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Today, Dolly Parton is hesitant to call herself a feminist. But she does say she lives a feminist life in practice. And back when she was a young girl growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, she participated in what she calls an “early feminist guerrilla movement” (aka retaliating against her brother after he’d beat her up).  

Dolly Parton in a 'Dumb Blonde' T-shirt
Dolly Parton | Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Dolly’s brother Denver frequently beat her up — this is how she retaliated

In Dolly’s first memoir, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, the “Coat of Many Colors” singer described her brother Denver as “mean.”

“He’s my brother and I love him, and I wish I could say he was ‘high-strung’ or ‘moody’ or make some other excuse, but the fact is he was just plain mean,” she wrote. 

Denver had a tendency to “harass and needle” Dolly. 

“He was always beating the tar out of me, and I couldn’t do much about it because he was older and stronger than I was,” wrote Parton. “This was the first evidence of a sort of male chauvinism mountain boys don’t necessarily grow out of, although they do tend to subdue it somewhat after two or three divorces.”

But the “9 to 5” singer could only take so much tar-beating. So she made a plan to retaliate. 

“I had begun a sort of early Appalachian feminist guerrilla movement,” she wrote. “My tactics were simple—to strike by surprise and then run like hell.”

Young Dolly had no problem holding grudges. So after her brother harassed her, she’d stay mad for days, planning her attack.  

“Then I would strike with the swiftness and severity of a red-tailed hawk,” she wrote. “I could sometimes get in a really good lick that would stun him long enough for me to haul a**.”

One time, Dolly’s plan backfired 

Dolly Parton as a child.
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Dolly can remember one time, in particular, that her plan backfired.

The “Jolene” singer was plotting a plan of attack against Denver on a day when her mom had locked the screen on the back door. Her father had just replaced the screen and her mother had sprayed for flies. To keep the kids from running in and out and ushering in more flies, she locked the screen shut.   

“I saw an opportunity to give him a good, hard shot from across the back of the couch and then beat a quick retreat, using the couch as an extra obstacle in my favor,” she wrote. “I seized the moment. I caught him with a hard right that felt really good. It must have hurt him because it was hard enough to hurt my own hand. That was a good hurt, and I relished it as I ran for the back door.”

Of course, when the “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer hit the door expecting it to fly open, it was locked shut.  

“That new screen Daddy had put in was stretched as tight as a banjo head, and it knocked me backward, landing me on my butt on the kitchen floor,” she wrote. 

She cried, due to the pain and hoping it would make Denver take pity on her, but to no avail. 

“Talk about beating a dead horse: He gave me a beating twice as bad as the one that had inspired my sneak attack,” she wrote. “I took the blows, but I still had that sting in my right hand that told me I had struck at least one blow for womanhood.”