Punk Band ‘War On Women’ Tackles Harassment, Rape & Sexism In Their In-Your-Face Lyrics


With a name like War On Women, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind what this band stands for. Fronted by singer Shawna Potter, the band is based out of Baltimore, MD, where Shawna and guitarist Brooks Harlan met and used to perform in a Bikini Kill cover band before eventually decided to write their own music. War On Women is unapologetic about its militant feminist messages, with lyrics that tackle issues such as street harassment, rape, and sexism.

Bands like War On Women are a welcome voice in a music culture that looks at militant feminism as a thing of decades gone by. The 70s, 80s, and 90s were a time when bands and artists like Bikini Kill, Joan Jett, Le Tigre, Sleater Kinney, and No Doubt were known as riotous bands whose front women were breaking the stereotypical notion of what female artists were “meant” to be. Today we see feminism and feminist themes being discussed by major female artists such as Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj in a very different way.

While it is important that we see both men and women in the music industry address social issues and use their platform to influence their many fans to create change, there is something to be said about an outwardly militant punk feminist band not wanting to water down their message to reach the masses.

War On Women are bringing a new generation of people to feminism within their genre. Shawna told the Washington Post that they are not about creating music that “preaches to the choir”, but reaching a whole new audience about the importance of feminism.

“The choir needs to sing — the choir needs a place to go. They need that time to . . . share this experience. It’s validating. So I’m happy to do that. But, just by the nature of the style of music we play, we also have the opportunity to convert. If we were just doing folksy, ‘Lilith Fair’-type stuff, we’d be playing to the same people over and over, and everybody would be like, ‘Okay, we get it.’ Some people are only going to hear about feminism because they like punk groups. They may come across us and go, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad.’ For me, this is how we can effect change,” she said.

One of their songs is called ‘Broken Record’ and when they perform it onstage, Shawn picks out an unsuspecting male in the audience and starts yelling confronting phrases at him the way women often experience in cases of street harassment.

“Hey, baby. You look good!” and “Where you going? I just want to talk to you. Bitch!” is most definitely designed to make the “victim” in the audience feel uncomfortable.

One of the most startling aspects about this band is that it is not an all-female band. War On Women’s male members are just as passionate about their feminist themes as the women, which is definitely an important statement to make in a genre that is still very male-dominated.

Singer Shawna says she was inspired to become a singer after growing up watching Courtney Love on MTV, and got interested in feminism when George W. Bush started attacking women’s abortion rights. But it wasn’t until she met Brooks Harlan that she started become a feminist activist, as opposed to merely a supporter.


Brooks, on the other hand, was raised by women and was always aware of women’s issues.

“To me, if you believe in equality and fairness you kind of have to be a feminist,” he said.

In fact he was the member who came up with the War On Women name before it became a cultural moniker for the attack on women’s rights through political and societal means.

“My musical heroes were always people who had something to say, who stood up for the right thing: Fugazi, the D.C. hard-core scene, political stuff. . . . There was a hole that I saw for that in Baltimore,” he said.

It shouldn’t shock anyone, either musicians or non-musicians, that when the pair tried to recruit other band members, the War On Women name was off-putting to some and made others think they were crazy.

Being a lead singer in a band that is firmly about feminist activism, Shawna says she was very mindful from the beginning about the image she wanted to present on stage. She didn’t want her appearance to distract from her message, but she also wanted to show audiences that feminists can care about fashion and makeup and not feel she is any less punk, so to speak.

“I know how important it was for me to see other women onstage when I was growing up, and I want young women to see that,” she said.


After releasing music, playing shows and uploading videos online, the band would receive a tonne of criticism, mainly aimed at Shawna because she was the lead singer of a band focused on feminism, and by now most of us are aware that when you pair the internet with feminism, an atom bomb-like explosive environment is bound to occur. This led the band to write a song called ‘Youtube Comments’ which dissects the way trolls target women online.

Their song ‘Broken Record’ was inspired by the Street Harassment video, created by organization Hollaback, which went viral in 2014. It was a watershed moment for the street harassment debate which disproportionately affects women, yet some are still reluctant to admit it is a dangerous trend.

It is because of social issues that Shawn has seen, heard and experienced in her own life as a feminist (she has been on the receiving end of street harassment in her own Baltimore neighborhood) that has given her a clear direction about her artistry.

“I feel a responsibility, as the mouthpiece for an overtly feminist band — and being an able-bodied, fairly young, white, cisgendered woman — to speak up when I can. Because there are so many people who can’t,” she explained.


Topics such as street harassment, rape, sexual abuse, sexism and cyber-bullying through the mouthpiece of a feminist activist singer is indeed a powerful force. Art often has a way of presenting issues to the world and challenging perspectives on something in a non-threatening way, which is why a band like War On Women are a welcome sight on the punk/metal scene.

Shawna has experienced some of the aforementioned issues, as have many of the women around her so she feels a duty to raise her voice for them also.

“These stories are not just pulled out of thin air. And it’s not lost on me that it can happen to me any f***ing second. Especially because I’m street-harassed, I’m reminded all the time I’m constantly in danger as a woman and not valued as a human being,” she said.

With lyrics like “I would love to slit a woman’s throat” from the song Youtube Comments, and “Does the carpet match the drapes, baby?” from the harassment-based Broken Record song, this band is not about people-pleasing, it is about culture-changing.

Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin explains it perfectly in his feature on the band:

“You don’t name your band War On Women, for starters, if you’re going to dance around women’s issues. You don’t infiltrate a male-dominated culture — hard-core metal music — that still harbors pockets of intolerance if you don’t have the stomach for confrontation. You don’t fill your first full-length album, the band’s eponymous 2015 release, with songs about rape, abortion and the wage gap, among other subjects, if you aren’t looking to change the world.”







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