Dolly Parton Refuses to Be Politically Pigeonholed

In this politically contentious time we live in, many members of the partisan media attempt to portray popular music artists in a political light even when it’s not pertinent to the situation, or even when the artist doesn’t want to be (see Kacey Musgraves). And if the performer refuses to play ball, sometimes the media will outright imprint political leanings upon them to fit their poptimist agenda, often by twisting their words (see Eric Church’s Rolling Stone cover).

But Dolly Parton continues to refuse to be played. Though she certainly has her own set of personal opinions, has spoken out in favor of gay marriage in the past and such, and as a strong woman she often gets labeled as a feminist, she continues to refuse any specific labels or party affiliations, despite the coaxing of the media.

A recent interview with The Guardian once again attempted to get Dolly Parton to commit to certain political alignments, as many interviews with the Country Music Hall of Famer and cultural icon have done before. But Parton wouldn’t budge. When asked if she doesn’t take political affiliations for personal or professional reasons, Dolly Parton responded,

“It’s for both. I’ve got as many Republican friends as I’ve got Democrat friends and I just don’t like voicing my opinion on things. I’ve seen things before, like the Dixie Chicks. You can ruin a career for speaking out. I respect my audience too much for that, I respect myself too much for that. Of course I have my own opinions, but that don’t mean I got to throw them out there because you’re going to piss off half the people.”

The premise of Dolly’s discussion with The Guardian was the opening of a new theatrical interpretation of the classic film 9 to 5 that Dolly starred in with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in 1980. The story follows three women turning the tables on their misogynistic boss, which has made the movie into a feminist institution in many people’s eyes. But Dolly stops short of assigning the title “feminist” to herself.

“I don’t think … I mean, I must be if being a feminist means I’m all for women, yes. But I don’t feel I have to march, hold up a sign or label myself. I think the way I have conducted my life and my business and myself speaks for itself. I don’t think of it as being feminist. It’s not a label I have to put on myself. I’m just all for gals.”

Dolly Parton says she’s experienced sexual harassment in her career, but may have even been on the giving end as well.

“I come from a family of six brothers, so I understand men and I’ve known more good men than bad men. It’s a man’s world, and it’s not their fault any more than it is just life and … we have allowed it to happen. I think people now see that we’re here, and women are very important, and they need us, just as we need the men. But if someone was getting real aggressive with me, I’d scream or throw something at them. But, of course, I’ve been hit on—I’ve probably hit on some people myself!”

The truth is being against sexual harassment, and for the equal treatment of women does not have to constitute a political stance, or require making a political affiliation. Though The Guardian regards Dolly Parton’s coyness on political issues as not wanting to upset her “core fanbase of southern Republicans…” most everyone believes women should receive equal rights, Southerners and Republicans included. The idea that some people don’t is just as much a machination of the media as anything.

It also glosses over just how well Dolly Parton is universally revered by folks of all political stripes, including Northern Democrats, non country fans, and a strong contingent within the gay community. Dolly Parton remains one of the few things Americans can still agree upon, despite the best efforts of the media. That’s what makes Dolly Parton such an important figure, and now more than ever. She helps to bridge a divided culture, and binds wounds through the universal language of music.

“I enjoy what I do,” Dolly Parton says in the interview. “I enjoy being loved—I love that. I always ask God to let me shine a light and uplift mankind because that is my purpose. I look fake, but my world is real to me.”