Monday, April 13, 2009

Harper Valley PTA

I don't usually listen to country music, but I'm going to make an exception today! (I just don't like it that much... sorry country fans, I'm working on it!). Anyway, this weekend I was digitizing a bunch of vinyl records, and ran across this song:

It's a number-one hit (1968) about a woman who refuses to be slut-shamed!

There are a lot of things to like about Harper Valley PTA. For one, the mother is presented without judgment - just like she wants to be treated. In fact, the narrator seems to be quite proud of her mother! And better yet, there's no sexual undertones to the mother's character, like in so many modern country music songs. In fact, the mother's partners don't enter in to the song at all, except as 'rumors'. We're told she's widowed (this was '68, of course - I doubt she could have been allowed to be a single mother) but she is now apparently quite independent.

Furthermore, it's interesting how she exposes the PTA's flaws. She's not reversing the accusations. There's no "I might be trashy, but you're worse!" vibe present. She's merely pointing out that the others are just like her. It's equal opportunity hypocrisy-exposure as well - she mentions three men and three women. And the omnipresent low-key, almost bored tone common to most country makes her seem completely calm and non-judgmental, however strongly she may be making her point. There's no whiny bitching here.

Her point is, of course: "My life, my decisions - and the same goes for you."

Not too bad for 1968. Or, for that matter, today!

(By a curious coincidence, 1968 was the year that the modern feminism really began to heat up - first women's lib. conference, and all that!)

So now I'm curious - are there any other (proto)feminist/womanist country hits I'm missing?

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

I don't think it was ever a "hit," but I love "I Can't Do That Anymore," sung by Faith Hill and written by (!!) Alan Jackson.

Sample lyric:

Cut my hair the way you wanted
Watched you become important
Quit my job to make our new home far away
Now you're Mr. Successful and I'm queen of the treadmill
Trying to stay the size you think that I should stay
I used to dream about what I would be
Last night I dreamed about a washing machine

Also, check out Loretta Lynn's early work ("The Pill," "Fist City").