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Lesley Gore is a singer-songwriter best remembered for her 1963 smash single "It's My Party." Gore also scored hits with "Maybe I Know" and "You Don't Own Me."
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One song that stood out from the rest, however, was "You Don't Own Me," an unapologetic declaration that women are not objects that men can possess and control. Perhaps ironically, the song was actually written by male songwriting duo John Madera and Dave White, but Gore's powerful vocals and passion for the lyrics inspired teenage girls to not let boys push them around. The song held steady at No. 2 for weeks,
surpassed only by The Beatles world-changing smash, "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
As Gore explained the record: "When I first heard that song at the age of 16 or 17, feminism wasn't quite a going proposition yet. Some people talked about it, but it wasn't in any kind of state at the time. My take on that song was: I'm 17, what a wonderful thing, to be able to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and sing you don't own me."
Gore had to look far and wide to find female mentors in the male-dominated record industry of 1960s America. One who inspired her was feminist lawyer and politician Bella Abzug, who became a close friend. When Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn covered "You Don't Own Me" for the 1996 comedy The First Wives Club—a film about women taking revenge on their cheating, lying and manipulative ex-husbands—the anthem found a new lease on life for a younger generation of fans.
After graduating from high school, Gore continued to pursue music but did not let her career get in the way of higher education. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, an all-female university, and reserved summers and holidays for performances, recording sessions and tours. Later in the 1960s, Gore released singles such as "Treat Me Like a Lady," "He Gives Me Love (La, La, La)" and "California Nights," but she remained more focused on studying than performing, a move that ultimately slowed down her career.
At Sarah Lawrence College, Gore took courses in literature and drama, enjoying every minute of it: "I was a good student and I enjoyed school," Gore later said of her experience at the school. "The campus was kind of like a haven for me. A beautiful school and an excellent philosophy. They treat women like human beings, and they were doing that back then. It felt really good to ... feel good being a woman, and Sarah Lawrence had a lot to do with helping me feel that way."
It was also at Sarah Lawrence that Gore realized that she was a lesbian. Before college, she later explained, she simply had never had the time to examine her true feelings. "I had boyfriends," she said. "I was scheduled to get married ... All of that was part of the agenda at the time ... Part of the problem that I had ... was being out in the public. It was hard to even explore it. I wasn't even left that opportunity. When I talk to some of my gay women friends now who might just be a little bit older than me, they would come in from [Long] Island or New Jersey, and they would put on their black Levis and black jackets and run to the bars. I wasn't quite able to do that."
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