Sunday, March 8, 2020

5 x 5: Women’s Empowerment Songs

Today is International Women’s Day. 

Celebrated on March 8 each year, International Women's Day is a global day honouring the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is sponsored worldwide by the United Nations but was not originated by the UN, The roots of this celebration goes back to the late 1800's and early 1900s, growing from women's socialist movements and early women's trade union groups of those times. 

The first International Women's Day was held March 19, 1911. Women socialists and trade unions held an earlier Women's Day on the last Sunday in February, 1908. The event grew from there, and has been celebrated annually since. The focus is upon women workers, and advancing women's rights in the workforce, politics and society. 

The theme for IWD 2020 is “Each for Equal”, that each of us stands up for gender equality, whether that be for equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, and more gender equality in health and wealth. 


Byter Liz P drew my attention to the fact that IWD is celebrated on the same day of the year as Be Nasty Day according t Brett’s monthly list of bizarre and unique celebrations posted on March 1. Expanding the link in that list reveals that the origins are unknown and that the compilers of the list do not support celebrating this day, having included it only because of its sizable internet presence. 

Here is an example of nastiness about being nasty: 
The word "nasty" has a few meanings, but in this context, it is referring to being rude, mean, spiteful, or difficult to be around. On this day everyone has an excuse to be nasty by displaying these attributes to others in both word and action. It is not known who created this day, but what a nasty thing to do! Celebrate the day by being nasty to others. Call them names and insult them. Cut in front of them in line. If you have things you really feel about people but have been holding back, today is the day to say them. Hang up on people who call you. Ignore messages you receive online, and ignore your friends and family. There are tons of ways to be nasty today!

To honour IWD rather than BND, here are 5 facts about 5 women’s empowerment songs . . . 


Helen Reddy 

The song:


"I Am Woman", sung by Aussie Helen Reddy, was first released in 1971 and re-released in 1972 with some changes, at a time when the women’s liberation movement was taking off. It’s message and lyrics of women’s strength and empowerment made it the anthem of the women's lib movement. Sample lyrics: 

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 
I am invincible 


Reddy and fellow Australian Ray Burton created the song, Reddy providing the lyrics and her friend, Burton, setting the lyrics to music. He says that he also tweaked the lyrics to fix the music but she denies this. Burton was expelled from the US in 1971 because of work permit problems and he and Reddy ended up falling out. He sued for back royalties and received some money. Today he performs in venues on the Queensland Gold Coast, where he lives, sometimes including the song in his performances but singing the lyrics as "She is woman, hear her roar". 


The song was the first number one hit on the Billboard chart by an Australian-born artist and the first Australian-penned song to win a Grammy Award. In her acceptance speech for Best Female Performance, Reddy thanked "God, because She makes everything possible". 


Reddy was married to Jeff Wald in an volatile relationship. Money from this song and further hits made her wealthy, which she and Wald flaunted with a gaudy lifestyle of mansions, limousines, jewellery and speedboats. By the time the couple completed their acrimonious divorce in 1982 they had blown most of the $40 million they had made. 


The full lyrics contains the verse: 

I am woman, watch me grow 
See me standing toe-to-toe 
As I spread my loving arms across the land 
But I'm still an embryo 
With a long, long way to go 
Until I make my brother understand 

Some feminists took exception to the lyrics, "I'm still an embryo, with a long, long way to go," identifying the women's liberation movement with a pregnancy. This was particularly true after the 1973 U.S. Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was bookended by Paul Anka's 1974 number-one hit, "Having My Baby." 


Lesley Gore 

The song:


“You Don’t Own Me” was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963, when Gore was 17 years old. The song was Gore's second most successful recording and her last top-ten single. On November 27, 2016, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 


The song expresses a threatened emancipation, as the singer tells a lover that the lover does not own her, is not to tell her what to do or what to say, and is not to put her on display. Released nearly 10 years before “I Am Woman”, it is one of the very first songs in which a woman demands her independence from her man. 


The song's lyrics became an inspiration for younger women and are sometimes cited as a factor in the second wave feminist movement. 

From Wikipedia: 
Second-wave feminism was a period of feminist activity and thought that began in the United States in the early 1960s and lasted roughly two decades. It quickly spread across the Western world, with an aim to increase equality for women by gaining more than just enfranchisement.  
Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (e.g., voting rights and property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to include a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. Second-wave feminism also drew attention to the issues of domestic violence and marital rape, engendered rape-crisis centers and women's shelters, and brought about changes in custody laws and divorce law. Feminist-owned bookstores, credit unions, and restaurants were among the key meeting spaces and economic engines of the movement.

Many historians view the second-wave feminist era in America as ending in the early 1980s with the intra-feminism disputes of the feminist sex wars over issues such as sexuality and pornography, which ushered in the era of third-wave feminism in the early 1990s.

Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler sang this together in the 1996 film "The First Wives Club". The song also appeared in the movies "Dirty Dancing" and "Hairspray". 


17-year-old Australian singer Grace released a modern version of this song in 2015, shortly after the death of Lesley Gore. This version features rapper G-Eazy, who spits verses about how he likes this independent woman who "could never ever be a broke ho." 

Quincy Jones, Lesley Gore’s producer, spearheaded this production. This version was a big hit in Australia, where it went to #1. It also made #4 in the UK and #95 in the US. 

Well worth listening to and watching: 



Aretha Franklin 

The song:


"Respect" is a song written and originally released by American recording artist Otis Redding in 1965. The song became a 1967 hit and signature song for soul singer Aretha Franklin. 

The music in the two versions is significantly different, and through a few changes in the lyrics, the stories told by the songs have a different flavor. 

Redding's version is a plea from a desperate man, who will give his woman anything she wants. He won't care if she does him wrong, as long as he gets his due respect when he brings money home. 

Redding version:

Franklin's version is a declaration from a strong, confident woman, who knows that she has everything her man wants. She never does him wrong, and demands his "respect". Franklin's version adds the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" chorus and the backup singers' refrain of "Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me...". 

After Redding heard Aretha's rendition for the first time, he told Jerry Wexler: "This girl has taken that song from me. Ain't no longer my song. From now on, it belongs to her." 


In the line, "Take care, TCB" (often misheard as "TCP"), "TCB" means "Taking Care of Business." Elvis Presley appropriated the phrase a few years later, using it on jewellery and calling his band "The TCB Band." 


Aretha's line, "Sock it to me," became a catch phrase on the TV show Laugh In in the '70s. This line is often heard as a sexual reference, but Aretha denies this. "There was nothing sexual about that," she told Rolling Stone in 2014. 


This has been used in many movies, including Platoon, Forrest Gump, Mystic Pizza, and Back To School. Aretha Franklin sings this song in the movie Blues Brothers 2000. She also appeared in the original Blues Brothers movie, performing "Think." 


In the '80s, KFC turned this into "R.O.A.S.T.E.D." to promote their new roasted chicken. 


Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox/Eurythmics

The song:


Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" is a 1985 song recorded by the British pop duo Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) and American singer Aretha Franklin.. It was originally intended to have Tina Turner perform the Aretha Franklin part but Turner declined so Franklin was asked instead. 


Lennox explained in a 1991 interview with Q: 
"'Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves was a challenge, to write a pop song that could be played on the radio yet was a feminist anthem. I woke up one morning and wrote all the words. I had a vision of it, and said to Dave that this idea needs a fantastic woman to sing it with. I'd thought of Tina Turner, and we contacted her but she found the content too feminist. But Aretha Franklin wanted to do it, and we flew to Detroit. I got along all right with her but we didn't have an immediate rapport. Aretha struck me as rather shy, a bit sad, a bit lonely. She had an entourage which I thought a bit eccentric - I wasn't used to it." 

From an interview with Annie Lennox by Variety:
I read that Aretha was worried that “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” was a gay anthem. Is that true?

Aretha was worried that it was a song about masturbation. I don’t blame her for asking, because as a singer, you need to understand. She had not written the song, so she wanted to understand better where the hell are we coming from. Honestly, it was not about that, so we just reassured her that there was no eroticism. It’s about sounding out their message, basically.

In an interview coinciding with her 2006 ASCAP Founders Award, Annie Lennox said: 
"Women are the most extraordinary force in the world. There is such a strong need for feminism, particularly in developing countries where women are still relegated to third class citizen status - where they don't have choices about their fertility, education and life choices. I'm very grateful for the things that feminism has offered me. I can vote in a democratic system. Women and men are trying to progress together, but women very often carry the brunt of the burden in life. Actually, I do like to take the opportunity to speak up for women's rights." 

This was featured in the 1996 film "The First Wives Club" and in the 2003 movie "Legally Blonde 2". 


Gloria Gaynor 

The song:


"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, was released in 1978 and has remained a popular disco anthem, 

The song's lyrics describe the narrator's discovery of personal strength following an initially devastating breakup and has been regarded as a symbol of female empowerment. 

Sample lyrics: 

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart 
Kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart 
And I spent oh-so many nights just feeling sorry for myself 
I used to cry 
But now I hold my head up high and you see me 
Somebody new 
I'm not that chained-up little person and still in love with you 
And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free 
Well, now I'm saving all my lovin' for someone who's loving me 

Go on now, go, walk out the door 
Just turn around now 
'Cause you're not welcome anymore 
Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye 
Do you think I'd crumble 
Did you think I'd lay down and die? 


The song was originally released as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers song "Substitute", "I Will Survive" became a worldwide hit for Gaynor when disc jockeys played that side of the record instead. 


Gaynor sees this song as just a simple song about survival, regardless of what you have to overcome. She said: "I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It's a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern." 


"Tony Clifton" (Jim Carrey) performed this song near the end of the film "Man on the Moon". Frank the pug sings it in "Men in Black 2", and many other films have featured the song over the years, including "In And Out", "Four Weddings And A Funeral", "The Replacements", "The Adventures Of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert", "The First Wives Club" and "Coyote Ugly". 


Since this was first released, Gaynor has become a devout Christian and added a verse reflecting her faith to live performances: 

I will survive 
He gave me life 
I stand beside the Crucified One 
I can go on 
I will be strong 
For my strength to live is not my own
I will survive!

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