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?
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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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