I’ll just come out and claim it: I was an odd child. At the age of six I approached my parents and told them I intended to begin listening to country music. They weren’t really sure where I’d even heard of country music, and they found it really weird that a child would be attracted to a musical genre that in their minds revolved around drinking, divorce, and heartbreak.
But, I was persistent, and so they compromised. They started me on a Ricky Skaggs tape (given his Christian crossover appeal) which quickly opened the door to the rest of the bluegrass world for me. It didn’t take long to discover Loretta Lynn, a fellow Kentuckian with long brunette hair that looked like mine. I was smitten.
But it wouldn’t be until I was older that I’d fully understand the impacts of Loretta’s career on our culture and feminism at large.
In her frilly, traditional dresses, long nails, and made-up face, Lynn’s image may not scream outlaw to the modern observer. But make no mistake, she was a renegade. Despite her success, she actually had 14 songs banned from country radio at the height of her fame – most notable of which was a song called “The Pill.”
Loretta’s own label held the song hostage for three years, and when it finally dropped in 1975 I can only assume one could have heard the screeching out of Nashville all the way up in Knoxville. The song was a tongue-in-cheek narrative about a woman who was tired of being knocked up by her husband year-in and year-out, and who was grateful to now have control of her own reproductive cycles thanks to the pill.
You wined me and dined me
When I was your girl
Promised if I’d be your wife
You’d show me the world
But all I’ve seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill
I’m tearin’ down your brooder house
‘Cause now I’ve got the pill
In an email with Playgirl years later, Loretta claimed she’d heard from numerous rural doctors over the years who told her that her song had done more to advance acceptance of contraception in their regions than all their scientific pamphlets and materials combined.
Lynn herself was a social conservative Christian with six children, and she’d grown up dirt poor in Eastern Kentucky with a family of eight. So while the song has a playful manner, it’s likely Lynn knew well the struggles of married women who had no access to contraception. Poverty, the lack of autonomy, and the inability to enjoy sexual intimacy without the threat of another mouth to feed hanging over your head, these were the real issues underlying the lyrics in her song.
She refused to back down from the backlash the song received, even threatening to pull out of the Grand Ole’ Opry if they wouldn’t let her perform it.
That stand meant something to Southern, traditional women. It meant you could be feminine, love your kids and your husband, and still want to control your womb. If a woman like Loretta showed no shame for taking the pill, it erased the social stigma many others would have faced coming from similar backgrounds.
Why does all this matter here at BASEDPolitics? Because we believe that media and entertainment can change the culture, and politics flows downstream from culture. We believe progress comes from education, not government force. And we believe the free market can deliver both an education and the tools one needs to empower their own lives when the government simply gets out of the way.
In 2007, Lynn told Esquire magazine,“I wasn’t the first woman in country music. I was just the first one to stand up there and say what I thought, what life was about. The rest were afraid to.”
With her passage at the age of 90 this week, let’s hope others stand up to take her place.