Mainstream’s glorification of rape culture and domestic violence.

Before I had worked with adolescent male sex offenders and devoted an unruly amount of time deciphering the lyrics to popular ‘top 40’s’ music, I had never quite noticed the inconceivable lyrics that today’s pop stars sing and subsequently our society’s young people sing and worship every day. These kids look up to famous artists as if they should be honorable mentors or ‘role models,’ while blindly listen to their music and singing their lyrics without truly understanding the messages that these ‘role models’ are condoning and reinforcing within each song.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a young, progressive, woman who shares a popular liking for the ‘four-chord’ mainstream songs, as much as the next person. I am not shocked nor offended by sexuality or a creative spin at the mundane or dysfunctional. Hell, I can even appreciate the first amendment right for an artist to create whatever they feel is ‘art,’ this is a free country and all. Nevertheless, what I find upsetting is the media’s choice on what becomes popular and what does not. I know that we would all like to believe that we live in a free market and that the people choose what becomes popular and mainstream, but I am here arguing that although this idea fits the American dream, is it not necessarily the case. The media (radio stations, managers, music labels, people with power and money) are the ones who pick and choose what they want to air and what they feel will be the most mesmerizing to the public. Therefore, from a very young age, we are slowly being brainwashed to accept the music that we are given and subsequently, love it.

So what I am arguing is that someone, somewhere, who is obviously aware that the majority of people who listen to pop/hip hop/rap are under the age of 21 (Survelum Public Data Base) had decided to play Katy Perry’s song ET instead of any other of her 100 songs, which were obviously, not considered ‘single’ material. Same goes with Eminem and Rihanna’s very popular (my least favorite) song, Love the Way You Lie.

Lets discuss these songs, shall we?

ET is a song about an alien who is personified as a man and a woman who is perhaps, arguably obsessed with this aliens affection. However, it does not stop here. The song continues to represent several common themes within domestic violence and rape culture. I have struggled with expressing this metaphoric theme to some community members because, of course, the song does not overtly describe alien rape, but if you are educated in the field of rape culture, the lyrics explain themselves:

‘Take me, ta-ta-take me, wanna be your victim, ready for abduction.’

Now, how can you sing this line and argue that it doesn’t glorify rape or sexual violence? Not only is the song directly saying the term victim, which by definition means ‘someone who suffers from a destructive action’ but this line also states that the narrator wants to be a victim, in other words, Katy Perry is singing about how she wants  to be offended, which sets our society back several years in the progression from victim blaming and reinforcing the lack of accountability on the side of the abuser. Which is already a major problem in the realm of ending rape culture, because in our society we put the emphasis on how the victim could have ‘prevented’ being raped or abused, instead of putting the emphasis on the abuser not raping!

In my experience working with offenders, its not uncommon for abusers to use these negative ideas as justifications for their behaviors, such as ‘they liked it’ and my least favorite, ‘they were asking for it.’ The line above really infuriates me, because society has been working hard at revamping our understanding of the prevalence of American Rape Culture and when we have little girls singing out that they ‘want to be a victim’ without understanding what that even means, is humiliating to both us as a culture and as a country.

If you are not already infuriated with the aspect that children are singing songs that beg to be victims of abuse, take Kanye’s famous line, within the song:

‘First I’ma disrobe you, then I’ma probe you, see I abducted you, so I tell you what to do, I tell you what to do’

So the rape saga continues. Only now the song takes it even further, now the ‘male’ alien is exerting his dominance over the narrator in a very misogynistic and aggressive way. He asserts to the narrator that she has no other choice, because he is now in control of her. Now, lets go back to Rape 101… rape and domestic violence are reinforced through two major themes, Power and Control. Period. So not only do we have a song that reflects a victim that is asking to be offended, but now we have a male character exerting power and control and glorifying it through a catchy rap. I am disgusted. So yes, it can not be argued that this song is innocent in nature, because the majority of people who are listening to Katy Perry are females who are under the age of 21, meaning youth. We have a culture of  youth who are obsessing, singing and dancing to a song about alien rape. Awesome.

This was only one depection of mainstream media that reinforces rape culture and domestic violence. I would like to now introduce you to our country’s musical downfall: I Love the Way You Lie, by Eminem and Rihanna.

While this song is a rather honest and truthful in the emotions of being caught up in the cycle of violence, it is also a very cruel depiction of the horrors of domestic violent relationships. Being an advocate for survivors of domestic violence for close to two years now, I am upset with is the fact that this horrifying portrayal is glorified and left un-resolved, while reinforcing the justifications of the abuser and depicting the survivor as weak, nasty and rather accepting of her fate. Now, I understand that a lot of abusive relationships end in a negative way, but why must that be what our culture obsesses over and leaves the listener thinking about? Why would anyone think that a song that glorifies domestic abuse, such as this, would be the top choice for young people to sing blindly all over the country?

Lets break it down by narrator, so Rihanna, who plays the ‘victim’ (I say victim instead of survivor because this song depicts her as so, even so much as to ending the song with her being murdered by her abuser) sings the chorus, which is the the few lines that are repeated over and over again, leaving her acceptance and weakness as the main message of the song.

‘Just going to stand there and watch me burn, that’s alright because I like the way it hurts, just gonna stand there and watch me cry, thats alright because I love the way you lie.’

Now, there are obviously many reasons why this song reinforces the cycle of violence, but for starters, the song (like in ET) argues the the victim wants to be abused, as if they are in someway asking for it or accepting the abuse with open arms. Now, whether or not this is an honest portrayal of the emotions felt within some domestic violent relationships, it should not be the theme that is reiterated to our youth!

– Totally off topic, but one lady was actually playing this song on loud speakers at the DV shelter that I worked at, in front of other survivors! I WAS FLABBERGASTED!-

…Now, not only are the lines that Rihanna sings a terrible portrayal of domestic violence, it is also the only lines she has in the entire song, therefore the song does not come to any resolution or any morality of abuse being negative, but instead leaves us with a repetitive message of ‘I love the way you abuse me,’ which, yet again, defines a theme of the victim’s ask to be abused and the abuser lacks all accountability. You really see this within Eminem’s lyrics as well.

‘you ever loved someone so much, you could barely breathe when your with ‘em’ and ‘but your temper is as bad as mine, your the same as me, but when it comes to love, you just as blinded as me.’

Eminem is expressing that there are external aspects to their relationship that lead him to behave in the way in which he does. In fact, he is arguing that relationships and love can lead someone to violence, because the emotions of love are too intoxicating to control and instead a way to gain control back from love is to control your partner. Although love may sometimes feel intoxicating, this song is justifying abuse and subsequently minimizing the behavior and the effects of domestic violence, especially when I hear young people singing the lyrics without truly understanding what themes they are reinforcing!

The next major theme within this song is pure violence and hatered towards women, in general. Now, I say women, because the majority of survivors of abuse are in fact women.

‘She fucking hates me, and I love it’ and ‘if she ever tries to fuckin leave again, Im’a tie to her to the bed, and set the house on fire.’

These lines are unbelievably traumatizing towards women and survivors of domestic violence. The pure hatred and angst in his words are true depictions of how aggressive abusers view the victims, because it is not about love at all, but instead (I cannot stress enough) domestic and sexual violence is about power and control. Power and control are perfectly depicted in the line above, about the victim attempting to leave, which the abuser would rather have ‘his property’ dead than with someone else or by herself. This is not love. Again, I repeat, this is NOT LOVE, this is power and control.

So yes, I agree that this song depicts a rather terrifyingly honest portrayal of domestic violence, however, what I am arguing is why it was a top 40’s song? Why must our youth and young people worship such a disgusting tragedy? Why couldn’t the victim be in fact a survivor and learn from the cycle of violence? Why cant this song be an encouraging song to those in the same situation, instead of reiterating the horror of staying in such a relationship? Why does the narrator never learn from her past or gain any strength? Why is it that we dont have a society that shuns such abuse and instead insists on a more positive depiction of women and the strength that survivors have for leaving their abusers? WHY DOES THE ABUSER WIN?!

Now, I have no control over what plays on the radio, but I can help our society by exposing these horrifying themes to other people and the public. I understand that music can be just that – music. However, when I have young people identifying with Eminem because of the struggles he has had in the past might relate to their present day, it mortifies me to think that they would idolize such a nasty theme. I have created empathy (Emin-Empathy) projects as well as have vocalized my concerns for both songs to the general public. Until we have control over what specializes as a ‘single,’ the only thing we can do as a society to force a change, is to stop listening to such music that not only glorifies but justifies rape and domestic violence. We have control of what we let our young people listen to and what morals and values we want them to grow up with. I hope that none of you want to raise your children in a society that promotes unhealthy relationships and a depiction of love as a means for violence and abuse. Please, lets let our children grow up with equality and hope for the women and survivors of sexual abuse, not constantly bring them down with mainstream acceptance for Rape Culture.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation