You Don’t Own Me – an encore of Lesley Gore’s anthem for women

The following post was written in 2013, so it preceded the US Supreme Court ruling that same sex marriages were allowable and during a major revelation of the largely unchecked and unprosecuted rapes in the US military. During Women’s History month it is good to repeat this post.

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.


10 thoughts on “You Don’t Own Me – an encore of Lesley Gore’s anthem for women

  1. I’ve been reading lately about human trafficking in my own country. It really makes me realize how far we have to go yet to honour and respect women.

  2. In 2008 my formation and I performed in a revue, especially written for us. It was about three completely different women who all had their own kinds of struggles with men and/or with themselves. The revue was like travel through different stages in which each one got to rediscover herself again. The last song of the revue was “You don’t own me”. It was amazing to sing it. By singing it, there was such a strong feeling of liberation and growing self-esteem. Amazing! Thank you for reminding me of it.

      • There is a DVD from that revue but unfortunately the sound quality is poor. My voice was basically louder and more voluminous than my colleagues’ in the solo pieces. So that they could get away with a single setting, they simply took the hall out of my voice. There is no resonance. If they had followed my voice, my colleagues would have come through too weakly. It’s a pity that they didn’t make individual settings. We didn’t know that until we heard the recordings. In any case, the result was disappointing for everyone. So, no recording unfortunately!

      • Erika, that is too bad. You reminded me of a first recording of Loretta Lynn depicted in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” After she started singing the recording engineer stopped her and told her husband we need to get more pickers. The husband said “I can’t afford more musicians.” The engineer said “I mean better pickers. That little lady can sing her hind end off.” So, Ms. Erika, they were telling you the same thing in a different way. Keith

  3. This song truly broke barriers, and music journalists (ones with any worth anyway) will still refer back to it.
    The song figures in the very witty ‘First Wives Club’ film (Diane Keation, Goldie Hawn, Better Milder) as three women survivors of their individual husbands’ infidelities walk off singing it in the closing scene.

    Subversion of women’s rights continues in the West in various odious ways. You can always tell a reactionary male if he uses the word ‘woke’ in an issue regrading women. Then there are the pathetic losers who try and dignify their inadequacies with the made up whine Incel. We have the double standards of the man can play around with as many partners as he likes and gets plaudits; the woman is still denigrated (some would love to use the word ‘whore’ if they thought they would get away with it).
    Men who denigrate women, just are not men, merely cyphers for the XY chromosome. A real man treats a woman as an equal in this struggle we call Life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.