Adventures in Feministory: Loretta Lynn


Full disclosure: I love Loretta Lynn. I have dressed like her for Halloween. I have sat glued to Sissy Spacek’s performance as her in Coal Miner’s Daughter. I have been known to sing “You Ain’t Woman Enough” at various karaoke bars in the greater Portland area. I am a fan. But! Even if I weren’t a fan of her music, her awesome biopic and her sassy Grand Ole Opry getups, I’d be a fan of her feminism.

Not only was Lynn (born Loretta Webb, in 1935) one of the very first women to have a successful solo career in country music, she is also known for challenging the status quo with her music, often by singing songs of a very personal nature. For instance, she has been very open about her humble beginnings as a coal miner’s daughter (you knew she wrote a song about it, right?) growing up in the hills of Kentucky. Though this is a background that many people might be quick to stereotype (the term hillbilly is not exactly one of endearment) Lynn has always been proud of her roots and thus has defied commonly held notions of what it means to be a “country woman.”

Sure, some feminists might dismiss Lynn’s songs about domestic life (e.g., “One’s on the Way”, which btw was written by Shel Silverstein! Thanks, Wikipedia) as not really pushing a progressive feminist agenda, but Lynn’s songs about childrearing and married life highlight subjects and give voice to (primarily women’s) issues that are rarely talked about on the Billboard Charts, even to this day. To me, she has always been a pioneer when it comes to celebrating the often unsung experiences of many women. Lynn got married at 13 and had four children by the time she was 19 (she had two more children later in life), and though I personally can’t relate to her story or her songs about it I can imagine there have been many women over the years who have (and they are great songs, of course).

But, if that isn’t quite enough to sell you on Loretta Lynn, Feminist Icon, did you know she wrote a hit (and censored) song about birth control? It’s true!

“The Pill” is considered the first major song to mention oral contraceptives, and in a 1975 interview with Playgirl (yeah, I guess she did an interview with Playgirl) Lynn says she was congratulated after the song’s success by a number rural physicians who told her that “The Pill” did a great deal to highlight the availability of birth control in isolated, rural areas. Way to go, Van Lear Rose!

Of course, one thing about Loretta Lynn that makes her especially kickass is that she is still a smokin’ hot country lady performer at age 75. Do you remember this video from a few years ago? As a Portland native, I couldn’t have been prouder:

How awesome is it that Lynn is wearing her Grand Ole Opry gear and flirting up a storm with Jack White in this video? I love that she defies the notion that an older woman can’t be sexy, and she does it in a classy, fun, totally non-“cougar” way (I won’t name names, but there are some older musicians out there who could take a page from the Loretta Lynn Classy Handbook).

So if you’ve got a little extra time today, start your week off right with some Loretta Lynn. She’s been speaking out and speaking up for decades now – about childbirth, relationships, birth control, honky tonks, domestic life, coal mining, and more – and if we’re lucky she won’t quit anytime soon.

Note: I couldn’t quite work it into this post because I haven’t read it, but were you aware that Loretta Lynn (in addition to penning two autobiographies) wrote an autobiographical cookbook? Someone buy me a copy of You’re Cookin’ It Country, please. I want to learn to make “lemon whippersnappers”!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

'One's on the way' has feminist tendencies...

I love her so much. The song 'The Pill' is great, but I would argue that 'One's on the way' has feminist tendencies. After descriptions of her hectic household: baby needs changing, laundry needs to be done, coffee's boiling over—her husband calls from the bar. He tells her he's bringing a few army buddies home and when she asks him to pick up some items from the grocery store on the way, the line has already gone dead.

"Darn, there goes the phone
Hello honey, what's that you say?
You're bringin' a few old army buddies home?
You're callin' from a bar?
Get away from there! No, not you honey
I was talkin' to the baby
Wait a minute, honey, the door bell
Honey, could you stop at the market and...hello?, hello?"

I think she's using the song to point out the lopsided partnership she's in—something a lot of women could probably relate to. I suppose she doesn't make a point of saying she's leaving him (that's in tons of other songs), but still—I think she put that in there consciously to criticize the unequal division of labor.

Sure, she ends the song on this note:

"The girls in New York City, they all march for women's lib
And better homes and garden shows, the modern way to live
And the pill may change the world tomorrow, but meanwhile, today
Here in Topeka, the flies are a buzzin'
The dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin'
One needs a spankin' and one needs a huggin'
Lord, one's on the way"

But isn't she just saying many women, while perhaps wanting to, have a hard time participating in this movement or that metropolitan lifestyle due to time and money limitations?

I love stories like this.

I love stories like this. I've never been a huge Loretta fan (though I do love Coal Miner's Daughter because, well, really, how can you not?) so I didn't really think about her much in any context, let alone as a feminist icon. But she really is one, isn't she?

I know this is a really old

I know this is a really old post, but I stumbled upon it (thanks Google!). I love Lynn and everything she represents. However, she didn't write "The Pill." The song was written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan, and T. D. Bayless, and it's one of her few hits that she didn't write. I'm surprised no one caught this sooner, but this should be corrected. Thank you!

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