by Carrie Ferguson, Staff Writer, The Tennessean
Sunday, June 16, 2002
PROFESSOR DOROTHY MARCIC ENTERTAINS AND INFORMS - in costume and through song - during her discussions about women as seen through popular music.
Women of a certain age smile and nod at Dorothy Marcic in complete and total "been there, done that" agreement.
"What did I hear growing up? 'Please love me, be my baby'" Marcic says, hands to heart. "Women without power were my role models."
Wrapped in everything from a pink, feathery jacket to a curly, blond wig - visual aids to enhance her point - Marcic's message was delivered through verse and song as part of a recent book-signing event.
The vehicle for this enlightenment is top-40 music of the past century. The words provide ample evidence that women have gone, as Marcic says, from needy doormat (I Want To Be Bobby's Girl) to rebellious teen-ager (You Don't Own Me) to secure adult (Wide Open Spaces).
"Women just didn't know the power that could be theirs," says Marcic (pronounced Mar-sick).
Her new book, Respect: Women and Popular Music ($26.95, Texere), is an eye-opening walk through the Billboard charts. It's hard to imagine a song about accepting a man's beating would have been popular in any age. But it was in 1922, when Fanny Brice had a top-10 hit with My Man.
Marcic, a Vanderbilt University professor of management and frequent lecturer on emotional intelligence and values-based organizations, stumbled onto the unexplored field when she prepared a talk, using some music, on the equality of men and women.
"As I went over the top-40 songs, I realized that popular music tells the story of women's empowerment in the 20th century, so I ended up making the presentation largely music," she said. "People loved it. They were in tears, so I realized I was on to something."
Marcic is a tall, elegant woman with a chic, short haircut. She speaks passionately and enthusiastically about history as seen through song. The book is filled with the reminiscences about particular songs by women and men from throughout the country and dramatic news and pop-culture events that were happening when a particular song came out.
For example: The Stepford Wives came out the same year Helen Reddy's powerful I Am Woman was released. Talk about contradiction.
Her nickname, Professor Pop, is apt. A professor, a wife and mother of three daughters, she has been a Fulbright Scholar in Prague in the Czech Republic. She wanted to be an actress as a child growing up in Wisconsin.
When she moved to Nashville six years ago, she figured why not take some voice lessons. The first time she sang during a leadership conference, the bankers gave her a standing ovation. She's got good pipes, though she's quick to note she is no Barbra Streisand.
"It feels I have come full circle," Marcic says. "Doing performing, but with more content based on research. So, it is the integration of my academic career with my early dreams."
The research and the extensive combing through lyrics was a trip into her own story, one of a girl who grew up in the 1950s and '60s. It's one that is shared by many of the women who come listen to her, those head-nodders. A friend of Marcic's told her it is a wonder the women of their generation grew up to nurture the women's movement, given the messages they got.
Marcic hopes women are inspired by how far they indeed have come and that they hear just how connected music is to our self-esteem and self-confidence.
It's about here that Marcic is quick to point out she's not putting the whole blame for doormat-dom on men.
"We were complicit," she says. "We had to come to a new awareness."
Marcic says that while women cry and relive painful parts of their history during her presentations, and cheer the I Will Survive years, men, too, are moved emotionally.
"Men come up in tears. One said his mother had been angry all her life. She had wanted to be a doctor and couldn't," she recalled
Another man simply said: "Now, I get it."
"I hope (men) get a sense of the journey of women, of women's longings and dreams and just how hard it has been sometimes to achieve those in the face of so many messages, which we sometimes internalize, telling us to be weak and dependent."
Thankfully, young women have a hard time fully getting it.
"I can't believe people would listen to those songs," says Marcic's 18-year-old daughter, Solange.
Solange, who has spent the past year traveling in South Africa, was most shocked by Sandy Posey's 1966 No. 12 hit, Born a Woman, whose lyrics claim:
"And if you're born a woman
You're born to hurt
You're born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on
And treated like dirt."
"That kind of song wouldn't go over well today," Solange says.
For that, her mother is thrilled.