ON A RECENT trip to Egypt, I was reminded just how much cat calling and street harassment can suck. As a solo female traveler, I’ve encountered my share of it. I’d like to say it’s all been confined to obvious locales like Mexico, Morocco, Italy or Chile. But, hell, I’ve been beaten with the barrage of belittling comments, hisses, and gestures in the good ol’ US of A just as much as anywhere.
Seeing as though I’ve been dealing with this since I first started budding breasts, I’ve had a long time to develop coping strategies — breathing, detaching, focusing on something else, not responding. But even a nun would snap at some of the stuff I’ve had hurled at me. And that’s when, instead of throwing soggy banana peels at the guys like I once did in Venezuela, I put on my headphones, crank the volume to 10, and rock the eff out.
These are the tracks that get me fired up, help me to unleash the anger, so I can let it go and move on.
Le Tigre — “On Guard”
My #1 go-to song when the street harassment blues have got me down. Brought to us by the early 2000s dancey/screamy girl group, fronted by OG riot grrl Kathleen Hanna, the track tackles gender orientation discrimination. It’s a direct response to the daily cat calling and comment parade — “the forever beauty pageant” — faced by both women and the queer community. I’m incredibly grateful that, instead of batting eyelashes and “math is hard,” this was the kind of stuff that was cool when I was a teenager: being tough, fighting back, and not taking shit.
Favorite line: “Stop thief, you can’t steal the way / how I fucking felt when I got up today.”
The Gits — “Second Skin”
I discovered The Gits just after high school, on a cassette tape played in the mould-smelling living room of a Seattle punk house a friend was living in. Even at 18, I’d wondered how I’d made it that far in life without yet hearing of the seminal 90s alternative/punk band. Front woman Mia Zapata brought a kind, powerful, bluesy scream that still stands out today, 20 years after her brutal murder. (On a side note, if I could ever write the way Mia Zapata sang, I’d die a happy woman.)
Favorite line: “Though you’re knowing what you stand up against / A world set to deceive / You need a special strength, yeah / I’ve got that second skin”
Queen Latifah — “U-N-I-T-Y”
Yeah, yeah, it’s an obvious choice and the Queen is now a Covergirl and Weight Watchers spokesperson. But I’m a kid of the 80s, and this song blew my mind when it came out. There was nothing else like it out there in the mainstream. Despite all the what-came-afters, when I think of the nerve it took to say this during that era, I’ve gotta give Queen Latifah permanent props.
Favorite line: “You gotta let em know / You ain’t a bitch or a hoe”
The Ting Tings — “Not My Name”
This song isn’t about harassment or even feminism; it’s about singer Katie White’s frustrations with the record industry. But still, whenever I hear a guy call me “sweetie” or “honey” (or something worse) in that dripping, condescending tone, I inwardly scream: “That’s not my name! That’s not my name!”
Favorite line: “Are you calling my darling? / Are you calling me bird? / That’s not my name!”
Big Mama Thornton — “Hound Dog”
I’m embarrassed by how old I was before I discovered the original version of Elvis’s classic hit. So I won’t tell you. But I will say that I could be bummed out by the fact the song was originally recorded by a black woman from Mississippi who cleaned barroom floors as a teenager, and who later died young from heart disease and alcoholism. But I listen to her belt this out and, well, how can you be bummed?
Favorite line (that wasn’t in Elvis’s version): “You ain’t lookin for a woman / You lookin for a home”
Janis Joplin — “Kozmic Blues”
One of my best friends in high school was obsessed with rock legend Janis Joplin, so I probably heard this song in her weed-reeking car about a thousand times. And while it’s not the ass-kicking, no-shit-taking anthem the other songs are, it captures both the particular quality of female heartbreak, and the fighting spirit to “keep truckin on.” And no one can touch the way this lady sings. I turn this track on, and it reminds me of being 15, and of everything I’ve lived through and survived since then. And, usually, by the end of the song (once I’ve cried a little bit), I’m ready to head out and have at it, one more goddamn day.
Favorite line: “There’s a fire inside everyone of us / You better need it now / I got to hold it, yeah / I better use it till the day I die.”