Today marks the 49th anniversary of teen idol Lesley Gore’s American Bandstand performance of “It’s My Party” — a chart-topper with a catchy, melodramatic, but unmistakably girl’s-eye view. Followed by the similarly spirited “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” “She’s A Fool,” “You Don’t Own Me” and “That’s The Way Boys Are,” Gore’s early singles are often considered as proto-feminist in emphasis. “You Don’t Own Me” is a potent statement in itself — an attitude that was to burgeon later in the decade.
Throughout the centuries, women have accented popular song with resistance, resentment, and outright revolt against oppression. The history of popular music reveals that it’s far more than a man’s, man’s world.
While genres like blues allowed a remarkably femme-centric candor, rebellious notes can be perceived throughout numerous eras — and even within the hit parade. It’s true that often these songs frequently concentrated on romantic themes, but their strong female perspectives, assertiveness, and attitudes denote them as feminist forbearers. Here’s a selection of pioneering vocalists’ music dating from the twenties to the mid-sixties to remind us that empowered girls have been with us for longer than pop culture often cares to remember.
Aretha Franklin, “Respect”
Originally written and recorded by soul and R&B legend Otis Redding in 1965, the legendary Aretha Franklin spun Redding’s amorous plea on its head, creating a resounding proto-feminist anthem that persisted through the second and third waves of the movement. ReRe’s powerful and confident declaration about not handing her man something without getting “her propers” continues to empower.