“You don’t own me,” Lesley Gore sings, in one of the videos below of anthems, pop ballads and raps sung by women that have taken on a new, urgent meaning this Fourth of July, a holiday that celebrates the signing in 1776 of the Declaration of Independence. In past Fourth of Julys, I’ve offered patriotic songs, and patriotic protest songs. What’s more patriotic on July 4, 2022 than women singing of freedoms that are now under threat?
You Don’t Own Me, Lesley Gore, 1963
A pop ballad ritten by Philadelphia songwriters John Madara and David White and recorded by Gore when she was 17 years old, it’s now seen as an anthem. (See two more versions below.)
You don’t own me
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay
Birmingham Sunday, Joan Baez, 1964
This song by Richard Farina, sung by his sister-in-law Joan Baez, commemorates the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan, which killed four young girls. Women’s voices in America are often employed not just for female empowerment but to protest injustice.
“On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine
And the choir kept singing of freedom….”
Respect, Aretha Franklin, 1967
Aretha’s recording of Otis Redding’s 1965 composition turned it around into a song about women’s empowerment.
I Am Woman, Helen Reddy, 1971
Written by Reddy with Ray Burton, it became an anthem of the 1970s women liberation movement.
I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
The Pill, Loretta Lynn, 1975
The country music queen co-wrote this song that seems inspired by her personal experience: She had six children, four of whom were born before she was 20. Several country music radio stations refused to play it, but rural physicians thanked her for spreading the word about contraceptives.
You wined me and dined me
When I was your girl
Promised if I’d be your wife
You’d show me the world
But all I’ve seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill
I’m tearin’ down your brooder house
‘Cause now I’ve got the pill
Sisters are Doing It for Themselves, Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin, 1985
Now this is a song
The conscious liberation
Of the female state
And their daughters too
Woman to woman
We’re singin’ with you
…Sisters are doin’ it for themselves
Standin’ on their own two feet
And ringin’ on their own bells
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves
U.N.I.T.Y., Queen Latifah, 1993
Queen Latifah’s rap speaks out against the disrespect of women in society, addressing street harassment, domestic violence, and slurs against women in hiphop culture.
Run the World (Girls), Beyonce, 2011
Can build a nation
With our love we can devour
Quiet, MILCK, 2015
Two years after MILCK co-wrote this song, she organized performances of it at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C.
Put on your face
Know your place
Shut up and smile
Don’t spread your legs
I could do that
But no one knows me, no one ever will
If I don’t say something, if I just lie still
The Future is Female, Madame Gandhi 2017
Kiran Gandhi, who received her MBA from Harvard University, is an electronic music producer, drummer, artist and activist.
To me, “The Future is female” means that no longer will female qualities be subordinated to male qualities
I want to live in a world that is collaborative
A world that is emotionally intelligent
A world in which we are linked and not ranked!
Two more versions of “You Don’t Own Me.”