Can a “Feminist Anthem” Ever Truly Be Feminist?

What makes a song feminist? And what’s the best way to acknowledge the movement’s complex and storied history without erasing anyone’s contributions or appearing ill-informed?

Those were the tough questions tackled by the women of Saturday Night Live this weekend in a catchy tune called “This Is Not a Feminist Song.” The cast members—along with singer Ariana Grande—explain in a digital short that they tried to write a feminist song but “it took too long” so they gave up and went home.

“The world, it needs an anthem for all of womankind. A song to fight, a song to right the wrongs of all of time,” the song begins. “But this is pretty nuanced stuff and putting it all in one song was tough.”

Instead of coming up with a feminist anthem, the women offer a tentative shout out to the women’s movement and women everywhere. They also hint at a fear they’ll offend some feminists by “getting it wrong,” which might not be an unfair sentiment. The response to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” offers an apt illustration of the range of responses “feminist anthems” can elicit. When the song and video were released in 2011, some feminists were critical of Beyonce’s assertion that women are dominant or “running the world” in any nation, while others were firmly in Beyonce’s corner. Her latest tune, “Formation,” was generally well-received by feminists, but she remains a divisive figure in the community.

While feminists do see eye to eye on some things—reproductive rights, for example—we don’t necessarily agree on how we want to be represented or who we want to have speaking on our behalf. In that spirit, tell us what you think of the SNL non-anthem in the comments!

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About

Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a Master of Journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.