Lately I've been looking back to when I was a wee little lass and thinking about some of the experiences that influenced me to become the woman that I am today. As a child I was always subjected to conflicting messages about the roles of women-my mother was a divorced, single mother who always told me that I didn't need a man to take care of me, but at other times she would chastise me for not acting "ladylike" and telling me that if I did [insert something "unladylike"], I would never find a man. I was always in a state of conflict with all of my divorced, single aunts who displayed the same contradictory behavior as well as my grandmother who married multiple men and threw them away whenever it suited her. I lived in a primarily immigrant neighborhood where many of the women didn't work and stayed home to take care of their men and families, while also often making fun of my mother and her single sisters for having "lost their men".
Apparently the rumor is that my father had an affair when I was three years old and my brother was only two weeks old. According to the family rumor (of course my mother will never talk about it), my mother threw all of my father's belongings in the front yard and set them on fire. I don't know if I can remember this happening, or if I have a memory of the rumors that my aunts have told me all of these years. I remember many similar occurrences over the years from my mother punching my father in the nose and giving him a bloody nose to my mother being arrested for doing something else to my father's new wife.
At the same time that all of this was happening, I also would see my mother lie around and cry over my father for having left her, even ten years after the fact. I grew up on reading my mother's notes that she would write to my father and leave all over the house, chastising him for having abandoned the family and begging him to come back. I can remember finding the notes even as late as when I was in high school. I also remember my mother lying on the floor crying for years and years, listening to sad music by women about their men having left them.
As I child I was so confused about the role of women. Are we supposed to pine away in misery when someone leaves us? Are we supposed to be self-sufficient, or do we need a man around? Everywhere I looked all I saw were women crying their hearts out over having been left by a man-in songs, in books, in real life, on television.
But then there were those ecstatic moments when I would see a different side of the strength and independence of women. I didn't see it often, but when I did I would suck it up as much as I could and I was never able to get enough of it. I can remember the first time that I heard Lesley Gore's 1964 hit "You Don't Own Me" and I couldn't stop listening to it throughout my childhood and adolescence:
I would have to say that this song has probably been one of the most influential songs for me in my life, and listening to it was like being in a safe haven away from the typical "why did you leave me, I can't live without your love" type of crap that is shoved down every little girl's throat starting at birth.
I just recently researched the life of the singer, Lesley Gore, and I found some interesting things about her. According to some reports she sacrificed her singing career so that she could go to college, which impacted her popularity and ability to perform. Over the years she has changed the lyrics to many songs when singing about gender pronouns; for example, on an album when she sang the song "You're the one that I want" (from the musical Greece), she changed "because I need a man" to "because I need a friend". In 2005 she came out as a lesbian and has been in a relationship with her partner for over twenty years.
Was this song ever significant for you? What were some of the other songs that have had an impact on your life?
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