Feminist History in Song: Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’

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.”

 

 


PG

Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

Comments

  1. Margaret Rodriquez says:

    This song reached into my soul at the tender age of 14 and never let go. A definite favorite.

Speak Your Mind

*

Switch to our mobile site