‘You Don’t Own Me,’ A Feminist Anthem With Civil Rights Roots, Is All About Empathy

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

There’s a certain kind of song you just want to crank up after a bad breakup or a rough day at work. In 1963, a young singer renowned for a hit about getting ditched at a party unleashed just such an anthem.

Lesley Gore‘s coolly mutinous “You Don’t Own Me” is richly scored, building from a minor-key dirge in the verses to a spirited chorus. The 1963 hit reframed the 17-year-old Gore as a confident chanteuse, rather than the pert pop princess then best-known for such bubblegum hits as “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn To Cry.” Her earlier songs had mostly concerned boys — getting dumped by boys, getting approval from boys, bragging about the boys who liked her.

In an interview on WHYY’s Fresh Air in 1991, Gore recalled when “You Don’t Own Me” first came to her attention. “At the time, I know I chose it because I know I liked the strength in the lyric,” she told host Terry Gross. “But, for me, it was not a song about being a woman. It was about being a person, and what was involved with that. Of course, it got picked up as an anthem for women, which makes me very proud.”


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