Moby (as in the musician) apparently has a blog. On this blog, he blogs about stuff that’s not music. Apparently he’s pretty outspoken about many issues surrounding intolerance and hatred. I don’t know if it’s real sentiment or just an attempt to get more fame, but I really don’t care. What I do care about is his post on misogyny. I care not only because I’m a feminist who focuses on how pop-culture influences individuals and society, but also because the link between misogynistic lyrics and abuse/domestic violence is a very personal issue for me.
I’m not going to reproduce the post here (except to yoink quotes as my section headers). You can find it at the above link to read it. This post is not about moby, really, this is about me and my experiences with misogynistic music, domestic violence, and my “friends” who thought it was appropriate to marginalize my experienes by saying, “it’s just a song!” and other excuses like that. Just in case it wasn’t clear enough: the following material is triggering for domestic violence an abuse surviors. Read at your own risk.
I. Making a big issue out of something that no one else seems to care about
Go through enough of my “personal” section and you’ll find out that I was abused by my first boyfriend. He never took a bat to me, or even smacked me around, but all he needed were words to systematically destroy my life for the year and a half that we were together.
I’ve gotten used to the idea that most people don’t understand the form of abuse I went through because most of them have either given it or recieved it in lesser doses as a part of their “normal” relationships. When I bring up potential red flags with my friends they say I’m being “oversensitive” or when they see one of their friends being verbally abused they make excuses like, “Well, she’s not perfect either! I’ve seen her go off on him before.” Emotional violence is seen in our society as an acceptable, if not ideal, part of a relationship.
Case-in-point: the “boys will be boys” mentality. Just this weekend when I was out to dinner with my family, the subject of my female cousin’s now-ex boyfriend came up. I made the case, as I always do, that his behaviour (ditching her on their aniversary to get drunk with his friends, getting into fist fights with people, etc) was unacceptable. They – my uncle, aunt, uncle’s cousin and his wife, everyone except my male cousin who removed himself from the situation – ganged up on me, telling me that “he’s 20 years old.” And I, being 23, said, “Yes, that’s my point. He is 20 years old. He should know better.” But, no, they argued things like “girls mature faster”, “he won’t always be this way” (really? if no one tells him it’s not okay to act that way, why would he ever change his behaviour?), and my uncle even had the audacity to say that “men aren’t in total control of themselves.” He compared men to rabid dogs. Rabid. Dogs. It took all my willpower to not make a pithy remark about rape and rape culture, because that would have only served to make the situation worse.
The point I’m trying to illustrate this is misogynistic culture and the way even the most innocuous things can contribute to it. My family sincerly believed that “accepting” his behaviour (ie. dismissing the real hurt it caused because my cousin would “move on” eventually) was not the same as “condoning” it. But if we don’t speak up about these things when they happen, does our silence not imply our complicit acceptance? And if we continue to defend injustice because “that’s how life is”, does that not give a green light for the injustice to continue to perpetuate itself? My family members may never have raped anyone. Or physically abused them. Or even systematically mentally abused someone. But, even if they have never engaged in the “lesser” forms of emotional violence (which I doubt; I’m fairly sure that all of us have in some way or another), they are contributing to misogynistic culture by dismissing the importance of recognizing all violence as unacceptable.
II. Music that glamourizes misogyny
It’s no secret that misogynistic messages are part of many song lyrics, but yet so many people act shocked – shocked! – when you point that out. When you use clear-cut examples that talk about doing violence to women people pull up the, “Well, the musician wasn’t serious!” defence or say, “Chill out, it’s just a song!”. Instead of engaging in a discussion on how, and to what extent, these songs may contribute to Western culture’s continued silence on violence against women, they dismiss the possibility as unimportant or unreasonable. Or they act as if I was trying to say that there is a singular and direct causation between misogynistic music and violence against women. Please, these people know better than to confuse correlation with causation.
As with all problematic expressions of pop-culture, the “extreme” – and I use the term loosely in conjunction with the subject of domestic violence – examples are often dismissed out of hand. While I can understand the rationale – that a sane, rational person wouldn’t take a baseball bat to a woman in this day and age – it also misses a bigger picture: the impact isn’t confined to major violent outbursts, but can and does affect the way women are viewed and treated by our fathers, brothers, friends, and even other women. You can’t listen to music that degrades women without being affected by the message. And when you couple that with a blanket refusal to critique the music, and the culture it is a part of, what that means is that you internalize the messages and begin to see what they preach as normal and acceptable.
III. Maybe there’s no connection. Maybe there is. It’s disgusting that we even have to ask that question.
When I was still with my abuser, and quite aware of his hatred of women, I learned that he and his brother listened to Eminem. Loved his music. Loved to sing along to it. Especially the parts about raping and killing women. They’d be singing it while I sat in the room. I tried to bring the subject up, once. I was told that it was funny, you see, because Eminiem was just being offensive to create controversy. You know, singing about raping and killing women is funny. Ha. Ha. Okay, well, I expected that from him. I was too used to his other BS remarks that I just asked him to not listen to it/sing it in my presence and went on with my life, filing Eminem as another artist I never wanted anything to do with.
Who I did not expect it from, however, was my friends. On several occasions I got into arguments with them about the impact of the lyrics.
“Come on,” they said. “Eminem doesn’t really endorse that kind of stuff. He’s just a showman. And a good one at that, look how many fans his controversy has gotten him!”
“That’s not the point,” I replied. “The point is that there are people who listen to his music who believe in it. The message behind his songs is that it’s cool to treat women this way.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m going to run out and buy a bat to beat women with after I listen to his songs.”
The conversation would continue on in this vein with me explaining, for what seemed like the thousandth time, how Eminem’s violent lyrics had directly connected to the violence that I had experienced in my own life. Not that my personal anecdote swayed them in the least. One of them, who was intimately acquainted with many of the scars I carried from my abuse, had the audacity to respond to my story with, “Men get abused, too, you know.” I had no response to that; I was so shocked that he’d dismiss my arguments, and my very real and very painful experiences, with such a callous remark. Without Eminem, or others like him, would my abuser still been abusive? Certainly. But if we lived in a culture that condemned expressions of violence against women, it would have been a lot harder for him to pass off his violence as “normal”.
IV. You have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create
Musicians, actors, video game designers, journalists, writers, families, friends… we all have blood on our hands. We may not be criminal, or evil, but every time we condone violence with our silence, or our excuses, we are contributing to the problem. It is not enough for us to simply be against violence, we must actively be against it. And I, for one, am deeply troubled at the culture we’ve all helped to create.