Today is International Women’s Day. Historically speaking, country music has never enjoyed a reputation for being socially progressive.
For the general public, the definitive statement the genre made was “Stand By Your Man.” That Tammy Wynette classic is often cited as country music’s counterpoint to the women’s liberation movement, although Wynette wrote the thing in fifteen minutes without any agenda in mind. She just needed a song to sing.
I generally consider the classic country era to have ended with the seventies, preceding the Urban Cowboy and New Traditionalist movements. What follows are some of the best deliberate statements made by country artists during those years in support for women’s rights. Some were big hits. Some were not. But they were all ahead of their time and are still interesting to listen to today.
Each entry is followed by an embedded YouTube video for your listening pleasure. Share your thoughts on these and other songs we might have missed in the comments!
Recorded ninety years ago, Roba Stanley made quite the bold statement with “Single Life”, singing, “I am single and no man’s wife, and no man shall control me.” Stanley was among the earliest women to record country music, and with this song, she set the precedent for women to make the case for female independence in country music.
“Two Whoops and a Holler”
Shepard destroys the double standard that allows men to go out partying without damaging their reputation, but if a woman does the same thing, “she’s lower than a hound.” She even makes a case for all the women to join her in challenging the status quo, noting that “women ought to rule the world ’cause the men ain’t worth a…”
“Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”
Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) (1967)
Decades before the concept of spousal consent became enshrined in law, Loretta Lynn rejected the advances of her intoxicated husband, making the declaration that “liquor and love, they just don’t mix. Leave the bottle or me behind.”
“Just Because I’m a Woman”
Just Because I’m a Woman (1968)
Dolly Parton’s first solo single for RCA explores an idea that is almost quaint in today’s day and age, but at one time was a societal expectation that brought shame upon a woman who violated it. On her wedding night, she notes that her husband is not the first. Rather than begging forgiveness, she stands her ground and holds the mirror back up at him: “Yes, I’ve made my mistakes, but listen and understand. My mistakes are no worse than yours just because I’m a woman.”
Jeannie C. Riley
Things Go Better With Love (1969)
A feminist statement with Biblical support. Riley shares her pride in doing what she sees as her womanly duties, provided that her husband acknowledges that they are equals. After all, God made Eve not from a “foot bone to be stepped on” or a “shoulder bone to be leaned on,” but rather from a rib bone, “to be side by side. Not lesser than or greater than but just what Heaven planned.”
When I heard it for the first time in the nineties, I laughed at how antiquated it seemed. In 2015, when an elected leader can actually use the same Bible verse to justify women’s lesser status (because a rib is “a lesser cut of meat”) , Riley seems more forward-thinking than ever.
“Still a Woman”
A Woman (1979)
As her husband’s leaving her for a younger woman, Smith takes a stand against ageism while cutting the man down to size, referring to her wrinkles as her “service stripes” and calling him on his own fear of aging being the catalyst for his roaming eye. “You’re afraid of growing old, babe. That’s your thing. So you’re trying to stay young and have a fling.” Her embrace of getting older flips the script on the man who is rejecting her for that very reason.