‘You don’t own me’
Let us talk about Lesley Gore.
I was a year ahead of her in junior high school and never said two words to her and then she was gone, off to private school. And then she was famous with “It’s My Party” followed by “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Followup songs were big in the early ’60s. And answer songs. “Save the Last Dance for Me” by The Drifters was followed by “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” by somebody.
But that’s not what I came to talk to you about (stolen from Arlo Guthrie: “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacre”). I came to talk to you about the song that should be, and for decades should have been, the anthem of the women’s movement:
Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”
It came out in the early 1960s and did, I think, give some sense of empowerment to teenage girls. My girlfriend took it to heart, as well she should have. Most of the songs back then, especially sung by men, used the words “You’re mine” or their ilk when referring to girls:
“You’re mine, and we belong together.”
“You were mine at the time, and the feeling was devine.”
But “You Don’t Own Me” hit teenage boys smack in the mouth with lines like,
“Don’t tell me what to do, 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.”
“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.”
Yeah. Dig that. If she doesn’t want to be exclusive, tough for you, schnook. And it’s clear she knows the guy is seeing other girls, as in “one of your MANY toys.” So, she shouldn’t see other guys? Or, for that matter, other girls, if such is her wont.
There are some people who would have the silly “I Am Woman” by somebody whose name escapes me, be a women’s anthem, but, nah. Dorky lyrics, for the most part, despite the appropriate sentiment. “You Don’t Own Me” says it all, even if you just read the title.
I wanted to tell you that because it’s an obscure song. Ask anyone what Lesley Gore sang and you’ll get “It’s My Party,” but I doubt anyone will say, or even have heard, “You Don’t Own Me.”
More people should.
And more women should say it to more men. If they won’t listen when you say it, SING IT.
But … (ah, c’mon, you knew there was a “but” coming, so not to disappoint you …)
OK, let’s start with “It’s My Party.” Now Lesley’s boyfriend, Johnny, is seen by her going off with Judy and she sings, “Why was he holding her hand when he’s supposed to be mine?” (See, “mine” was creeping up everywhere; but Lesley got wise to it eventually, unlike male singers.)
So, after awhile, Judy and Johnny “just walked through the door, like a queen with her king,” and Lesley gets a “birthday surprise: Judy’s wearing his ring.”
Uh oh, dump city.
And that’s why Lesley’s crying at her party which she can do because, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”
She had a point.
So there she is, dumped by Johnny for Judy, and dumped rather publicly.
Then comes the revenge, and Lesley gets to sing:
“It’s Judy’s turn to cry, Judy’s turn to cry, Judy’s turn to cry, ’cause Johnny’s come back to me.”
She sang “turn to cry” three times just to rub it in because that Judy was just a tramp and deserved it, so there.
But then Lesley did a stupid thing:
SHE TOOK JOHNNY BACK.
What? Why? He dumped her in public for that tramp Judy and she takes him back? Because he promised never to do it again? What? And she believed him?
Well, YOU can believe that if you want, but here’s what I believe:
She took Johnny back for two reasons:
1. Revenge upon Judy, that tramp.
2. So she could get her revenge upon him by dumping HIM in public, possibly at her next birthday party.
I believe in revenge. Revenge is good. And none of this Sicilian “a dish best served cold.” Uh uh. Get revenge as quickly as you can. And as often. Maybe Lesley took Johnny back and dumped him. Then she took him back again and dumped him again.
Maybe he still wanted to come back — guys get ego-bruised when you dump them — so she makes him beg, takes him back, and then dumps him. She could probably have kept it going until they were 35.
But I don’t think she let it get that far because out she came with “You Don’t Own Me” after learning that owning her was precisely what the Johnnys of the world wanted because if you own the girl/woman, you’re safe.
Oh, and, yes, I realize that I’ve only referred to Judy as a tramp. Why isn’t Johnny a tramp, you rightfully ask? Judy didn’t do anything he didn’t do. You’re RIGHT. Johnny is a tramp, too, (or, in Seinfeld-land, a mimbo) but we don’t think that way, do we. Guys who go off with Judys are cool, they’re studs, they probably go to elite private schools and keep score. But Judy’s a tramp. Not fair, is it.
But that’s just another safety net for guys, who really only worry about the humiliation of being dumped. They don’t have to worry about being called tramps but getting dumped?
“Hey, man, she really like dumped you.”
Guys do really stupid things when they’re dumped, sometimes stupid violent things.
I did stupid things. I remember, when I was 16, sitting with my friend Steve on the curb across the street from Pat Collins’ house in Tenafly in the dark, just looking at the house. I don’t even think the lights were on.
And Steven, when his girlfriend Carol was off at camp, hitchhiked up to the camp and slept in the woods for three days, and she hadn’t even dumped him yet. But she did. Several times.
I think about stuff like that from time to time and often when I do, I think about “You Don’t Own Me” and the effect I HOPE it had upon me and the effect it SHOULD have had upon me and the effect that I WISH it would have on … maybe you?
Make it the anthem of the women’s movement, play it loud, play it proud, and make every damn man in America listen to it.
Especially any man who has orange hair.