Times Staff Writer

In 1972, the burgeoning women’s movement found its rallying cry in the words of Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman.” Today’s young women, however, are relating to a very different sentiment as they sing along with Madonna’s “Material Girl.”

We’ve come a long way, baby?

Not according to the woman whose recording of “I Am Woman” became her first No. 1 hit and--more significantly--catapulted her into the role of spokeswoman for women’s rights.

Helen Reddy, who clearly isn’t entirely pleased with what has happened to women and the music business in recent years, will discuss her career and how it has intertwined with feminism today at 8 p.m. in the UC Irvine Science Lecture Hall in a program aptly titled “I Am Woman.”


“I don’t follow music anymore; I haven’t for several years,” Reddy, 43, said in a recent telephone interview from the Santa Monica offices of Helen Reddy Inc. “Maybe it’s because there isn’t anyone singing about things I can relate to . . . Maybe it’s something to do with age. I complain to my kids that their music is too loud, and when I listen, it’s the same Elvis Presley records that my mother told me to turn down. So it’s the same music.”

As for contemporary women rock stars such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, Reddy said, “I’m turned off by their appearance.”

So disenchanted is Reddy with the music business that a decade after the Australian-born singer last charted a Top 10 hit, she says she has no incentive to record again.

“I’m involved in a lot of projects, and not one of them involves me singing,” Reddy said. “There’s no money to be made in music because of (home taping). It used to be that people would go out once a week and buy five or six albums. Now one person buys the album and nine other people tape it. So you have to make tours of the country to make any money on records. And I don’t want to get a punk haircut and wear a dress half way up my kazoody to go on the road.

“When Tina Turner had her big smash, besides being happy for her, I thought, ‘Now that poor woman has to go on the road for the next 10 years,’ ” said Reddy, who was born into a show business family and has been performing since she was 4.

Although she said she has no plans for making more records, Reddy still performs in concert periodically. But today’s excursion into the world of lecturing will be a new adventure for her.


“This will be my first speech per se --the first time I’ve gotten up just to talk about me, my life and my career,” she said. “But for many years I’ve given speeches on behalf of political candidates. I’ll see how this one goes and if it’s a positive experience, I may do more.”

She also plans to make her presence known in other facets of the entertainment industry. Her company is currently in pre-production on a self-defense videocassette for women, and she also is planning to bring some theatrical productions from her native country to the United States.

“There’s been a lot of interest in Australian music and films,” she said. “It’s time American audiences were exposed to some of the Australian plays. There are some wonderful Australian playwrights.”

While other business ventures may have replaced her involvement with the record industry, she remains a vocal advocate of women’s rights. In the 13 years since “I Am Woman,” Reddy said, she has witnessed many changes for women: some positive, some negative.

“During the last 10 years, a lot of things have changed in subtle ways so that most people may not be aware of them,” she said. “For instance, 10 years ago you wouldn’t have had a woman (anchoring) the news because people thought a woman doing hard news wouldn’t be taken seriously. Now, almost every news show has a female co-anchor. That’s one of the more visible changes.”

On the other hand, the images of women portrayed in mass media “have absolutely gotten worse,” she said.


“I’ve been very lucky to be able to earn my living as a live performer and not be dependent on television or film. But I have lots of friends working in TV and movies and they have found that if you’re not blonde, 18 and have huge tits then you are not even considered (for roles).

“I was just talking to a woman friend who is in show business and just came back from a tour with a big star, who shall go unnamed. I asked her how the tour went and she said the big star was bothering her every night with sexual harassment. That’s something else that women still have to deal with daily.”

Reddy has no sympathy for groups such as Concerned Women for America, a politically conservative Christian organization she read about recently. Among its members are women who renounced feminism because they claimed it caused them “a world of grief” in their lives and relationships.

“It’s not for me to comment on their personal lives,” Reddy said curtly, “but when I hear that it’s the same as hearing a black person say that civil rights has caused nothing but trouble, and they would rather be back on the plantation as a slave. That makes just as much sense.

“Some people don’t like being their own boss. But others do. It’s called freedom of choice, and that’s what the movement is all about.”