“You Don’t Own Me” : Farewell to 1960s Feminist Pop Icon Lesley Gore

At age 68, pop singer and feminist icon Lesley Gore passed away last Monday. In the midst of the “girl group” era and on the cusp of the second-wave feminist movement in the early 60s, Gore rose to teen fame with notorious hits such as “It’s My Party,” a single from her debut record, Cry If I Want To. Like most girl pop of the time, this record robustly reflected the whimsy gender stereotypes placed on women, and then in turn, played out by them; the narrative in almost every one of Gore’s songs in that first album is about a girl crying over a boy. In fact, six of the album’s 12 song titles have the word “cry” in them—not including the title of the album, Cry If I Want To (!).

But in 1963, the same year Betty Friedan’s monumental call to housewives, The Feminine Mystique, was published—giving birth to the second-wave feminist movement—Gore reached number 2 on the Pop Billboard Charts with the emancipation-charged hit single, “You Don’t Own Me.” In this legendary song, written by John Madara and David White, Gore bravely sings the iconic lyrics “Don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say, and please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display!” Gore said that she chose to record “You Don’t Own Me” because of its “humanist quality,” adding, “As I got older, feminism became more a part of my life and more a part of our whole awareness, and I could see why people would use it as a feminist anthem.”

“‘You Don’t Own Me’ was a real precursor to the kind of wash-that-man-right-out-of-my-hair songs that would start to become more common in the late ’60s and into the ’70s,” wrote Amanda Marcotte on slate.com. Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” would follow.

Gore continued her activism in a variety of liberal causes throughout her life, including volunteering for Robert Kennedy in 1968. In 2012, “You Don’t Own Me” became part of a national campaign to encourage women to vote, along with Gore saying, “I’m Lesley Gore and I approve this message.”

In 2005 Gore came out publicly as a lesbian, although she told AfterEllen.com that this truth was never really a secret in the first place, “I just kind of lived my life naturally and did what I wanted to do. I didn’t avoid anything, I didn’t put it in anybody’s face.”

With piercing talent and instrumental commitment to challenging the status quo and demanding equal rights for women, Gore will forever be remembered as a generation defining feminist. May she rest in peace.

Watch the original video clip of “You Don’t Own Me” below.


Feature image courtesy of www.ew.com


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