7 reasons Dolly Parton is the ultimate feminist icon

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·9-min read
Could we love Dolly Parton any more? Pictured in March, 2022. (Getty Images)
Could we love Dolly Parton any more? Pictured in March, 2022. (Getty Images)

Dolly Parton is the uniter of people. No matter your politics or your music tastes you can't fail to feel a fondness for the country queen.

Back in 2020 the 76-year-old melted any remaining impartial hearts when she donated $1 million of her own money to help fund the Moderna vaccine.

For this act of philanthropy alone, she deserves a sainthood and it is just one of many reasons Parton's popularity is utterly enduring.

Another is the way she champions women.

From believing "a woman would do a great job as president" to highlighting the gender pay gap and #MeToo fight, strong, independent women don't come much more badass than Dolly Parton.

It's unsurprising, therefore, that she is often been hailed as a 'feminist icon'.

But Parton is not altogether comfortable with the term.

Back in 2019 Parton dismissed the idea that she’s a feminist on the first episode of the podcast Dolly Parton’s America.

When asked by host Jad Abumrad if she thought of herself that way, she said, “No, I do not,” Parton said. “I think of myself as a woman in business. I love men.”

Read more: Dolly Parton opens up about maintaining her famous figure

However, when later asked why she has been hesitant to call herself a feminist she said it was “kind of a tricky question.”

“I suppose I am a feminist if I believe that women should be able to do anything they want to,” Parton said at Time magazine’s event Time 100 Talks: Finding Hope in May 2020. 

“And when I say a feminist, I just mean I don’t have to, for myself, get out and carry signs… I just really feel I can live my femininity and actually show that you can be a woman and you can still do whatever you want to do.”

The 9 to 5 singer added that she’s “not ashamed” of the label, but she doesn’t like titles.

“But I’m all for all our gals,” she continued. "I think everybody has the right to be who they are.”

While Parton may be hesitant to describe herself as a feminist, her actions and work ethic are just a few of the reasons she's held up as an empowered woman who helps to empower other women.

So the week of International Women’s Day (IWD) here's seven reasons to celebrate Dolly Parton as the ultimate feminist icon, whether she is on board with that accolade or not.

She’s the ultimate female boss

In addition to being one of music’s most successful artists (she’s sold over 100 million albums worldwide, written over 3,000 songs and won an incredible 9 Grammy’s), Parton also acts, runs a production company, owns a theme park and has co-written a Broadway musical based on her 1980 movie 9 to 5.

And that's before we even mention her charitable work (more on that later).

“I’m proud to be a woman, proud to be a woman in business, proud enough to do what I do,” she says of her portfolio career.

Dolly is the ultimate female boss, pictured performing at Glastonbury in June, 2014. (Getty Images)
Dolly is the ultimate female boss, pictured performing at Glastonbury in June, 2014. (Getty Images)

She refuses let age get in the way of her dreams

Parton may be approaching her ninth decade, but she doesn't plan on resting on her laurels any time soon.

Yep, the singer, producer, actor, theme park owner and campaigner, can now add author to her list of growing achievements, having just penned her first novel.

With the help of best-selling author James Patterson, the 76-year-old has released Run Rose Run, which draws on Parton’s own experiences in the music business.

It's bound to be a success, but then again everything Parton touches seems to turn to gold.

Watch: Dolly Parton dedicates ACM Awards to people of Ukraine

She flies the flag for women in male dominated industries

Country music might not have been the easiest scene to break into, especially for a woman, but Parton sure wasn't going to let that stop her tearing down the glass ceiling.

“It’s great for women to have ambition," she told Reese Witherspoon in the motivational series Shine On With Reese. "You gotta get out and work too.

“I mean, a lot of women can kind of hide behind a lot of stuff and just use excuse that ‘I didn’t make it ‘cause I was a girl.’ Well, you can make it… if you’ll get out and be willing to sacrifice and work for it. Ain’t no man gonna stop you if you’ve got the talent.

“You might have to work a little harder in your area, but it can be done. And I am a prime example,” Parton added.

Despite being consistently underestimated and undervalued in her early music career, Parton refused to let men in power stop her from doing things her way, which forged a powerful message of empowerment for females everywhere.

Read more: Amanda Holden shares IWD video dedicated to the women who 'lift up her life'

Parton isn't entirely comfortable with the term feminist, pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)
Parton isn't entirely comfortable with the term feminist, pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)

She's not afraid to do things on her own terms

Elvis wanted to record Parton's track I Will Always Love You with her, but despite being a big fan of the legend Parton turned him down.

The reason? It would have meant giving up half of the publishing rights. And though she was disappointed not to get to work with The King, she wasn't about to go ahead with a deal she wasn't comfortable with.

“I’d been invited down to the studio to meet Elvis and be there when he sang my song. That was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. Who doesn’t love Elvis?" she wrote in The Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self.

“But then Colonel (Tom Parker, Presley’s manager) called me the afternoon before the session and said, ‘You do know we have to have at least half the publishing on any song that Elvis records?’

“And I said, ‘No, I did not know that.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s just a rule.’ So I said ‘Well, it’s not my rule.’”

Parton revealed that she then “cried all night long, "cause I was so disappointed".

But that decision proved to be a smart one when Whitney Houston recorded the song for The Bodyguard in 1992, and it went stratospheric.

We could all learn a thing or too about self confidence from Dolly Parton, pictured in April 1976. (Getty Images)
We could all learn a thing or too about self confidence from Dolly Parton, pictured in April 1976. (Getty Images)

She's inspiring the next generation

Launched in 1995 and inspired by her father's inability to read and write Parton’s Imagination Library sends over a million free books every month to families with young children who may not have access to them otherwise.

The idea behind he organisation is to help encourage children to develop a love of reading as Parton knows how important this can be for their future.

"This program is one of the most important ways I know to improve the educational opportunities for children in your community," she says of her efforts.

“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister.

"Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”

Read more: International Women's Day 2022: Companies getting creative with their celebrations

She's a body confidence advocate

If there's a better female advocate for championing your own style we'd love to hear about it

From her bouncy blonde hair to her perennially pink lips and her unashamedly, low-cut, glittery get-ups, Parton is almost as famous for her iconic look as she is for her songwriting. And boy does she own it.

From dressing for herself: “A lot of people have said I’d have probably done better in my career if I hadn’t looked so cheap and gaudy," she once said. "But I dress to be comfortable for me, and you shouldn’t be blamed because you want to look pretty.”, to sticking it to the haters: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap”, Parton continually challenges expectations about women looks, championing the right to dress and behave however she likes.

She's also spoken out about the harsh societal pressures placed on young women in today's social media-lead world.

“I really worry a lot about young girls today because they think they have to look like the models or the people on television,” she said in an interview on BBC Newsnight. “We need to be accepting of ourselves in how we are.”

Despite the underlying 'love yourself' message Parton is also not afraid to laugh at herself: “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb…and I also know I’m not blonde.”

Preach Parton preach!

Parton has previously stuck up for god daughter, Miley Cyrus, pictured together in February 2019. (Getty Images)
Parton has previously stuck up for god daughter, Miley Cyrus, pictured together in February 2019. (Getty Images)

Read More: International Women’s Day – stylish buys that give back

She stands up for other women's style

Parton isn’t only an advocate for her own sartorial choices, but defends other women who opt to look a certain way too.

Most recently, she stuck up for goddaughter Miley Cyrus who faced criticism for her provocative outfits and performances back in 2013.

Parton said she could understand what Cyrus was going through having faced similar criticism about her own look back when she was starting out.

“Back in the day, doing my own things my own way, and dressing sexy and showing my cleavage and all that, I got a lot of criticism,” she told Sunday Times. “Lots of people thought I was making a mistake and that I was just trashy, which I was.”

Despite their similarities, however, Parton says she doesn't try to advise Cyrus as she believes she's got to find her own way.

“So I did go through that, but I don't give her advice,” she added. “Everyone has to walk this journey according to their own rules. That's what she's doing. And I lurve her.”

Watch: Dolly Parton says 'never say never' to selling rights to her entire music catalogue