Happy birthday Loretta Lynn, country music’s original feminist icon

By the time Loretta Lynn turned 19, she had three children. By the time she turned 29, she was the number one female recording artist in country music, had her own fan club, and starred at the Grand Ole Opry. Today, Lynn turns 83, and has to her credit more than fifty albums, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a American Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award, and the best sequin-spangled wardrobe this side of Butcher Holler, the tiny Kentucky mining town where she grew up. She even has her own cookbook.

Lynn is a country music legend, one who shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. She’s also one of the most powerful examples of a woman blazing a trail in a male-dominated industry, introducing feminist issues into her lyrics at a time when very few women did. She taught herself guitar, became savvy to the ins and outs of the country music business world, and began writing her own songs. In the age of “Stand by Your Man,” (though bless you, Tammy) Lynn wrote about the real issues women face: single motherhood, equality, birth control, and the income gap.

Take “The Pill,” a song Lynn wrote about oral contraceptives at a time when they were still relatively new to the market. It was released in 1975 after a struggle with her record label over the contents of the song—advocating birth control at a time when it was still considered highly suspect. The song is about a woman taking control of her own reproductive cycle after years spent in a cycle of pregnancy and childbirth, a subject, you could at least guess, that was close to Lynn’s own heart. The song’s racy material got her banned from many country stations, but it also established her as a woman unafraid to speak her mind.

She tackled women’s issues in other songs, like the Shel Silverstein-penned song “One’s on the Way,” also about the treadmill of raising children, and “Rated X,” a song about the double standards between divorced men and women. “The women all look at you like you’re bad and the men all hope you are/ But if you go too far you’re gonna wear the scar of a woman rated X,” Lynn sang. My personal favorite has to be “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby,” about the advance of the women’s rights movement.

“How come you think you’re so smart an’ I’m the weaker sex?” Lynn asks. “There ain’t a man alive can match a woman, trick for trick…second class don’t turn me on at all.”

No kidding. Here’s to you, Loretta, for showing us all how to be first class for 83 years running.

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