The 1970s Culture Clash in 2 Songs
The feminist debate on Billboard's Hot 100.
November 27, 2013 - 9:30 am
Last week I went through my collection of old 45 records (LMGTFY if you’re under the age of 40) and ended up taking a trip in the Wayback Machine — back to the beloved songs of my childhood in the 1970′s. I wasn’t old enough then to understand the cultural implications of the songs and I was largely sheltered from the tumultuous cultural shifts of that era in my family’s suburban community. Listening to those songs now, knowing the history and the context (and also seeing parallels to today’s cultural conflicts), it’s interesting to see how these battles were both reflected in the music of the time and affected by it.
The year 1972 was a heady time for women’s rights. The first woman was admitted to Dartmouth, the first female FBI agents were hired, Sally Priesand became the first female U.S. rabbi and perhaps most significant, both houses of Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. Opponents of the ERA warned that if it passed, we’d see women in combat, the disappearance of single-sex bathrooms, and women losing custody of their children in divorce cases. (It seems ironic now that all of those warnings have come to fruition, despite the failure of the states to ratify the amendment.)
That same year, the Supreme Court heard Roe v. Wade, which became the law of the land a year later when the Justices of the nation’s high court discovered a previously unknown right to privacy in the Constitution. The ruling effectively invalidated most state and federal laws that placed restrictions on abortion.
Also in 1972, Australian-born singer/songwriter Helen Reddy won the Grammy award for Best Female Performance for her song, “I Am Woman.” In her acceptance speech, Reddy thanked “God, because She makes everything possible.”