Remembering Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy died yesterday. She was well known for her 1972 feminist anthem, “I Am Woman,” which first made her a star. The New York Times notes:

Some male observers called the song — beginning with the words “I am woman/ Hear me roar/ In numbers/ Too big to ignore,” sung by a 5-foot-3 soprano — angry, man-hating, dangerous or all three.

I first remember Helen Reddy in the 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon. As a kid, I had the movie soundtrack, and I fell in love repeatedly listening to her solo “Candle on the Water.”

As a kid, I also remember encountering the phrase “I am woman; hear me roar,” most notably on Family Ties in my teens (especially the episode “Ladies Man,” season 2, episode 15—which doesn’t actually contain that phrase, despite my memory). I don’t remember “angry, man-hating, dangerous,” but there was a time in my life when I would probably have taken those ideas seriously. I grew up in a conservative home, indoctrinated to be a conservative. It’s fascinating that I also grew up on Family Ties and M*A*S*H.

“I am woman/ Hear me roar/ In numbers/ Too big to ignore.” When she authored those words, I was only 2 years old, and a woman could not get a credit card in her own name. Today, they fill me with awe and excitement, but also dismay: In the intervening years, gay marriage has become normal, trans rights have become sympathetic, and more people than ever have shed religion—and it’s all good. Yet we are still arguing over whether Reddy’s words are “angry, man-hating, dangerous.” We should have made more positive progress as a society by now.