Dolly Parton’s fight for women’s rights

Dr. Heather Riddell inspires next generation of social media specialists

March 19, 2022

Photo provided by Dr. Heather Riddell

Photo provided by Dr. Heather Riddell

When you think of Dolly Parton, many things may come to your mind. From her assortment of big blonde wigs to her country music and of course, Dollyworld, Parton is widely known for her work in the music industry.

However, her success in her music isn’t the only thing that makes Parton who she is.

While people often don’t immediately associate her with the fight for women’s rights, Parton is a passionate advocate who has made great strides in the movement both in and outside of the recording studio.

Themes of activism and overcoming hardships can be found throughout Parton’s music over the years. Her use of implementing activism in her lyrics dates back to the 1960s in songs such as “The Bridge” and “9 to 5.”

Parton used the 1980 film “9 to 5” to help highlight the struggles women in the workforce faced throughout the 1900s and beyond as women became more prevalent in the workforce. The movie covered several of the challenges women faced, from the gender pay gap to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The movie was on a mission to show women around the country from the big screen that they deserve to have rights and respect in the workplace. From the writing of the screenplay to the lead actresses, women were heavily involved with the production of the movie.

Still Working 9 to 5

The 2022 documentary, “Still Working 9 to 5” which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2022 takes a look at the past 40 years since the release of “9 to 5” and the evolution of gender inequality in the workplace.

In 2018, Parton was chosen to contribute to Jad Abumrad’s podcast album “27: The Most Perfect Album” which included songs about each of the amendments. In recognition of the long-fought and won fight to allow women the right to vote, Parton’s song from the album was called, “19th Amendment.”

WNYC Studios

“Being lucky enough to be a successful woman in business, I wanted to exercise my right to write about the 19th Amendment to praise and uplift women,” Parton said during an interview regarding the release of the song. “Of course, I did a fun take on my song ‘A Woman’s Right,’ and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I, some good gals, and a few good guys did putting it together for you.”

Women’s rights are not the only topic Parton is willing to speak up about. She is known to stand up for human rights movements from marriage to racial equality. She even established Dolly’s Imagination Library in 1995 to help provide children with books to read.

Just as Parton has used her passions to inspire others, Riddell’s passion for social media education and innovation inspires her fellow faculty members and students to find their passion within their works.

Upon graduating from Clemson with a master’s degree in Professional Communication, she began working in the public relations industry where she came to learn the importance of digital media. From there she went on to pursue a Ph.D. in communication and now uses her education combined with her industry experience to cultivate academic courses suited to prepare students to enter the competitive digital career field.

“The UWF community is so incredibly fortunate to have a colleague and scholar like Dr. Riddell,” UWF professor, Dr. Adam Blood said. “She has continually created new and innovative opportunities for students to discover their passions and learn new skills.” 

Blood says that Riddell is not only highly respected amongst faculty, but she’s also consistently invested in the mission of both the communication department and the university.

“I constantly hear from others at UWF who have spoken glowingly about Dr. Riddell, her fun and engaging classes, and the support she offers to students,” Blood said.

For Riddell, the most rewarding part of being a professor is getting to see her students go on to land their dream jobs.

“I teach because I enjoy interacting with students and I saw that I could help students learn in the classroom what I had to learn on the job. I was lucky to have great professors and professional mentors who allowed me to grow and succeed. I hope to do the same with my students and colleagues.

— Dr. Heather Riddell

UWF student Darien Hardy has taken multiple classes with Riddell throughout her undergraduate studies.

“She is incredibly thorough in her lessons, and she truly cares about the success of her students, Hardy said. “She has been such a supportive figure in my undergraduate degree program.”

Riddell continuously seeks to increase the knowledge and literature surrounding digital communication as a researcher. She enjoys seeing the influence digital media is having on people and society. UWF professor Dr. Christofer Fenner has worked with Riddell both in research and in the classroom.

“I’ve had the privilege of team teaching with Dr. Riddell each semester for the past two years and her enthusiasm and dedication to students is inspiring,” Fenner said. “Dr. Riddell constantly revamps and updates her courses based on emerging trends in social media and her research, and she is passionate about student-centered education.”

Fenner and Riddell have co-authored two research articles together, “Hey Google: A thematic analysis of Twitter users’ comments on the privacy of AI devices in the home” and “User-Generated Crisis Communication: Exploring Crisis Frames on Twitter During Hurricane Harvey.” 

“Dr. Riddell and I have very different writing and organizational styles, she is meticulous and will set daily writing goals for herself where I tend to be more deadline-driven,” Fenner said. “At first, I think that drove her a little crazy, but we’ve developed a rhythm that works well for us and I am always appreciative of the focus, drive and creativity she brings to her work.” 

UWF graduate student Rachel Hyde has had the chance to take classes with Riddell at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Hyde has seen firsthand how Riddell continues to go above and beyond to provide her students with the resources to help them find success, such as the social media lab in the communication building. The lab is filled with equipment to help students create the best content that they can.

 “Dr. Riddell is truly one of the brightest souls in our department. As a student who has had her in both my undergraduate and graduate years, I can attest to her ability to bring real-world and career-centric applications to everything she teaches,” Hyde said. “In addition to what Dr. Riddell brings to the table as a professor, she is also simply a wonderful human with a smiling face that I always look forward to seeing around the building!”

Milena Ghtait is a graduate student who is currently working as Riddell’s Graduate Assistant.

“Dr. Riddell has been such an incredible mentor to me,” Ghtait said. “I love how supportive she is of my decisions and how she allows me to have creative freedom when we are working on social media content.”

Though she hasn’t graduated yet, Ghtait already knows that she is going to miss having Riddell as a mentor when the time comes for her to move on from the university. “She is extremely knowledgeable and I love working with her,” Ghtait said. 


Writer’s Reflection

Having transferred colleges amid the pandemic, I spent three of my five semesters for undergrad at UWF in an online bubble. I didn’t really know anyone and I didn’t really need to. Every day I hopped online, took my classes from home and did my homework. When that day turned into the next, I repeated the process.

As someone who’s naturally in tune with nonverbal communication, coming into the in-person setting and picking up on people’s nonverbal cues again was overwhelming.

Dr. Riddell was the first professor I met after coming back from the land of Zoom college. I’d taken her and Dr. Fenner’s asynchronous online class a year prior to coming on campus, but I figured the likelihood of her connecting me to one of her many online students over the course of virtual learning was slim to none.

But, I was wrong as she remembered the fact that I took her online class, which immediately showed me just how much she valued each and every one of her students.

Keeping quiet and laying low in the classroom setting is typically my go-to, but I talked more in Dr. Riddell’s class than anyone else’s. It doesn’t take long to realize that she teaches not to just do a job but to give students the tools they need to be successful. Her classroom is a place not to be criticized, but instead to engage in relevant conversations and diversify your digital skills.

When I was in need of a consultant to help with the survey portion of my undergraduate thesis, Dr. Riddell jumped in, no questions asked. From then on she’s been right there, ready to help at any given moment through my thesis process.

She always gives her time, expertise and support whenever needed and eagerly welcomes me into her office to chat about social media trends or strategize quantitative research methods.

She has not only given me social media skills that I use on a regular basis but her consistent and genuine support of everything I do has been a priceless asset to my growth at UWF. Her drive to delve into research and continuous effort to improve her curriculum are more than inspiring.

I am beyond excited to know that I will get the chance to sit in her classroom again as a graduate student.



Dolly Parton has been fighting the good fight for decades, Consequence Sound

Is there anything we can agree on? Yea Dolly Parton, New York Times 

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