How John Lennon Defended ‘Woman Is the N—– of the World’
On April 24, 1972, John Lennon released a new single: “Woman Is the N----- of the World.” Even at that time -- an era in which racial epithets were thrown around freely -- the title caused outrage.
Billboard called it “the most controversial record of the year,” with one jukebox programmer telling the magazine, “John Lennon should quit trying to make points with the American public and do his own thing, like go back to England.”
In a report issued at the time of the song’s release, the Los Angeles Times detailed that 300 stations across the U.S. had received the song. Only two were willing to play it. “With a normal Lennon record, all 300 stations would be playing it now,” noted Apple Records sales manager Tom Takayoshi.
Of course, Lennon didn’t use an inflammatory racial term in his song without reason. The former Beatle was trying to make a pro-feminism point, declaring that women were actually the most exploited members of society.
“I agree that a lot of people, Black and white, are slaves in the world,” Lennon explained,
“but each of them has his own slaves and that’s usually the wife.”
Listen to 'Woman Is the N----- of the World'
The song’s title actually came from Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, who originally coined the phrase during a 1969 interview with Nova magazine. In May of ‘72, the couple appeared on The Dick Cavett Show to further defend the tune.
“There was a few people who reacted strangely to it, but usually they were white and male,” Lennon remarked, before admitting he too had dismissed the phrase when Ono first said it.
“At the time I was more of a chauvinist than I am now, and I must say I was saying, ‘Well come on, what about this? What about that?’ And I argued a lot,” he revealed. “But then as, like everybody else, we talked more and more about it in the last two years it became more of a thing, and I had to find out about myself and my attitude to women.”
The words “Woman is the N----- of the World” kept coming back to Lennon’s mind, so he eventually approached Ono to create the track (which would officially be a Plastic Ono Band release).
“I said, come on Yoko. Look, this is it. You’ve said it here. I agree with you now. I think she is. She’s the slave of a slave,” Lennon recalled. “So we sat down together and we wrote, we tried to write together the whole story as best we could in a three or four minute song.”
Lennon’s use of the n-word was defended by California congressman, Ronald Dellums, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“If you define ‘n-----’ as someone whose lifestyle is defined by others, whose opportunities are defined by others, whose role in society is defined by others, the good news is that you don’t have to be Black to be a n----- in this society,” the politician remarked. “Most of the people in America are n------.”
Dellums’ comments echoed Lennon’s beliefs, and the rocker was happy to quote the congressman’s statement when defending his song.
“I think the word n----- has changed and it does not have the same meaning that it used to,” Lennon declared, reiterating that the song’s main point was to shine a light on women’s rights. “I really believe that women have the worst,” the former Beatle stated. “Whatever it is, however badly or poor people are, it’s the woman who takes it when they get home from work.”
“Woman Is the N----- of the World” made it to No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, no mean feat considering the lack of radio airplay it received. Still, it ranked as Lennon’s lowest charting single in his lifetime.