How Aretha Franklin Took A Chauvinist Song And Made It A Feminist Song

Aretha Franklin was one of the best singers of all time. She outdid a lot of men in vocal performance and in wit, as is the case with the song “Respect.”

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin (photo via Mojo Magazine)

This was written by Otis Redding, who debuted it in 1965. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the song became a true hit with Aretha Franklin, but this time it had a feminist twist to it.

Let’s take a look at both versions…

One of the verses in Redding’s version goes like this:

What you want, honey, you got it
And what you need, baby, you’ve got it
All I’m asking
For a little respect when I come home

But Franklin took the song and made it her own lyrically and musically. Her version of the above section is:

What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect when you get home (just a little bit)

See what she did there?

She took a song about a man coming home to his girl who demands her respect and flipped it on its head. In a way, it’s a direct response to Redding.

In the original, he does all the work and then gives all of his money to her (“And I’m about to give you all of my money”). While she, apparently, sits at home waiting around, fully depending on her man.

But in her version, she equals things out by singing, “I’m about to give you all of my money.”

What she also did was make the song better overall. The whole R-E-S-P-E-C-T thing — that wasn’t in the original. Franklin added that, creating one of the most memorable hooks in music history.

This is a great story, especially given the time period. The 60s were turbulent times, mainly because of the Civil Rights Movement. The 60s were also difficult times for black women.

What most people forget (including me until doing research for this post) is that the original Women’s Rights movement was in 1848, which started with a convention in New York. What happened in the 1960s was just the “second wave” of the movement.

And Aretha was right there amidst it.

The second push from those in the feminist movement in the 60s was “activism that washed into the public consciousness,” charged by a bunch of different events during a decade drenched in change. Each pro-women thing that happened invited a new segment of the world into the movement.

So what Franklin did with “Respect” was not only a genius move musically, but also a genius move for women and feminists. Dare I say, it demanded women get the respect they deserve.

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