’s not the women’s fault, but that, “too many times, married men think they’re still single.”
“Stand By Your Man”
Wynette released “Stand By Your Man” in 1969, during the peak of the second-wave feminist movement. While she points out how men can be hard to understand, and that relationships between men and women aren’t always fair, she makes a statement by singing “stand by your man” in the chorus, a sentiment that reinforces the value of making it work no matter what, which could be seen as contrarian for the time.