'I Am Woman' By Helen Reddy Brought Feminism To The Pop Chart In 1972

By | December 9, 2020

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Helen Reddy in 'Midnight Special' in January 1973. Photo by: Paul W. Bailey/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

With six words -- "I am woman, hear me roar" -- Australian singer Helen Reddy summed up a moment in 1972, and did it in a chart-topping hit. Anthems of social justice and empowerment don't necessarily make radio playlists, but the "I Am Woman" phenomenon was bigger than pop music; it was capping a year that saw congressional approval of the Equal Rights Amendment, passage of Title IX, and the launch of Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine. Feminists, with their "women's lib" movement (as it was called then), were taking charge, in numbers too big to ignore. 

Long before Shania Twain celebrated feeling like a woman and Destiny’s Child encouraged women to be independent, there was Helen Reddy. Reddy was an unexpected superstar who empowered women with "I Am Woman," the first song to truly promote feminism. The 1972 tune made Reddy a symbol of feminism at the pinnacle of the women’s liberation movement. 

'I Am Woman' Was Inspired By The Women In Reddy's Family

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Source: NPR

Reddy was born in Melbourne, Australia and became a star in the land down under through a seemingly old-fashioned method: winning a talent show competition. Eventually relocating to Los Angeles with her then-husband and future manager Jeff Wald, she signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. She began her career with Capitol covering soft ballads, but one night everything changed. While lying in bed thinking about the strong women in her family -- her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts -- a phrase kept repeating itself in her mind. “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.” Reddy wondered whether there were any songs that celebrated the strengths and capabilities of women, but realized most songs about the assumed women were meant to serve and love a man, the stronger of the sexes. Reddy was inspired to prove that women were meant to “roar.”