The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s is suffering a tremendous backlash and is frequently viewed as obsolete. Many young people feel as though feminism is irrelevant and sexism no longer’ impacts their lives. Through the examination of contemporary female artists, students will understand the themes of women’s issues and that these issues are often perennial. Many segments of the population experience oppression. This lesson will analyze those instances that still appear in the experience of women.


students will be able to: 

  1. identify the areas/issues that greatly affect women even in present times
  2. compare the sentiments expressed in the songs to those contained in primary source documents and secondary sources
  3. recognize that expression of societal issues and concerns is recurring in popular music
  4. respond verbally, creatively and in writing to the songs and issues represented


Suggested for grades 11 and 12 Sociology, History, American, Cultural or Women’s Studies courses.

Time Frame

2-3 class periods: This activity is designed with block scheduling in mind. Modifications can be made as necessary.


CD/tape of selections, CD/tape player, copies of lyrics, copies of source documents

Selections include 
“Letter to a John” Ani DiFranco; “Not a Pretty Girl” Ani DiFranco; “Me and a Gun” Tori Amos; “Silent All These Years” Tori Amos; “No Mermaid” Sinead Lohan; “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” Sinead O’Connor; “Running Up That Hill” Kate Bush

Suggested Primary Sources 
Redstockings Manifesto (1969 radical proclamation from a militant group), excerpts from Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, current statistics on divorce, domestic abuse, teen magazine articles regarding body image, date rape, etc. The writings of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Kate Millet are also quite relevant.


Students should have a basic understanding of the time frame and context of the women’s movement that occurred in the 1970s.



  1. Break students into small groups.
  2. Distribute lyrics and documents to each group. Assign each group a specific song.
  3. As they examine their songs, students should be focused on the following:
    • Social content- what here is indicative of women’s experience?
    • Themes and emotional content- Characterize the speaker. What images are here?

  4. On a rotating basis, allow students to listen to their song in groups. In a block format, this will allow for movement.
  5. Have the students compare their listening experience with just reading the lyrics. Did their interpretations change? Why? While students await their turn to listen, they should be analyzing the source documents for principal participants, major issues, historical content, and social implications.
  6. Within their groups, students should prepare a written comparison of their particular song and documents. They should be able to verbally articulate their findings to their classmates.
  7. Arrange students in circular formation. This will enable students to move about once again and facilitate discussion. Group discussion should follow. Students will present their songs to the class, give their views on what they found. The order and format is up to the instructor.


At the discretion of the instructor, the written portion, presentation, or discussion can serve as mediums for assessment and or evaluation.


If time allows, students may conduct individual or group research to support their interpretations.

Students may also respond creatively to their findings. Poems, collages, dramatic interpretations, etc., are excellent forms of alternative assessment.

Individually or working together, students may brainstorm solutions to concerns confronting women in present times.

Have students evaluate the successes and failures of the women’s liberation movement. What was accomplished? Where does society still fall short?

Find instances of women’s issues addressed by male bands. What sentiments are here? How are the similar to the women artists? How are they different? What can we deduce about the human condition based on these songs?

Selected Recordings

“Not A Pretty Girl” written and performed by Ani DiFranco, Not A Pretty Girl, Righteous Babe Records, 1995; Righteous Babe Music.

“Letter To A John” written and performed by Ani DiFranco, Out Of Range, Righteous Babe Records, 1993; Righteous Babe Music.

“Me And A Gun” and “Silent All These Years” written and performed by Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes, Atlantic Records, 1991; Sword and Stone Publishing, Inc.

“Running Up That Hill” written and performed by by Kate Bush, Hounds Of Love, EMI America, 1985; Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.

“No Mermaid written and performed by Sinead Lohan, No Mermaid, Interscope Records, 1998; Sinead Lohan Music c/o The Mark Spector Co.

“The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance”, written and performed by Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, Ensign Records, 1990; EMI Blackwood Music, Inc.

Contributed by

Amy Woods 
Salem, NH