Thursday, September 6, 2012

Loretta Lynn -- "The Pill" (1975)

I'm tearin' down your brooder house
'Cause now I've got the pill!

Only two months until election day -- this campaign's been so much fun that I hate to see it end!  I bet you feel the same way!

There's been a lot of talk about a "gender gap" in this campaign.  The polls consistently show that the majority of male voters favor Mitt Romney while the majority of females favor Barack Obama.  

But the real gap isn't so much male vs. female as it is married vs. single.  A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that married men favor Romney by 59% to 35%, while married women favor the GOP nominee by 55% to 40%.  Unmarried men favor Obama 51% to 41%, while unmarried women favor the incumbent by 57% to 32%.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1920, guaranteed American women the right to vote.  But many states had previously allowed women to vote.  For example, Wyoming's first territorial legislature granted female suffrage in 1869, and became the first state to allow women to vote when it was admitted to the union in 1890.  

And the Utah Territory gave women the right to vote in 1870, long before the LDS church disavowed polygamy.  (Non-Mormons in the state supported women's suffrage because they thought women would vote to support the legal abolition of polygamy.  Mormons supported women's suffrage because they wanted to counter the popular image that Mormon women were mistreated and exploited by their polygamous husbands.) 

Generally speaking, states west of the Mississippi were way ahead of those east of the Mississippi when it came to giving women the vote.

Here's a map illustrating women's suffrage in 1915.  The green states allowed women to vote in all elections.  The yellow states allowed women to vote for president.  The blue states allowed women to vote in party primaries.  The red states -- including all the original 13 states except for New York -- did not allow women to vote at all.

Most of the men who opposed female suffrage did so because they opposed prohibition, and many more women than men supported prohibition.  Those men didn't really care if women could vote or not.  They did care about whether they could continue to get whiskey and beer at the neighborhood saloon.

If women of childbearing age had to choose between the right to vote or the pill, which do you think they would pick?  I wouldn't be surprised if the majority chose the pill.

The pill had a dramatic effect on the lives of young women.  It had a dramatic effect on the lives of young men, too.

The oral contraceptive pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, but was not legal for married and unmarried women to use in all states until 1972, when the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried women.

Enovid -- the original oral contraceptive
Loretta Lynn, who was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, in 1932, was married when she was 15 years old and bore four children before she turned 21.  She released a number of records that speak to women who (like Lynn herself) grew up poor in rural areas, married young, and spent their twenties and thirties barefoot and pregnant.  

But her heroines are usually what Lynn's website calls "take-no-crap women" who take no crap from their all-too-often hard-drinking and philandering husbands (not to mention the tawdry sluts with whom they philander).

A very young Loretta Lynn
Her 1971 hit, "One's on the Way," contrasts the comings and goings of rich celebrity gals to the everyday life of a working-class Topeka housewife:

They say to have her hair done 
Liz flies all the way to France
And Jackie's seen in a discotheque 

Doin' a brand new dance
And the White House social season 

Should be glittering and gay
But here in Topeka, the rain is a-fallin'
The faucet is a-drippin' and the kids are a-bawlin'
One of them is toddlin' and one is a-crawlin' and
One's on the way

The narrator notes that "the pill may change the world tomorrow," but she herself obviously isn't on it.  As the song ends, she reiterates that she's pregnant yet again ("one's on the way"), and then exclaims, "Oh gee, I hope it ain't twins again."  (Lynn's youngest two children were twin girls.)

Here's a video of Loretta Lynn singing "One's on the Way" on a Muppets TV special:

By 1975, it would seem that our Topeka housewife has had a change of heart.  In "The Pill" -- which was recorded in 1972, but not released until 1975 because of its controversial subject matter -- the song's heroine takes advantage of the availability of reliable and convenient birth control to level the playing field with her playboy husband.

All these years I've stayed at home
While you had all your fun
And every year that's gone by
Another baby's come
There's gonna be some changes made
Right here on nursery hill
You've set this chicken your last time
'Cause now I've got the pill

The narrator has decided it's time to kick up her heels and make up for all those years she was tied down by her children:

This old maternity dress I've got
Is goin' in the garbage
The clothes I'm wearin' from now on
Won't take up so much yardage
Miniskirts, hot pants, 
And a few little fancy frills
I'm makin' up for all those years
Since I've got the pill

The songwriters of "The Pill" compare the constantly pregnant narrator to a broody hen, whose only function is to lay eggs and hatch chicks.  The song is full of poultry-related terms.  For example, the lines quoted at the beginning of the post refer to a "brooder house," which is a structure where young chicks are raised.  (I appreciate all the poultry references because some of my Arkansas aunts and uncles and cousins raised chickens when I was a kid, and I vividly remember my occasional visits to their chicken farms.)

A broody hen will roost on just about anything
Of course, it takes two to tango, and one reason that the singer of "The Pill" is constantly pregnant is that she likes having sex.  Now she can truly enjoy sex as often as she wants -- with her husband, or perhaps with someone else -- without having to worry about becoming pregnant as a result.

This incubator is overused
Because you've kept it filled
The feelin' good comes easy now
Since I've got the pill

"The Pill" climbed higher on the pop charts than any of Lynn's previous singles, but it made it only to #5 on the country charts -- which is bad only in comparison with the string of very successful singles that preceded it.  ("One's on the Way" was a #1 hit, and each of the seven singles Lynn released immediately prior to "The Pill" rose higher than #5.)  That's because a fair number of radio stations refused to air the record.

One of the stations that did not refuse to air "The Pill" was WHRB, the Harvard University radio station.  When I was a law student, I listened regularly to "Hillbilly at Harvard," a Saturday program that featured traditional country and bluegrass music.  (The show's slogan was "Country Music for Eastern New England," which was certainly accurate.  In those days, the next-closest country station was probably at least 500 miles away.)

One final note on the significance of "The Pill": Lynn once said in an interview that a number of country doctors had told her that her record had done more to promote birth control in rural areas than anything else.

Loretta Lynn in 2010
So who is Loretta Lynn voting for this year?  As far as I know, she hasn't said.  I'm guessing she'd go with the Republicans.  She has been close to the Bush family for a long time, and she's defended Sarah Palin: "I like her.  She's a good woman . . . . It makes me mad that they all put her down.  She's smarter than all of them and they put her down."  

And despite controversial songs like "The Pill," Lynn sounds like a cultural conservative.  She calls herself "an old Bible girl," and has a traditional view of marriage: "God said you need to be a woman and a man."

On the other hand, she is unhappy that the government isn't doing more to help the poor.  "I'd quit sending all this money overseas and try to help my people here," she said recently.  "Quit letting somebody borrow money that's already rich, help the poor out."  

Here's "The Pill":

Click below to order this song from Amazon.

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