Updated: May 2
On November 1st of 1963, "Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts" was released. It was going to be the second album by a young woman whose name may not sound familiar, but that we know for being the performer and composer of one of the first feminist songs in history.
October 2017 was a time far detached from the 60s when the movement - or rather the earthquake - of #MeToo began to shift the known paradigms of casual sexism and sexual assault all over the world. From that moment on, and thanks to all the women who dared to raise their voice, many of us began to mentally review all our past sexual encounters and see them in a new light of evolved feminism. Millions of questions flooded our minds, we understood that we naturalized things that were far from acceptable. At the same time, we recovered the healthy habit of talking about sexual relations as a terrain crossed like any other by gender inequality. However, in the early '60s, a time when men dominated the music industry, a young teenager from a working-class Jewish family in New York City broke and confronted all those patriarchal paradigms through music way before her time, reaching the top of the American charts with a song that immediately became a feminist anthem - something like a female musical riot act that has since had a special place in feminist pop culture.
Lesley Gore loved music since she was a child, she enrolled in private schools in New Jersey with excellent music programs; and it was 1963 when at the age of sixteen she was discovered by the famous music producer Quincy Jones. He went on to produce her first single "It's My Party", a version of a song recorded earlier (1962) by a group of girls called "The Chiffons", which under Lesley's sleeve reached number one on the charts immediately. It was a song whose name would seem to command respect, but which nevertheless tells the story of a man's humiliation of a woman, a song that backed up the opposite of what was to come.
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.
Verse of “You Don’t Own Me"
By that time, Lesley had reached a stage of doo-wop stardom, and by the time she got to college, she was again at the top of the charts. This time, however, it as with a story and a message completely contrasting that of "It's my party". Lesley returned to the top when in December of that same year she released "You Don't Own Me", a song in which her angelic and charming pop voice worked perfectly as a double-edged sword, a song that with its opulent orchestral arrangement became a poisoned candy, a song that was introduced into American homes through the radio, reaching the top of the sales charts and becoming the cry for female emancipation. At that time, it was rare: an absolutely explicit and effective song where the woman makes it clear that she does not belong to anyone, a song that today still has the same moral value, the same mystique, and the same need to be sung as in the sixties - because in 2020 because we still have to remember that we do not belong to anyone but us.
When the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972, songs like "You Don't Own Me" were becoming feminist anthems. In 2016, Australian singer Saygrace and rapper G-Eazy recorded a version of this song, produced by multi-award-winning Quincy Jones, the same producer as the original 1963 song.
Lesley continued to perform and record music throughout her college career. On the climb to the top, she understood that the stress, anxiety, and pressure that had brought her to the top at such a young age had overshadowed the desire of any young teenager to "explore their sexuality". A year after graduating, she met jewelry designer Lois Sasson, who would eventually become her life partner, but she did not talk openly about her sexuality until the early 2000s when she hosted some episodes of "In the Life", a program that addressed issues related to the LGBTIQ+ community. Lesley officially came out of the closet in an interview with Afterellen that same year.
She died on February 16, 2015, and left a legacy that will never expire. An undiscovered LGTBQIA+ icon at the time, but a feminist figurehead since her second-ever chart-topping hit, Lesley Gore will forever be remembered for using her voice to express her freedom and show many young woman that they can do the same.