Full disclosure: I was born in 1989, but I'm a product of the '90s for sure. But, the more I indulge in '90s nostalgia, the more I realize that while I technically lived through the decade, I didn't fully understand my experiences until much later.
As a kid, I was obsessed with the female singer-songwriters that the '90s served up, including Alanis, Jewel, Fiona and Gwen. I listened to their albums on my Sony Discman, and I belted out the lyrics behind the closed door of the bedroom I shared with my two younger sisters.
But, I really had no clue what it all meant. I mean, how could a 6-year-old even begin to grasp the story behind “Who Will Save Your Soul?” (Honestly, I'm still iffy about some of those lines.)
It's taken actual adult experiences to bring me back to those childhood moments of vocal-cord-straining, faux empowerment and truly realize that my '90s idols were total f*cking badass feminists. These are the lyrics that hit the hardest:
1. “You say he's a faggot. Are you afraid you're just the same? Do you hate him 'cause he's pieces of you?" — "Pieces Of You" By Jewel
This lyric was the reason my Jewel album got confiscated by my mom in 1995. Luckily, my mom is terrible at hiding things, and I stole back the disc so I could listen to "Pieces Of You" on repeat in secret. It was a haunting song even then, and its message of fear as the root of all negativity still gets me today.
2. “Are you thinking of me when you f*ck her?” — "You Oughta Know" By Alanis Morissette
This definitely wasn't a lyric I belted out at full-volume as a kid. It was so taboo.
But years later, when I sang this song at a bar while I was in a cover band, I really got into it. Alanis owned and embraced the “crazy girl” trope with "You Oughta Know," and she changed the game by doing so. This song gave women the go-ahead to not only own their feelings, but to also scream them out at the top of their lungs.
3. “And the good people of the world are washing their cars on their lunch breaks, hosing and scrubbing as best they can in skirts and suits. And they drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks back to the phone company, the record stores, too. Well, they're nothing like Billy and me.” — "All I Wanna Do" By Sheryl Crow
In 2013, I used my lunch break to go get my car washed. While I was hosing and scrubbing, I smiled to myself as I realized I was living out a Sheryl Crow lyric. How fun.
The song played over and over in my head all day. But, my mood continually worsened as I realized Crow's image of a lunch-break car washer wasn't a symbol of adulthood; it was a symbol of oppression. This moment of clarity pushed me to leave my sh*tty, boring job and pursue my writing career full time.
Now, I can have a beer at noon whenever I want, just like Billy and Sheryl.
4. “I'm a sinner, I'm a saint, I do not feel ashamed.” — "Bitch" By Meredith Brooks
As a Catholic school girl, it was full-on revolutionary to hear the words “sinner” and “not ashamed” in the same sentence. This anthem of empowerment still gives me confidence in my toughest moments, even though it's been 19 years.
5. “I've been a bad, bad girl. I've been careless with a delicate man.” — "Criminal" By Fiona Apple
The lyrics, the video: Damn, Fiona. I didn't appreciate how this girl turned the tables on male-female stereotypes until recently.
If you swap the genders in the story, a man is careless with a delicate woman. If you do that, you have your typical male-female relationship. No one cares.
But, Fiona's interpretation shook our understanding of gender roles, and they showed the world that a woman was in charge. Preach.
6. “I can't do the little things I hold so dear, 'cause it's all those little things that I fear. 'Cause I'm just a girl I'd rather not be.” — "Just A Girl" By No Doubt
In just two lines, Gwen Stefani tapped into the raw feeling that holds women back the most: the fear that is bred into us from birth. As a kid, this was just a fun song to bop around to at the school dance. In 2016, it makes me realize how far we still need to go with regard to the fight for women's equality.
7. “I want a boyfriend. I want all that stupid old sh*t like letters and sodas.” — "F*ck And Run" By Liz Phair
Is Liz Phair, a feminist icon, indulging in the stereotypical, girly-girly idea of wanting a boyfriend who dotes on his girl? Yes.
This is proof that even for hardcore feminists, the heart wants what it wants. There is no shame in fighting for your rights with a love-letter-writing beau by your side. Now, excuse me while I lock myself in my bedroom and rock out to these '90s nostalgic hits at full volume.