In this ongoing feature, we’ll be exploring the stories behind some of our favorite feminist anthems.
At just 17, Lesley Gore was a fairly typical girl singer for the ’60s, with coiffed hair and tasteful ’50s/early ’60s dresses and her sweet mega-hit “It’s My Party.” But her 1964 smash “You Don’t Own Me” was shockingly progressive for its time. Hell, its lyrics still sound relevant today. (Alas.)
So relevant, in fact, that just last year, it became the song of the war against the War on Women, with a fabulous video full of women-on-the-street and celebs lip-syncing its message to, ostensibly Mitt Romney and the Republican party — complete with intro from Ms. Gore herself (looking as hip as ever as she intoned, “I’m Lesley Gore, and I approved this message”). They held signs bearing such messages as, “My body is not a battleground,” and, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.” Prominent feminists such as Lena Dunham, Carrie Brownstein, and Tavi Gevinson were among the participants. Gore, now 66, ended the video with her own message: “It’s hard for me to believe but we’re still fighting for the same things we were then. Yes, ladies, we’ve got to come together and get out there and vote and protect our bodies. They’re ours. Please vote.”
Because its message has held up so well over the years (again, alas), it’s been covered by a particularly wide variety of artists: Dusty Springfield, cello rock group Rasputina, Joan Jett, the Blow Monkeys, Jack Killed Jill, Filipino singer Jeanne Young, Swedish singer Marianne Kock, Japanese singer Mieko Hirota. Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn sung it in The First Wives Club. Nicole Scherzinger performed it on The Sing-Off. Eminem sampled it. NFL Women’s Wear used it in a commercial.
Why so popular? Perhaps its the simplicity of the lyrics, which make Gore’s feelings as clear as possible to her 1960s man: “You don’t own me/I’m not just one of your many toys … I’m young and I love to be young/I’m free and I love to be free/To live my life the way I want/to say and do whatever I please.”