Some of the greatest musicians in the punk rock genre were women. And if you’re a dedicated music fan, you likely know of at least a few females in this category.
Many people, when they think of punk rockers, often remember bands full of men. But the seven leading ladies on our list should also come to mind.
Join us as we dive deep into this rock subgenre to discover the women who helped form it.
What Is Punk Rock?
Punk was derived from garage rock in the 1970s. The genre has anti-establishment tendencies and rejects popular culture. Most punk rockers have a do-it-yourself attitude and would record their own music.
Typical songs were shorter and more fast-paced than what you’d hear on the radio. Chord structures remained simple as a way of making the music accessible. These rockers valued sharing their tunes and getting their message out over the quality of the music. They made music for themselves, not to sell records or make others happy.
Their buck-the-system attitude also led to great new bands being formed, including the Ramones and Sex Pistols. Though these groups featured all-male members, several women also took the punk rock world by storm.
Who Are These 7 Women of Punk Rock?
We selected seven of punk’s best ladies to highlight. Though men dominated the genre, these women still carved themselves a space. In no particular order, we’ve listed these outstanding women of punk rock below.
#1 Patti Smith
This artist, affectionately nicknamed the punk poet laureate, brought poetry into the scene. She released her debut album, Horses, in New York City in 1975 with her group called the Patti Smith Group. It’s been described as a genre-defining record. Smith’s band toured the U.S. and Europe during the height of punk rock in the 1970s.
She suffered several broken neck vertebrae from a fall in 1977, then, in true punk fashion, released her most successful album the following year. Easter, released in 1978, featured a song that Patti Smith co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen called Because the Night. It became her best-selling record.
Today she’s remembered as one of punk’s most influential women. You’ll find her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine also listed Smith as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
#2 Joan Jett
You’ve probably heard Joan Jett’s biggest hit, Cherry Bomb. You can listen to her shout-singing the lyrics to this tune with her band, the Runaways. Jett later formed a solo project called Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. She’s toured with her backing band as recently as in 2022.
Jett’s signature ripped T-shirts and Levis style contributed to the punk and grunge movements. Rolling Stone named her one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Additionally, she earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
#3 Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry made a name for herself as the leading lady of the New York City band Blondie. She quickly became the poster girl of punk rock because of her beauty, style, and bleach-blonde hair.
Blondie’s first big hit, Heart of Glass, reached the number-one spot on the charts in 1978. However, Harry’s band experienced more success when they released other number-one hits, including The Tide is High and Call Me.
Art fanatics may have seen this singer immortalized in work by Andy Warhol. She developed a friendship with the artist and became the first guest on his MTV show, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.
#4 PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey has released nine studio albums throughout her career. She started out in 1988 as a punk rocker in the U.K. with a band called Automatic Dlamini. Later, the artist formed the PJ Harvey Trio before embarking on a solo career in the mid-90s.
In 1992, Rolling Stone named Harvey the Best New Female Singer and Best Songwriter. Harvey went on to receive seven Grammy nominations. In addition, she won the Mercury Award for Best Album in 2001 and 2011, becoming the only artist ever to win the prestigious award twice.
#5 Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon became a pioneer in the subgenre of noise rock with her group Sonic Youth. The band wanted to deconstruct rock music and make it something more freeing. Gordon had never even played an instrument before joining the group. They released over 15 albums between 1983 and 2009 before they eventually disbanded.
This radical female singer advocated for the Riot Grrrl movement, which combined punk and feminist ideas. Gordon’s bass playing and lead singing didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, musicologists credit her group with being at the forefront of several fringe music scenes.
Gordon released her first solo album, No Home Record, in 2019.
#6 Kathleen Hanna
Kathleen Hanna became known initially in the Pacific Northwest punk scene. She helped start the Riot Grrrl movement with her band Bikini Kill. In 2009, Hanna donated her artwork and journals about the influential scene to the Fales Library at New York University.
At every Bikini Kill show, the singer had all the women in the crowd move up to the front rows. This helped keep both the concert-goers and Hanna safe from harassment. In addition, in 1991, the group stood up for women’s rights by playing at a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., prior to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey trial.
Hanna’s activism and her music made a lasting impact on the punk rock scene. She helped usher in the next wave of diverse rockers.
#7 Chrissie Hynde
Originally from Ohio, Chrissie Hynde formed the Pretenders in the U.K. in 1978. The band’s self-titled album has been named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 and Rolling Stone. You might’ve heard their most popular tune, Brass in Pocket. The Pretenders released it in 1980, and the song hit number one on the charts.
Hynde has earned three Grammy nominations and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her 2019 album Valve Bone Woe reached the number-one spot on the U.K. Jazz and Blues charts.
The Women of Punk Rock Bring the Noise
The women of punk rock helped shape the entire genre. Their passion and the music they shared paved the way for the next generation of diverse rockers. From supporting the Riot Grrrl movement to keeping women safe at their shows, the ladies of punk made a space for females in an otherwise male-dominated field.
Did we miss one of your favorite women in punk rock? Let us know in the comments!