the working-class feminist who dresses like a Barbie doll

‘I’m for all the women, but I don’t need a label’: Dolly Parton – Ron Davis

Dolly Parton’s three passions are “God, music and sex”. As she wrote in her 1994 memoir, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business: “I’d like to say that I’ve listed them in order of importance to me, but their pecking order is subject to change without warning”.

These days, she emerges as an unlikely feminist heroine, who understands the intersection of class and women’s experience more than most gender studies professors, who loves her authenticity while drawing attention to her femininity fake “Don’t be fooled by my false eyelashes, because I’m not as useful as I am,” said the self-described “backwoods Barbie”. Her fans include drag queens and die-hard Republicans, but somehow she unites them, embodying a kind of inclusiveness that all world leaders could learn from.

I would imagine that it would be very difficult to say that this little, 77-year-old, beloved woman is not multifaceted. So it’s no surprise that Lizzo, Miley Cyrus, Elton John, Nikki Sixx, Steven Tyler, Joan Jett, Paul McCartney, Peter Frampton and Debbie Harry are just some of the people who appear on Parton’s new rock record, Rockstar.

Parton is clearly one of the smartest minds in the business, and that’s before we get to her amazing singing. She understood branding before we ever used the word. She fought tooth and nail and lived on scraps of food left over from hotel corridors to escape controlling male managers and doing things for her.

Her backstory of growing up dirt poor in the hills of East Tennessee really doesn’t leave her alone. Her mother married at 15 and they had 12 children. As they said at the time, there was always “one in her and one in her”. The family had nothing. Her mother and father would beat her, as did her brother Coy Denver. But she always had a strong desire – in My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Parton dryly writes that “mountain boys” like her brother would be courted after two or three divorces, at which point she would take revenge on her, describe her approach. as “the Appalachian feminist guerrilla movement”. This is the only time Parton ever uses the word feminism, although she will be asked about it, several times, throughout her career.

At 12, during her baptism, Parton became aware of her feminine power. In her memoir, she describes her wet cotton dress clinging to her “headlights”, and the boys say Hallelujah. In the church, she feels horny. Well, she realizes that she wouldn’t have given her these famous breasts if he didn’t want people to notice them. She loves sex and when she starts singing, she falls in love with the public, and they fall in love with her. She writes: “that’s the great thing about having a sense of humor and sex drive, you can’t wait to share it with everyone else”.

She creates her own make-up using the black ends of the lashes on her eyebrows and berry, and pokeberry juice to line her lips. She bleaches her hair and makes it bigger, wearing tighter and tighter outfits. The Dolly image was born and is a representation of femininity and class, as well as a type of armor. “I look like a woman but I feel like a man”, she writes.

The head is hiding an incredible gift of composition; songs often about abandoned women, dying children and grinding poverty. Those who are underestimated because of their nuclear bosoms get their co-huppance. In New York, when a man who caught me as a prostitute “started grabbing me in places I reserve for prostitutes of my own choice”, she pulls a pistol, and says, “you touch me one more time, my son — h and I will blow your nuts”. You don’t mess with Dolly.

The Women’s Liberation movement emerged in the late 1960s. Parton may not make public announcements about it or agree with it, but she still writes songs about the double standards of sex for women. For example, her 1968 hit Just Because I’m a Woman was based on the upset that her husband Carl Dean, ever gnomic and invisible, revealed that she had had sex before their marriage in her 20s. The song, which was banned by some radio station in the southern states of America, appears on the lyrics: “Now I know I’m not an angel / If that’s what you thought you got / Not I was just the victim / A man who lets me down / No, my mistakes are not worse than me / Just because I’m a woman.”

Indeed, several of her songs deal with the double standards women face: Bargain Store and The Eagle Flies both focused on the lives of working-class women. Bargain Store included the lyrics, “If you don’t mind all the merchandise being used / But with a little repair it could be as good as new / The bargain store is open, come on in”, and thus was banned on it appropriately. Parton wasn’t worried. “I wrote a lot of songs that people wouldn’t play on the radio, but I didn’t care about them…whatever I write is what comes out of me, and I refuse to be judgmental.”

The Eagle Flies showed Parton’s duality; to be resilient and vulnerable at the same time: “She is a woman, she knows how to banish it or take it all / Her heart is as soft as feathers, yet she weathers stormy skies. / And she is a sparrow when she is broken/ But she is an eagle when she flies.”

Then the sublime Jolene – an incredible address from one woman to another, and one of the most perfect and extraordinary songs ever written – and of course, 9 to 5, which Parton wrote while tapping her acrylic nails together, writing a song made by the universal woman. experience.

But every time Parton is asked about feminism, she brushes the question aside – ever wary of the conservatism of her country fans. “I don’t … I mean, I have to be if being a feminist means I’m all for women, yeah. But I don’t feel compelled to march, put up a sign or label myself. I think the way I have done my life and my business and myself, speak for itself. I don’t think it’s feminist. It’s not a label I have to put on myself. I’m only with gals”.

She has often said that she does not like to express her opinions: “I respect my audience too much for that. I really respect myself for that”. She has Republican friends and Democrat friends and the Dixie Chicks saw their career destroyed for speaking out against the war in Iraq.

Every part of Parton’s life seems to be lived as a feminist, no matter what she admits in public. She will dress as she wants, she was one of the first to talk about cosmetic surgery – nips and tucks “tits, butt and waist, eyes and chin and back again” – and brokers her own business deals. Early on, she was known to keep the rights to all her songs – over 3,000 of them – and refused to sign over half of the rights to I Will Always Love You to Elvis Presley. Whitney Houston’s cover continues to make her money to this day.

Her personal life is very traditional but again she makes her way. The eternal marriage to Carl Dean – who is never seen in public because he does not like “wingdings”, and in fact no one has seen them together for many years – is always praised by her. Parton, who never had children, even had her tubes tied without telling him.

In her book, she gives hints about affairs and addresses the rumor that she is having a lesbian relationship with Judy Ogle, her best friend since grade school who travels everywhere with her. “Forty years of friendship, Judy and I … one thing we have had to overcome is the persistent rumor that Judy and I are lesbian lovers. It is understandable. Most people don’t understand two women being so close and devoted to each other.” They sleep in the same bed and Parton doesn’t care who he knows.

Here, then, is a woman whose talent and wealth have given her the ability to live an independent life, breaking boundaries wherever she goes.

For her, the word feminist means hatred of man, so she retreats from it. Her younger sister warned her not to speak when the MeToo movement rose. Stella Parton, 69, said: “I’m ashamed of my sister for keeping her mouth shut. She can run it when it comes to something else, but talk about injustice, Dolly Parton. Speak Up. And speak out. Protect women, and do it only in a little song. Speak Up.”

Instead, Parton jokes that she is a woman who would only leave the house with no hair and make-up at gunpoint. She has even said that she sleeps in her make-up in case of an earthquake. She walked this tightrope throughout her life, confronting men’s behavior implicitly without alienating her fans. She never falls.

There’s really no one like Dolly, but she describes herself. Whether she declares herself a feminist or not, Dolly understands the lives of women in the working class better than anyone. Her ability to bring people together is the work of an instinctually harmonious political operator. Why isn’t she running the world? In a certain way, she is. As she says, “I’m just for gals.” Long live she king.

‘Rockstar is out now

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