You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore’s Anthem for Women Everywhere

Being the father of a teenage daughter, my wife and I try to raise our young lady to be self-sufficient and to not let anyone take advantage of her. Fortunately, she has a great sense of humor and can use it to diffuse people who are overbearing towards her or who may want to take advantage of a situation. With that context, recently we were watching one of those retro-look shows which focused on female singers from the 1960s. Lesley Gore had a couple of huge hits “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” which are more the standard fare for teenage girls. Yet, amid those songs, she sang “You Don’t Own Me” which is extremely powerful whose words resonate for all women.

Ironically, the song was written by two men – John Madara and David White – but when these terrific words are sung hauntingly by Gore, it becomes her song. Here are the lyrics which are very straightforward.

You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ’cause

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

Oh, I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

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

A-a-a-nd don’t tell me what to do
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

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

Since her version needs to be heard, I have included a link to enable you to do that.

The song did resonate with many and was included in the movies “The Big Chill” and “Dirty Dancing.” Yet, it may have been heard by fewer people (than it should have) as Gore actually turned her back on stardom to go to college limiting her career and notoriety. She was born in 1946 as Lesley Sue Goldstein and sang “It’s My Party” in 1963 at the age of 16, the same age as my daughter is now. She turned down major contracts and eventually went on to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. To me, she may have been living the words to this anthem – “you don’t own me” and if I want to go to college, then that is my choice.

Having written earlier about Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky” about the maltreatment of women around the world, this song had additional meaning. A link to this post is  I am not naive, so I know that women who are treated like chattel in some parts of the world would be killed or severely beaten if they uttered these words.That is the purpose of “Half the Sky” to tell these stories, highlight the bravery of the local champions who have rebelled against maltreatment and collectively give women a voice to say “you don’t own me.” Or, at a very minimum, I will not tolerate you treating me this way.

Yet, even in more gender egalitarian countries, the same words could be said. In the US, there seems to be a new onslaught to limit women’s reproductive rights, forty years after this issue was supposedly resolved. Here in the US, we have had over 26,000 women (and men) who have been sexually assaulted in our military ranks just last year, but only 3,400 of these sexual assaults came to trial. And, the solution presented yesterday is only a good first step, but will not solve the problem (listen to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand folks) Here in the US, women still need the deserved opportunity to lead, be it in business or government. Here in the US, we still have insufficient protection for domestic violence victims, which is more about control and ownership. Here in the US, it should be OK to marry your Lesbian partner anywhere in the country. I could go on.

If you know this song, please relive it with me and share with others. If you don’t know it, give it a listen and, if you like it, share it as well. If you have not read “Half the Sky,” you should, but know this; it will be one of the hardest books you will ever read. If you don’t want to go down that path, at least click on the link above to my earlier post.

You don’t own me. Powerful words. Thanks Ms.Gore and Messrs. Madara and White.

14 thoughts on “You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore’s Anthem for Women Everywhere

  1. Just in reading the lyrics, I could clearly hear the song and her strong voice belting out her voice of independence, All these many years later. What a great message, and it is one that still needs to be spread among our young people, today.

    Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Thanks Barney. It is much appreciated. About 30% of the homeless families this group I volunteer with help come from DV situations. I tell my daughter to get out if she ever comes across a relationship like that. By the way, I added a new version of her singing the song to the post while you were reading it. I still cannot find the one I saw on PBS the other night. Thanks for reading, BTG

  2. You’re right that this a great song for teenage girls. I like that you connected it back to global issues of women’s rights, but it reminded me of a somewhat controlling boyfriend I had in high school. I wish I had thought more about this song then and acted on it.

  3. i surely broke a record for the longest time to follow the prompts, but i did it and enjoyed all of them. the minute the tune began, yes, i remembered the song! how powerful she was to have presented that attitude so long ago! thanks for speaking up for those who often have not found their voices.

  4. It comes down to the availability of choice…in any language, culture, religion or circumstance. Being one year younger than Ms. Gore when she recorded “You Don’t Own Me” did resonate. Down to the core. At fifteen I remember hearing the words…but didn’t know the words could apply to me…didn’t know I had those choices…the power within…until much, much later. As a parent with many teachable moments, my own two children sparkled with…choice. As adults they are absolutely brilliant…and paying it forward.

    Profound post, BTG.

  5. I had no idea of Ms. Gore’s background, but I remember this song well. And then there’s always Helen Reddy’s anthem, “I am Woman, Hear me Roar.” 😉 Thanks for sharing this powerful sentiment with a new generation.

  6. Note to Readers: Lesley Gore’s song may be making a comeback. Toyota is using it in a commercial primarily focused on women singing in a car after being shown disrespect. The car makes them safer as they sing. Interesting, they have a chorus of bike riding men and women singing part of the song, which is interesting as the lyrics are a woman saying “you don’t own me” to a man. But, overall the song soars in the commercial.

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