Women’s History Month: Songs That Broke Barriers

CMT highlights songs from Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Mickey Guyton and more

Many of country music’s female artists have earned some of their most memorable hits through writing and/or recording music that speaks to the hopes, dreams, struggles, and regular experiences of everyday people.

Artists including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Reba, The Chicks, and Mickey Guyton have used their music to break down barriers and call attention to topics including gender inequality, workplace discrimination, equal rights, racial discrimination, birth control, and double standards. Along the way, they’ve opened doors for both music fans and fellow artists for generations to come.

Below, we highlight a few ground-breaking songs from some of country music’s most powerful artists:

Kitty Wells, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”

Even with her gingham-clad, prim and proper image, Kitty Wells smashed barriers for female artists with this defiant 1952 hit, a retort to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.” In Thompson’s song, he expresses his regret that his bride-to-be is being unfaithful, driving the point home with the lyric, “I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels.”

Wells’ answer song places the blame squarely on unfaithful men for creating women who do the same. “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” became the first No. 1 song on Billboard’s country chart by a solo female artist, and spent six weeks at the pinnacle.

Key lyric: It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women/It’s not true that only you men feel the same/From the start most every heart that’s ever broken/ Was because there always was a man to blame

Loretta Lynn, “Rated X”

Lynn’s “Rated X” challenged social stigmas surrounding divorced women. The song simultaneously encouraged women to leave bad marriages, but was also frank about the double standards they faced after divorce. It topped the country chart in 1973, becoming Lynn’s sixth No. 1 hit. “Rated X” is from Lynn’s album Entertainer of the Year, a nod to Lynn’s becoming the first female artist to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1972.

In her book Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics, Lynn said of “Rated X,” “The song, I think was kind of taken wrong by some women. Some wrote me and said I was looking down on divorced women. If they had listened real good, they would have got the story right. I was taking up for divorced women. Once you have been married, if you got divorced or became widowed, every man takes it for granted that you’re available, that you’re easy….That was the story I was trying to tell—I was talking to the men, trying to set them straight.”

Key lyric: Well, if you’ve been a married woman/And things didn’t seem to work out/Divorce is the key to bein’ loose and free/So you’re gonna be talked about

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