It was 1963 when Lesley Gore released the hit song “You Don’t Own Me.” The song was written by John Madara and David White and became a statement of independence for women. Although it was written for a singer named Maureen Gray, Lesley Gore’s producer Quincy Jones heard it and immediately knew it was meant for her.
The song quickly rose to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and became Gore’s second most successful hit after “It’s My Party.” The song remained at number two for three consecutive weeks on February 1, 1964, unable to overcome the Beatles’ hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
The Philadelphia songwriters Madara and White had originally intended to write a song where a woman would tell a man off: “Don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say.” Instead, while they did not realize it, the song became a woman’s anthem.
Along with Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique,” published shortly before the song’s release, “You Don’t Own Me” can be considered one of the many artistic works that helped begin the Women’s Liberation Movement. Although the movement did not take off until a decade later, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” was released in 1971.
The song’s significance did not go unnoticed by listeners. One commenter on YouTube stated that the song was “revolutionary, particularly for women in the early 60s.” It was one of the very first songs in which a woman demanded independence from her man.
As another commenter mentioned, songs from this era left a lasting impression on young girls’ souls. Indeed, it was a time of great change in American culture. A gallon of milk cost only 49 cents, a dozen eggs cost 53 cents, and gas was 30 cents a gallon. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated just a few months earlier, and the country was still reeling from that loss. Yet, music provided a respite from the turmoil of the times.
Lesley Gore’s performance of “You Don’t Own Me” was a beautiful and heartfelt rendition that showcased her incredible voice. The audience’s positive reactions and applause showed how deeply the song resonated with listeners. The song’s message was simple: a woman has the right to make choices and decisions.
“You Don’t Own Me” is a song that has stood the test of time. It spoke to women’s independence when women’s societal roles were changing rapidly. Yet, it remains relevant today and continues to inspire listeners. Share this video with your friends because it is a song every woman should hear.