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From 'You Don't Own Me' to 'Survivor': A history of anthems that empower women

Participants dance while listening to music over headphones. (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)
Participants dance while listening to music over headphones. (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

Women’s history month is coming to a close, so why not take a few minutes to listen to some of the songs — the anthems — that have empowered American women for the last 60 years?

Yes, there are the obvious ones: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” but the roots of those anthems sprouted decades earlier, with then-ground-breaking songs like Leslie Gore’s 1963 “You Don’t Own Me” and Loretta Lynn’s scandalous “The Pill.”

Produced by the great Quincy Jones, “You Don’t Own Me” reached number two in 1963 behind “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles.

Back in 1980 when NPR music critic Ann Powers was in high school, the anthem status of “You Don’t Own Me” grew when Joan Jett released her version of the song. Every generation rediscovers “You Don’t Own Me,” Powers says.

In 1996, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn sang and danced to the song in celebration of their divorces in “The First Wives Club.” And then in 2015, Australian singer Saygrace made the song a hit once again.

“In 2005, Leslie Gore rerecorded it in a torchy version after coming out as a lesbian and sort of becoming an icon in a whole new way,” Powers says. “Its message is timeless.”

Anthems that empower women

  • You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore


Watch on YouTube.

  • The Pill” by Loretta Lynn


Watch on YouTube.

  • Just Because I’m a Woman” by Dolly Parton


Watch on YouTube.

  • Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen”


Watch on YouTube.

  • To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone
  • About Damn Time” by Lizzo
  • What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner
  • Firework” by Katy Perry
  • Respect” by Aretha Franklin
  • Survivor” by Destiny’s Child

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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