by Dorothy Marcic
"Respect: The Musical Journey of Women" will be presented on Thursday, February 13, at 7:30pm, in the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Bernhard Music Center, at Williams College. Admission is free.
"Respect," which recently aired on CSPAN, is an engaging and entertaining look at the evolving roles of women in the 20th century. Using popular Top 40 hits, music, video images, and costumes, Dr. Marcic illustrates how, in the early part of the century, song lyrics resonated with women's dependency and submissiveness; echoed their rebellion in the late 1960s; and reflected their independence in the 1990s.
Currently a faculty member at Vanderbilt University in the Owen School of Management, Dr. Marcic started investigating her musical side after leaving a position as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Economics in Prague and moving to Music City - Nashville.
"I started taking singing lessons to help get acclimated, to relieve my culture shock, to learn to like it here," she relates. After months of study, she found a way to bring music to her management leadership seminars. "I came out dressed as Doris Day, sang a song, and people loved it."
A best-selling author and management consultant who speaks to major corporations and business leaders about gender diversity in the workplace, Dr. Marcic illustrates her points by belting out relevant songs. She continues: "Merely speaking isn't always enough to make my point.
Listening to the songs helps people reflect on how they were shaped by the music. Music is not only the soundtrack of our lives; sometimes it's the script as well. The popular songs of each decade are indicative of our values, our longings, what we relate to." Music speaks not only about where we are in our lives, says Marcic, but of how far we've come.
"Music tells the whole story of women's empowerment," she writes. Songs in the first half of the century were about dependent women, with lyrics about victimization, neediness and rigid gender roles. The songs were all about compliance, Marcic said: "I will follow him ... I'll do anything for you ... just be my baby ... even if you're no good and treat me bad, just love me and I'll stand by my man."
By the 1960s, songs were about women who rebelled and demanded respect. Women were angry and vented that vocally in such songs as Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me." Another case in point: Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking." Their anger was aimed at men, but as women entered the workforce in greater numbers, their anger was joined by the frustration and guilt that came with shifting roles and unequal pay, says Marcic.
The next two decades were replete with cynicism - Madonna's "Material Girl" and Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It?" - and about toughness, in songs like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Helen Reddy's anthem, "I Am Woman."
By the late 1980s, other themes such as inner strength and self-direction entered the top 40 in songs such as Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love." That theme perseveres to this day, along with lyrics that speak of self-confidence and wisdom, like Alanis Morissette's "You Learn" and Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone." Love's still going bad, but women are at least learning from their misery.
But what about the female singers of today, swaggering down the VIP carpet at the MTV Music Video Awards in outfits that would make Kate Smith weep, singing songs that would make Doris Day blush?
"Women want to feel power, and what better way than to wield power sexually?" Marcic says. "As women get more equality, we'll see less of that. There is a crop of strong independent women who are not doing sexually explicit music," she says. Included are such artists as Alicia Keys, India Arie, Sheryl Crow, and Sarah McLachlan.
This free public performance is sponsored by the Baha'i Club of Williams College. Dr. Marcic's book, "Respect: Women and Popular Music" and CD will be available for sale after the program. Her web site is: www.marcic.com. For more information, call (413) 458-8092 or (413) 743-2401.