We all know that country music, by and large, isn't the most progressive of musical genres. With loudmouth GOP musicians like Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams Jr., it's easy to forget that country music isn't all about trucks, America and hating President Obama. Believe it or not, there are surprisingly progressive lyrics hiding behind some of country radio's most popular songs in the last 20 years.
Still, the popularity of "bro-country" has put the spotlight on the way that the genre treats the women. The women of country music have always been making waves with controversial songs about women's rights (see Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" as an example), but their male counterparts have also been recording sneakily feminist songs for the past few decades. These eight are some of the best.
The women of today's country music are generally presented as hot girls in tight jeans, and little else. It might be a cheesy love song, but Brad Paisley's "She's Everything" is one of the few love songs that focuses on the personality of the female subject in the song. There's also a lot of respect for women in these lyrics, which is something that the bro-country dudes could surely learn from.2. She Only Smokes When She Drinks - Joe Nichols
There's no rule that break-up songs can't be feminist; just ask Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. Dudes don't exactly have a lot of great contributions in the way of done-me-wrong songs that don't resort to sexist tropes, but "She Only Smokes When She Drinks" is a great example. It may not seem feminist on its face, but it's really about telling creepers at the bar to lay off of a woman who's drinking her feelings. I think we can all agree that's something the world needs more of.3. She Let Herself Go - George Strait
The title of this classic George Strait song would suggest that it's a little sexist, but the meaning is full-on girl power for grown-ups. There are certainly good country songs about men who didn't appreciate the women who loved them, but this one also focuses on said woman going on to lead a kick-ass life. She goes on a singles cruise from Vegas to Honolulu, which is easily one of the most beautiful plans to reinvent yourself as a strong woman.4. Red Rag Top - Tim McGraw
This song by Tim McGraw is technically a tale of first loves, but there's also an incredibly progressive and feminist subtext. One teensy sentence in the second verse, arguably describing a teenage girl having an abortion, drew ire from pro-life groups and resulted in the song being banned by some country radio stations. Songwriter Jason White never denied that the lyric was referencing abortion, but the controversy never picked up enough steam to impact McGraw's career.5. Irma Jackson - Merle Haggard
Country music has always been dominated by white artists and the subject of race relations is usually neatly tiptoed around instead of addressed head-on. Merle Haggard's Irma Jackson, a lesser-known track from his 1972 albumLet Me Tell You About A Song
, is about ending a relationship with a woman of color that he loved because the "world doesn't understand that love is colorblind." Of course, Haggard took flak from the people that didn't understand that "Okie From Muskogee" was a satire, but never backed down from the song's original message. He also supported Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential run, so he's pretty much a progressive, woman-supporting badass overall.6. Karate - Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley may have stepped in a big pile of political-correctness shit with his "Accidental Racist" track, but he's generally a pretty well-meaning and progressive guy. Marking his second appearance on this list, "Karate" is about a woman who gets revenge on her abusive husband by learning karate. Domestic violence is one of those important issues that isn't talked about enough in popular culture and it's encouraging that Paisley chose to discuss it in such a feminist way.7. Guys Like Me - Eric Church
Eric Church always gets lumped in with the bro-country bunch, but he's actually a lot better than the rest of those guys. "Smoke a Little Smoke" has already gotten Church some attention from liberals who don't even like country music, but "Guys Like Me" is at once a blue-collar working man anthem and an ode to the educated, successful women that love them. The kind of woman that would punch Luke Bryan in the junk for calling her "girl." You'll have to read a little between the lines, but trust me. There's a little unintentional feminism there.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
, country music has some serious issues with sexual consent. Many of these bro-country anthems are mostly about getting girls drunk and convincing them to sleep with you, but Hunter Hayes' "If You Told Me To" is a surprisingly consensual ballad about unrequited love. "Yeah, I could be so good at loving you, but only if you told me to" is the kind of message that country music needs a hell of a lot more of.