Violence Against Women: Perpetuated and Promoted by American Popular Culture

Being born into a generation that accepts casual sex as a norm, where “no” means “yes”, and where violence is the answer to all problems makes it extremely hard to exist as a level-headed human being. The aspects, expectations, and institutions of popular culture all in some way, shape, or form contribute to American society’s marginalizing, promoting, and perpetuating of gender violence. This article discusses and analyzes two popular songs of 21st century America, exclusively focusing on the music industry’s role in maintaining gender expectations and stereotypes, objectifying women, transforming sex into a commodity, and in sustaining and encouraging rape culture.

“Animals” By Maroon 5

Prior to the release of their new song “Animals,” Maroon 5 was one of my favorite bands; however, after reading the lyrics of this new top hit I am utterly disappointed. Not only does this song portray rape as desirable, but it also plainly paints women as prey that exist strictly to be hunted. The song begins with, “Baby, I’m preying on you tonight/ Hunt you down eat you alive,” which equates sex with a conquest and sets up a rape-like situation, “Maybe you think that you can hide/ I can smell your scent for miles,” illustrating rape as some sort of sexual game between a man and a woman. The fact that this is one of the top hits on the radio right now portraying rape as a sexual fantasy speaks to the way popular culture de-sensitizes and promotes rape and gender violence. In this song a man pursuing a woman corresponds to an animal hunting it’s prey. If a woman is “hiding” from you why would she want you to “hunt her down” and “eat” her “alive” and, in that respect, is there anyone in the world that would want to be hunted down?

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Extremely frightening picture from the music video of ‘Animals’

Peggy Reeves Sanday, in her essay “The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape,” finds a correlation between the idea that rape is an expression of the ideology of male dominance and the fact that intergroup and interpersonal violence in society are acted out in sexual violence (Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspective). This ideology of male dominance is constructed and promoted in this song that portrays a male hunting down a female as a sexual game. Her main argument that violence is culturally coded not biologically determined is supported by my analysis of popular songs in America today, such as the one by Maroon 5. There are many other topics, such as rape myths and the influence of language on a culture, that are addressed and supported by the song. This song plays into the rape myth that women “want it” or “ask for it” and demonstrates how the music industry plays a part in creating a context in which gender violence operates. In addition, this song supports the idea that language is a significant part of culture and that it transmits ideas to society. In this instance, the idea being transmitted to society is that rape is okay, in fact, that rape is a sexual act and a game to be desired.

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Picture from the ‘Animals’ music video.

“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

Another song that has been one of America’s top hits in the last year is “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. This song represents women in an extremely disgusting, degrading, and demeaning manner. The lyrics are those such as,

OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature/ Just let me liberate you […] And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ I know you want it,/ […] You the hottest bitch in this place/ But you’re a good girl/ The way you grab me/ Must wanna get nasty […] Not many women can refuse this pimpin (Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”)

These lyrics suggest that the artist wrote down every single dehumanizing thought and/or experience he has had in regard to women and turned it into a song to be celebrated and appreciated by the general public. Robin Thicke performed this song at the MTV video music awards in August of 2013. The song has won numerous awards such as, the Billboard Music Award for top radio song, top digital song, top hit 100 song, and top R&B song as well as Soul Train Music Award for song of the year and best collaboration. The fact that this song has won multiple awards yet it’s content is explicitly demeans and degrades women speaks volumes about how popular culture sets the stage for violence against women and demonstrates how society as perpetuated sex as a commodity.

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“I know you want it” is repeated 18 times, which in itself makes it valid to say that the song promotes the rape myth that rape victims want to be raped and “ask for it”. In Edwin Schur’s essay “Sexual Coercion in American Life” he discusses the links between sexuality and coercion, which include a mechanistic approach to and the commercialization of sex (Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives). This song, as well as the one mentioned prior, demonstrates how 21st century society has turned sex into a commodity, something to get from someone else, instead of a way of connecting to the person one is having sex with. Sex is commercialized in many ways in popular culture and these two top hits demonstrate how sex sells in 21st century American culture.

The sexist language in this song, such as “hottest bitch,” shows how women are turned into objects and are viewed as a means of achieving sexual gratification. The lyric “Not many women can refuse this pimpin” illustrates the ideology of male dominance over women that perpetuates gender violence. Also, the commercialization of sex and objectification of women has led to de-personalized human relations, which according to Schur, can lead to abuse. Purely physical, unemotional relationships, which are common in society today, do not perpetuate rape culture; however, it is the ways in which popular culture represents women as sexual objects solely interested in sexually pleasing men without having any of the same desires of their own that lays the foundation for gender violence. It is this concentration on male sexual desire combined with popular culture’s objectification of women that promotes and perpetuates the psychological detachment of society, promoting ideas about sexual assault in which rape culture is celebrated and glamorized.

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Picture from the ‘Blurred Lines’ music video.

Both of these songs demonstrate how popular culture objectify women, commercialize sex, and support rape myths; all of which promote attitudes and beliefs about sexual assault and rape that help fuel rape culture. The culture of violence theory, which is explicitly demonstrated in this analysis of “Animals” and “Blurred Lines,” argues that the 21st century is a time of violence and violent environments in which popular culture encourages men to use violence to obtain sex. It was unfortunately a little to easy to find songs that turn sex and women into objects that one can possess or have. Songs like these that explicitly objectify women and celebrate rape as a sexual fantasy are actively contributing to and supporting a society in which people are turned into objects to use, reuse, and discard at one’s convenience.

Why does society worship these visibly chauvinistic and sexist songs?

What is most upsetting is that there are artists who produce music that address sex and relationships in a more positive, passionate manner. The issue is not that our society is lacking songs that place value on sex and love; instead, the issue is that society today would rather hear songs that characterize rape as a sex game, like “Animals” and “Blurred Lines,” than songs like “Hey There Delilah” by The Plain White T’s that convey the beauty of love or the song “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse that discuss the passion inherent in sex with a loved one. Why is it that the messages relayed from songs that associate sex with love are drowned out by the songs that link sex with violence? Is it because people no longer find it important to foster a relationship with someone before jumping into bed with them? The growing importance and extreme value popular culture places on sex, whether it be connected to violence or not, has caused an epidemic of human detachment and fear of connection in 21st society.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having unemotional sex when both parties have a mutual understanding; however, there is something wrong when sex becomes a “thing” one wants to “get” from someone else. Unemotional sex becomes a problem when humans start viewing and treating other humans as objects that solely exist for sexual gratification. This regarding of sex and people as commodities, promoted in magazines, movies, TV shows, music, etc., has lead to a lack of lasting connections between people and has set the stage for all forms of violence. Songs such as “Blurred Lines” and “Animals” make people believe that rape is about sex and that sex is about power.

On a more positive note, there are songs that characterize sex as an act of love and promote sex in an endearing and passionate manner. Lyrics such as “A thousand miles seems pretty far/ But they’ve got planes and trains and cars/ I’d walk to you if I had no other way/ Our friends would all make fun of us/ And we’ll just laugh along because we know/ That none of them have felt this way” are lyrics that should be praised and adored by society. Lyrics like these capture the magical feelings immanent in being in love and place high value on personal connections between people. Also, the song “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse addresses sex in a genuine passionate manner without associating sex with power. The lyrics include: “I want to reconcile the violence in your heart/ I want to recognize your beauty’s not just a mask/ I want to exorcise the demons from your past/ I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart.” In this song sex does is not treated as a commodity, something to be “taken” or “had,” but as a way of spiritually, emotionally, and physically connecting with another human being.

Despite the multitude of songs positively promoting sex as an act of passionate love and as a connection between two human beings, society remains obsessed with the chauvinistic power struggle inherent in lyrics of songs that characterize women as prey and sex as a hunting game. Next time a “top hit” comes on the radio listen closely to the lyrics and the messages that are brainwashing society into believing that a woman in a short, tight skirt is “asking for it” and that the key to “getting” someone to have sex with you is to treat them as if they are an object with no heart beating beneath the clothes that mask their souls.

Works Cited

“AZLyrics – Lyrics from A to Z.” AZLyrics – Song Lyrics from A to Z. N.p., 2000. Web. 02 Jan. 2015. <http://www.azlyrics.com/>.

O’Toole, Laura. Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Jessica Schiffman, Margie Kiter Edwards. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Print.

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40 Comments

  1. August Merz

    Excellent article Morgan. I’ll confess that while I’m not very concerned about lyrics in songs like “Animals” and “Blurred Lines”, it is still good to see someone with a good understanding and attentive ear give these songs a well-deserved shellacking.

    It really is a bummer that more songs that present sex as playful, spiritual, and intimate and love as lasting and fulfilling are becoming a dying breed in the music industry. Nowadays, it seems like “romantic” songs are nothing more than a list of male/female anatomy and completely passionless musings about being in love/lust. It really is a shame that these kind of songs have become so cruel in nature.

    Truth be told, I want to defend Maroon 5 because they probably were trying to show the primal, fun side of sex, only they did it in an incredibly stupid way. “Blurred Lines”, though, cannot be defended all that much. As you say, such songs are, at best, fatuous and at worst violent and mean.

    Here’s hoping that someday romance will reclaim the music industry.

  2. LaurenCarr

    Songs have strange lyrics, yet we sing along!

    Great article, Morgan. The first song I thought of? Police,
    “Every breath you take
    Every move you make
    Every bond you break
    Every step you take
    I’ll be watching you.”

  3. Gene Harding
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    Never heard of ‘ Maroon 5 ‘

    Nor have most other normal people I suspect.

    They appear to be the usual hideously untalented bunch of no-hopers [ a new Oasis ? ]

    They need publicity.

    You are supplying it.

    • Monique

      Gene – Maroon 5 is a long-running popular band and their front man, Adam Levine is hugely popular; he was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year last year.

      Making suppositions about what other people know is sketchy business.

      • Tigey

        Agreed. I don’t any of their music, but I’ve Levine on SNL, mag covers, etc. Dude’s face and tats are ubiquitous.

  4. I couldn’t listen to Animals, the music was just so dreadfully anodyne and formulaic. Pehaps that’s why they need to make a ‘controversial’ video by way of compensation?

  5. Our civilised nature is often in conflict with our primal drives, which themselves can be affected by environmental factors, so of course it is important to discuss how art can both reflect and influence culture and human behaviour. But, when viewed in literal fashion, without any understanding of nuance or rhythm, or imagery, or the complex often contradictory nature of human drives, it can look almost infantile in its ignorance and inability to even come close to interpretation.

  6. Jemarc Axinto

    The way that music portrays women has been awful for quite a long time and it is definitely unfortunate.

  7. The 21st Century has only accelerated and amplified culturally-based and eroticized violence against women. Internet-based platforms and distribution media allow for the further disconnect between real human beings and erotic love. It only makes sense that digital media technologies permit the increased objectification of women as the playthings and objects of torture of men. Nothing new here really, however grotesque we find it.

  8. Brianna

    I think women get so sexualized by society now that this is like you said, a cultural norm. Society enjoys this type of music although, if you ask most people, one may not know what the lyrics mean, but purely like the beat. You can’t necessarily say that the listeners are a problem or like this, because sometimes, that is not the case.

  9. Creola Hay
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    Obviously, a depiction of something is not necessarily an endorsement of it. A video that depicts misogyny should not be condemned outright as misogynist.

  10. Christel
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    Absolutely horrible and moronic videos.

  11. Deon Arsenault
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    This isn’t positing that all men are rapists and misogynists but it’s perfectly clear that, freed from the social constraints, there are large numbers of men who exhibit an enraged loathing of women and who comprise a large enough subset of internet society to be a definable demographic. There’s money to be made hating women, and lots of it. This is not just the tiny group who rape and get caught. This is the guys who stand around cheering.

  12. YES! My own family seems to disregard this point when I bring it up. Pop music is broadcasted to manipulate the masses. Thousands of people everyday are listening to the same music. It’s easier to control us that way. The first day we get these songs stuck in our head, the media already controls us. When the message of these songs is racist, sexist, sizist, agist, ablist, or any kind of oppressive, people just think it’s catchy.
    It’s easier for people. Autotune Katy Perry so people will like her. Let Iggy Azalea’s reputation blow up on mass media: more people will buy her records. Make Lily Allen twerk in her videos to combat the expectations that “white girls don’t twerk” to keep a racial rift in the music industry. Men, women, blacks, whites, and everything in between are falling further into stereotypes. And it’s because the people are kept dumb. They are sedated with these catchy melodies that tell them how to think.
    If we want any of the inequality issues to get better, we need to all collectively stop watching these pop youtube videos, stop listening to pop stations, stop buying tickets to see pop stars. They are teaching us that we are not skinny enough. We are not white enough. We are not pretty enough. Our ass isn’t fat enough.
    And no pop stars care about intelligence and accelerating the mind through musical expression.

  13. Jane Harkness

    Wow, I always thought “Blurred Lines” was creepy, but I never realized just how bad the lyrics to “Animals” were. Great article!

  14. Lombardo
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    Thoughtful and well written, thank you.

  15. It seems to me that if there is a perception that to be male is to be cruel and misogynistic, then feminists have to accept a lot of blame for that.

    If you look at the idealized images of masculinity from the last 100 years, the men that boys are told to admire are those who fight the cruel and protect the weak. How they treat women is usually cinematic shorthand for whether they are to be admired or condemned. The hero slays evil and rides off into the sunset with a woman who admires him for his nobility as well as his strength.

    It is feminists who have “blurred the lines” (pun very much intended) by endlessly promoting the notion that masculinity in general and male sexuality in particular is inherently bad, no matter how it is manifested.

    • Morgan R. Muller

      You are entitled to your opinion. I agree with you that boys are told to admire men who protect the weak, but why are women considered “the weak”? Feminists do not promote the idea that masculinity is inherently bad we promote the idea that all humans are equal and should be treated as so. It is unfortunate that people have misunderstood what feminism is, but it is people like you that further the confusion. The issue here is as much violence as it as misogyny. It seems to me that there is a perception that to be female is to be weak. It seems to me that there is a perception that to be female is to be serving at the hands of men. All humans are created equal.

  16. Both songs sound absolutely horrible.

  17. Bloody hell, animal is a creepy video.

  18. Is it wrong for music videos to portray negative events that happen to people in real life?

    Is it wrong for any media to portray negative events that happen to people in real life?

    Is it only wrong when the above portray negative events that happen to women in real life?

    Because from Psycho, to Saving Private Ryan, we’ve seen a lot of gore on our screens, can you perhaps give us a big long list of things you’d like to censor?

  19. Megone

    This article has a great point. How America handles violence against women is just sickening. I remember “The Story of Jackie” and how she was gang raped at the university that Thomas Jefferson founded (who was also a rapist I might add). And how, the fraternity that she said to have done this thought she was a quack, everyone began believing them instead of the detailed story she had to explain. Good thing though – they suspended them all, but at what cost at the end of the day?

    • Mikhail Connor
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      Can you provide the reference or link to the article that says Thomas Jefferson was a rapist.

  20. You really brought up some great points about pop culture and how women are portrayed. I can definitely see the negative portrayal of women in these songs, but as another comment pointed out, there are many other songs that dod this as well. The fantasization of rape culture and victimization of women definitely stretches throughout the music industy as well as film and arts I believe, and this has to do more with how our society is letting itself be molded. You are right, we should definitlely fight this, and its wonderful that you are bringing it to a wider audience, I only wish more people could read it.
    Great Job.

  21. Samantha Brandbergh

    Nice article! It really is unfortunate how many songs convey this type of message. Not just with males, but when it comes to females the first song that comes to mind is “Come and Get It” by Selena Gomez. Young girls in the music industry want to feel sexy nowadays, but there’s a fine line between sexy and being sexualized. When I watched the music video for Animals for the first time, I thought it was such a creepy video overall, not just the scene pictured in the article. I like how you are bringing even more attention to this trend in music because it really is disgusting.

  22. Joshua Runyan
    0

    Hell. His whiny voice.

    I lasted 8 seconds with the video, sorry. Modern era pop music videos are a load of bollocks; entire industry needs to die already.

  23. Roseann
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    I found this article engaging and articulate.

  24. I think it’s very important to note that as much as the music industry is influencing society. In a way the ‘top hits’ are a reflection of our society as well. There must be a change in thinking before there is a change in action.

  25. Maroon 5 suck, that is all.

  26. Music can definitely be a reflection of what large groups of people value. It’s sad to see violence valued in songs (or at least not contested).

  27. Edward Valentine
    0

    How does pop culture portray women as commodities?

  28. The Maroon 5 songs does really glorify sexual assualt on . It is showing the inner working of the very sick mind that society has created and Maroon 5 did in very raw way. It is a shame that a lot of people find this ok. It how complacent that society has become animal, and beast.

  29. Everyone knows these songs are highly disrespectful but it take courage from the public to change the value systems being promoted in these songs.

  30. Very well written article. I like how you wrote out the lyrics for us. You know, honestly, I’m ashamed to say how little I actually pay attention to the words of lyrics. I hear a beat, a catchy tune and sometimes even sing along without thinking. Yikes! This is a good reminder to really pay attention to the things that I’m unconsciously supporting.

  31. Laura Jones

    Thank you for writing an article that addresses this issue. I personally have a lot of trouble listening to modern pop music because of the frequent anti-female lyrics. Music videos are even worse! It’s definitely an interesting issue. I wonder whether it’s something that we’re taught to believe is “cool”, “acceptable”, and “normal”, or whether people just don’t really listen to music for the lyrics. Alternatively, maybe the idea of a sexual conquest is appealing to some, just like the “bad boy” persona is?

  32. HeatherDeBel

    Interesting and important article, Morgan. Language certainly is a culture and ours is pretty littered with misogyny and violence. Many people would fail to see the importance of studying the lyrics of songs in light of current events, notably violence against women. It’s good to see that such articles are being written and people are being asked to understand the impact of songs that are so widely loved.

    It’s important to note the difference between rough sex and assault when talking about such songs as “Animals” and “Blurred Lines” because many people would say the songs are about rough, playful sex and others see the songs as a perpetuation of sexual assault. The difference is in the consent, the 100% positive, energetic, I’m-not-changing-my-mind consent. This is what is difficult about such songs because it is never mentioned how the female feels about such advances. You are right to bash “Animals” because this “hunting” and “eating” doesn’t seem to have any “okay” from the female, nor does the “I know you want it” repeated over and over again in “Blurred Lines”. (If only he could say “I know you want it…because you told me you did and I am excited about your very clear and excited “Yes”…) And I wonder if an artist can sing about rough or “primal” (don’t like this metaphor) sex without perpetuating rape culture or objectifying and degrading the woman in mind. I haven’t seen any examples.

    Simply, consent never seems to be on anyone’s mind.

    And, let’s talk about the kind of love that is portrayed in “Hey There Delilah,” since we’ve picked apart the gender issues in “Animals.” Delilah, the female character in the song, is only portrayed as pretty, it’s her chief attribute, even compared to the non-living, Times Square (objectifying? Perhaps). Two more years she’ll be done with school…and then… she’ll be making history? No, the male singer will be making history. In other words, “two more years and you’ll be done with school and I will take care of you, you don’t have to think no more.” Oh, and HE’LL pay the bills, she doesn’t have to worry about it. And HE will walk to HER, so still she’s being the passive one in the relationship. In fact, the whole song seems to convey that love is about the passive female believing in the promises and talent of her guitarist boyfriend, while doing nothing to better herself, because hey, the more he sings, the more in love with him she will fall. Does the song suggest otherwise..? Perhaps a love song about a man waiting for a woman while she pursues her career or other life goals might be a little more awe-inspiring. Or even a song about a couple mutually chasing their individual dreams?

    Perhaps this was a digression, but I am thinking that there is no language that exists outside of the patriarchy, unless that culture itself is not under patriarchal rule. Language that reflects love, passionate, “human connected” love as you mentioned, is still influenced by male power as is the language of sex.

  33. And this is why I don’t listen to the radio. So much sexism!

  34. Well, of course a great number of songs are focused on the relationship between men and women, it is the issue which permits to obtain the largest audience, and as a consequence: money. Anyway, even if these songs adopt a degeneration of the langage and a wrong concept of woman, i think that everybody is conscious that these aren’t examples, or right ways to communicate, also because in the real life is impossible to communicate in that way…

    It is true that in certain aspects of social life gender equality is an utopia, but basically men and women can aspire to the same positions, and this wouldn’t have to be considered as something special, but only as something right.

    In recent times the prize money in tennis has been a controversial issue… There are many points of view about this topic… Some players think that men would have to earn more than women… We have to consider that men have a better playing tecnique (also because atp is more competitive than wta) and women bodies aren’t fit, looking at Azarenka, but also looking at Serena Williams we can notice that aspect… Even if they are on top… But as a conceptual issue the equality of prize money is totally right, and it is a great conquest obtained by great women as Billie Jean King.

  35. Wow very well put, I truly believe the problem with this generation is that they get so caught up in being “mesmerized” by the beat or the instrumental aspect that they aren’t really putting much focus, time or attention to the lyrics of these artist.

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