Female Empowerment

In 1971, Helen Reddy recorded ‘I Am Woman’ in an attempt to have a song that reflected a positive self-image for women which she felt was needed.  The Australian Ray Burton co-wrote the song with Helen Reddy.  Burton’s contribution was writing the music to go with Helen Reddy’s lyrics and editing her lyrics to fit his musical structure.  Reddy was also Australian, but she did become an American citizen in 1974.  This song became the first Hot 100 #1 by an Australian-born artist and she is the first Australian-born singer to have won a Grammy.  Some of her other hits include, ‘Angie Baby’ which went to #1, ‘Delta Dawn’ went to #1, ‘Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)’ peaked at #3 and ‘Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady’ peaked at #8.

On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, but women are still looking for that promise of equality.  The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.  While the first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women’s legal rights, such as the right to vote, the second-wave feminism of the ‘women’s movement’ peaked in the 1960s and ‘70s and touched on every area of women’s experience, including family, sexuality, and work.  The second stage was initiated by Betty Friedan’s famous book The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and developed by activists like Gloria Steinem.  Women’s rights are the fundamental human rights that every person must have and these rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination, the right to be educated, to own property, to vote, and to earn a fair and equal wage.  Women are entitled to all of these rights, yet almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are still denied them, often simply because of their gender.  The 1960’s woman was fighting the malaise of the satisfied suburban housewife’s life, this woman wanted to have a more meaningful existence, a life outside the home, equal economic opportunity, especially in employment.

The Women’s Liberation Movement used music to propagate their ideas.  In 1910, ‘March of the Women’ was recorded by Ethel Smyth and Cicely Hamilton and this song became an anthem for women’s suffrage.  In 1923, Bessie Smith recorded ‘Sam Jones Blues’ which tells the story of a wife whose husband leaves her, but when he returns a year later, she has changed the locks, claimed the house for herself, and more importantly, reclaimed herself.  Her freedom is more important than being married to Sam Jones.  In 1924, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey recorded ‘Cell Bound Blues’ which is the lament of a woman facing jail time after she shot and killed her abusive husband in self-defense.  In 1935, Billie Holiday released ‘You Let Me Down’ which is about a lover who previously put her on a pedestal and has now kicked her from it.  In 1952, Kitty Wells recorded a country song ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ which blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women.

In 1963, Lesley Gore recorded ‘You Don’t Own Me’ which is considered to be one of the many artistic works that helped begin the Women’s Liberation Movement.  In 1964, Odetta recorded a Bob Dylan song ‘Paths of Victory’ which showed that people were struggling to gain rights.  In 1966, the Rolling Stones’ song, ‘Mother’s Little Helper written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards described how young mothers feel trapped “Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag.”  In 1967, Aretha Franklin recorded the song ‘Respect’ which was a groundbreaking female empowerment anthem and it became her signature song.  Franklin also had another single from 1967, ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, which encourages men to respect women and treat them as equals instead of using them.  In 1967, Stone Poneys (with Linda Ronstadt) sang a song written by Mike Nesmith before he became a member of The Monkees ‘Different Drum’ which is about a woman who is ready to bail on a relationship, claiming they are very different people and she doesn’t want to be tied down to one person anyway.  In 1968, Dolly Parton addressed the sexist double standards women face with the title track off her second solo album.  “Just Because I’m A Woman” was an anti-slut shaming anthem before the phrase “slut-shaming” even took hold in mainstream media.  In 1968, country singer Jeannie C. Riley had a hit with ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’ where a widow and mom stands up for herself after being slut shamed for the way she dresses and raises her teen daughter.

‘I Am Woman’ was written in 1970, but it was a sleeper song that did nothing for two years and then as the women’s liberation movement gathered momentum, Capitol Records released it as a single.  In 1972, the women`s-rights/women’s liberation movement was building a full head of steam and they adopted this song as their unofficial anthem and it gave the movement a renewed sense of cultural awareness, action, and visibility.  Helen Reddy’s song ‘I Am Woman’ gave the movement a way to express itself through mainstream media and entertainment while helping to portray a positive self-image for women and young girls.  Reddy was infuriated about being objectified by men in the entertainment business.  She’d been in showbiz since the age of four, and she perceived a need for an empowering song.  Reddy was also disgusted by the way show business disenfranchised and marginalized women.  This song inspired other female artists to celebrate the invincibility of the female species in their own music.

The lyrics of ‘I Am Woman’ may not completely capture the nature, feeling, and ambiance of the women’s movement, but they do represent a substantial portion of the cause.  Women who fought for their liberation from social stereotypes encouraged others to celebrate themselves for who they were.  In the current era, women and young girls still face conflicting notions of how they should look and act, and a variety of organizations still teach women on how to grow beyond the norms and expectations of society.  Many of the same issues that were present in the 1960s and 1970s, like equal pay and adequate child care, have not disappeared.  Women in the United States are still facing the possibility of restricted access to abortion and with the way the Supreme Court has been stacked and Roe v. Wade may be in jeopardy of being repealed.

In 1971, Helen Reddy’s cover version of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ from the Broadway musical, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was being played on the airwaves.  After the success of this single, Reddy was in the studio working on her album of the same name that was scheduled to include songs from music legends like Van Morrison, Leon Russell and Graham Nash.  She was determined to include a song about the special experience of womanhood and for this song Reddy won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Reddy did not expect this song to turn into a hit record, but a year after making the song, the producer Mike Frankovich of the women’s liberation comedy, ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’, featuring Steve Lawrence selected ‘I Am Woman’ to be played during the opening credits.  Helen wanted to see how much power she had, thinking that a star could be a tool to achieve certain social ends, so she asked Frankovich to donate $1,000 each to the Women’s Centers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York to close the deal, which he did.  Helen Reddy’s ex husband Jeff Wald a William Morris agent or a talent buyer got Reddy her own television show on NBC as Flip Wilson’s summer replacement.

Her record label released ‘I Am Woman’ as a single in May 1972 and the song gained a third verse and slowly climbed up the Billboard charts to No. 1 in December.  Although male dominated radio stations were slow to play it, Reddy’s performances of the song on TV turned it into a popular hit.  Reddy’s song was timed perfectly with the growing second wave feminist movement.  Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine had just began publication and when the National Organization for Women (NOW) ended their 1973 Washington, D.C. gala with the song ‘I Am Woman’.  This song was suddenly getting women out of their seats to dance around, joining hands in a circle that got larger and larger with women dancing and singing in a spontaneous, beautiful expression of the exhilaration of women really moving women.  Reddy’s instinct for a relatable song made her a favorite for many women and some men, she was the world’s top-selling female vocalist in 1973 and 1974, and during her career she sold 25 million albums.

Musician, singer and songwriter Raymond Charles Burton was briefly a member of a rock group the Delltones (1965–66) on vocals, and a member of pop group the Executives (1968–69) on guitar and vocals where he wrote ‘Christopher Robin’, ‘Summerhill Road’ and ‘So I’m Down, So I’m Out’.  Ray was a member of the progressive rock group Leo de Castro and Friends (1973) on guitar, and in a jazz fusion band Ayers Rock (1973–74) on guitar and vocals and his songs ‘Rock And Roll Fight’, ‘Sorrowful Eyes’, ‘Morning Magic’ and ‘Lady of the Morning’ all made the top 10 charts.  Burton also composed Reddy’s song ‘Best Friend’, which was later used in a disaster film, Airport 1975.  As a solo artist, Burton issued an album, Dreamers and Nightflyers and two associated singles, ‘Too Hard to Handle’ and ‘Paddington Green’, in 1978 in Australia.  Ray Burton is a Lifetime Honorary Member of the International Songwriters Association.

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

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

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

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

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 face anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman

28 thoughts on “Female Empowerment

      1. Yes, it’s fantastic. One drawback is that so many festivals happen at the same time of year it creates traffic problems, noise problems (where one lot of revellers may drown out the enjoyment of others), and too many things to see at the one time.
        I did get a poem into a Fringe Festival – and I’m not a poet!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you. I’m not a poet, and I appreciate what it takes to put a form of poetry, the passion and underlying story, into such short forms.
        I like to read them, feel them, but will leave the writing of them to others with more skills than I will ever have.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I also enjoy reading poems. I like the ones that rhyme the best. Often I do not understand them, but I appreciate it when someone has the ability to string words together to create something beautiful.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. That was fun to read. I’ve never heard of the Stone Poneys, will look them up.

    Annie Lennox – No More “I Love You’s” (Official Video)

    Sade – Soldier Of Love (Official Video)

    Like

    1. It was maybe a little odd to focus on “love” (with the two videos in my post) when the subject is female empowerment, but notions as to love were connected to women not being empowered.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well… you touched on the topic of love or relationships in your writing — while that wasn’t the sole subject of your addressing the consideration of female empowerment. And then I included two more songs in that realm (relating/love/not love). Sometimes people don’t want to think too much about relationships in the context of female empowerment, because there is the notion that relationships are incidental and not very important. That was one part of what I said.

        Another part was that, for instance, the “fact” that women could count on love meant they didn’t need to have rights of inheritance or ownership or the right to vote of so on. I think there were (and still are to a degree) multiple angles on not empowering women. At least two. One is plain old selfish and unhidden motivation to withhold rights from others so that those with more rights get their way most of the time as well as accumulate wealth and more power.

        An additional angle is fooling others into thinking someone is looking out for those others when it isn’t true. If there is a mythology that people who aren’t women are primarily (or even equally) concerned with the well-being of people who are women, then there may be less push or drive or alarm to try and make sure those who are women get their needs met (needs including but also, as any human wants, beyond being fed and watered so as not to die prematurely).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Investing in knowledge and understanding in order to become valuable and a solution giver in an ever dynamic world is the key to becoming influential to the point of being indispensable. We should never cease to have access to knowledge and to the right information.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for directing me to this post as I’ve learnt about so many other empowerment songs. I recently watched the TV drama Mrs America and having been born just a bit too late to remember those days I learnt a lot about the movement that’s given me so much of what I take forgranted today.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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