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.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=you+don+t+own+me+lyrics&mid=1A608AD222A0926A03DB1A608AD222A0926A03DB&view=detail&FORM=VIRE3

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 https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/.  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) https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/the-invisible-war-kirsten-gillibrand-has-it-right/. 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.

The Invisible War – Kirsten Gillibrand has it right

Whether you have seen the Oscar nominated documentary film called “The Invisible War,” I think most Americans are becoming aware of a terrible problem in our US military. Per a 2011 Newsweek article, it is more likely that a female soldier will be sexually assaulted by one of her fellow soldiers than killed in battle. And, to be complete, it is not just women who have been sexually assaulted. In 2011, there were 3,158 cases of sexual assaults reported. By the Pentagon’s own records, they report that there were over 19,000 such assaults that year. And, of those 3,158 cases, only 575 cases were processed.  In 2012, the number reported increased to 3,574, a six percent increase with estimated total assaults pegged at 26,000.

The Senate Oversight committee led by Senator Carl Levin has helped pass requirements that make it in a crime for a supervisor in the chain of command to retaliate against a victim who has reported such a crime and would not allow the military command to overturn a conviction. This requirement was supported by Senator Claire McCaskill as well, who is a former prosecutor. Yet, they stopped short of stripping the oversight from the chain of command, per the recommendations of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Major General Gary Patton, the head of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office who opposed removing the chain of command oversight. In other words, the supervisor who may have permitted an environment of harassment to occur, would still have a strong say in whether a case is warranted.

An interesting mix of senators, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York feel that is inappropriate oversight. She has led a mix of fellow Democrat and Republican senators to propose that the JAG attorneys be responsible for sexual assault cases and take the oversight away from the chain of command. In their mind, the fact that so few cases are ever reported is a direct result of fear of retaliation, fear of destroying a career, fear of  inappropriate but typical ridicule over the victim’s possible promiscuity, and just plain physical fear of being harmed. Gillibrand has pointed out that the chain of command oversight is part of the problem and should not be included as part of the solution. She notes that this issue has been identified as a concern since the late 1980s and we still have the numbers of sexual assaults, in total and that go unreported, we have today.

I agree with Senator Gillibrand. I have three comments in support of her group’s contention. First, having been in Human Resources, sexual assault cases (or any harassment cases) would definitely not be left to the chain of command with all other employers. The supervisor or manager may be part of the problem, so the alleged victim has an avenue to reach out to HR and the case will be (or it better be) handled with confidentiality and care. I have written earlier how organizations tend to take on the personality of its leaders. The leaders may have created an environment where sexual harassment may be more normative. I have also witnessed a protective turf mindset when sexual assaults or harassment claims occur. For obvious examples, you need look no further than Penn State University and the Jerry Sandusky issue or the Catholic Church, where leaders were both more interested in protecting the reputation of the entity and less about the victims.

Second, Albert Einstein, I believe said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different outcome.” It is obvious the chain of command oversight is part of the problem. They need to be part of the solution by doing things better, but they should not have oversight over sexual assault cases. There will be a tendency to brush over things and manage the issue rather than address it. If you do not believe me, reread the references to Penn State and the Catholic Church.

Third, having just written about my father, who served in the Korean War, he would be offended by the numbers of sexual assaults. And, when Senator John McCain, who is one of the most famous prisoners of war in Vietnam, says he would be hard pressed to recommend to a friend’s daughter that she go in the military, that speaks volumes. To me, it insults the honor of these men and women, to not address this issue.

Folks, we owe it to all women, but especially our female soldiers, to protect them from their fellow troops. To be brutally frank, this is a disgrace to our military and country. Men and women should be supported in their cause to risk their lives to serve our country. I understand the points made by Levin, McCaskill, Hagel, Dempsey and Patton, I just don’t agree with them. I applaud the steps they have recommended. Yet, we need to take this last major step proposed by Senator Gillibrand and do the right thing.