The new A&E biography about legendary country music singer Dolly Parton spends a good bit of time talking about her politics. Parton has always managed to deftly walk a bipartisan line, counting both sides of the ideological spectrum amongst her fans. She doesn’t go on the record about political issues, but Parton does practice her own brand of feminism, which her friends say is very smart — much smarter than most people probably give her credit for.
Dolly is a Feminist… But Not in So Many Words
Parton says in her biography that her version of being feminist stems from the fact that she never for one second even considered that she couldn’t do something. She was going to be a famous star and being a woman didn’t have anything to do with it.
“People ask me if I’m a feminist and I love men, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always had one of my own and I love men … but I’m all about being a woman and we are who we are and when I started out, it never crossed my mind that I couldn’t do it because I was a woman. I was just gonna do it,” said Parton.
Her biographer, Lydia Hamessley, adds, “One way that we see Dolly’s feminism is in her marriage because she arranged that so it was understood that she was not going to stay home and cook and clean. She had a plan for a career and she made it very clear from the outset that that was her plan.”
Hamessley also cites Parton’s 1968 single “Just Because I’m a Woman” as another example of her feminist attitude because it’s a song “calling out the sexual double standard” of the 1960s.
“What Dolly’s doing in ‘Just Because I’m a Woman’ is really calling out the sexual double standard of the time and saying, ‘You had sex before we got married? It’s no different if I had sex before we got married,'” says Hamessley. “And I think she’s not just talking to her husband about their personal situation, but she’s talking to everyone and it sums up a larger idea about women and equality.”
“Now you look back at it, it’s kind of one of the first #MeToo movement songs. I don’t like that word so much anymore, you hear so much of it. But it’s really like women taking responsibility for themselves and not wanting to be blamed for everything that happens or to think that we don’t have some power and can’t stand up and speak out for ourselves,” adds Parton.
Parton’s Friends Say It’s Dangerous to Underestimate Her
In an interview for the documentary, Parton’s friend and 9 to 5 co-star Jane Fonda says, “You underestimate Dolly at your peril and Dumb Blonde is a perfect way to launch a career. She’s so smart.”
Fonda adds that Parton has managed to bridge the political divide, which is an extraordinary feat.
“Dolly won’t do anything that will render uncomfortable the people who love her and it’s a very broad swath of people, I think, politically, very broad. Socially, economically very broad. She is first and foremost an entertainer, she wants to make you feel good, so if she feels that identifying as a feminist will make some of those people who love her uncomfortable, she’s not going to say that, but her life is the life of a feminist, which means a woman that has fought to realize herself, to actualize her full self.”
4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry, with whom Parton has collaborated several times in recent years, adds, “She’s mastered the design of how to be a woman and succeed in this business without making a man feel bad. In fact, without making anybody feel bad.”
The Dolly Parton A&E biography airs Sunday, April 12 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by Willie Nelson: American Outlander, a special concert that pays tribute to Nelson’s seven-decades-long career.