The Sexist

What About Anti-Rape Songs That Trigger Rape Victims?

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Anti-Rape Anthem: As of late, The Sexist's Date Rape Anthem series has taken a welcome turn for the feel-good. Over the past few weeks, we've examined series of songs about rape that actually take a stand against the crime, instead of reinforcing the "nonconsensual sex in da club" trend. In order to bolster the list of the antis, a reader sent in "Unspoken Request" by Boysetsfire. She also noted that the song is "triggering but amazing."

Relevant Lyrics:

Failed coercion leads to intrusion
and the blood forever runs in her head
into her hand, between her legs
where his mind lies

Power drives him in to murder innocence
on the rack of his devices, vices and designs
she will never scrub the stains from her arms
from her neck, from her legs
dirt will remain as a reminder of his hateful face
reach in rip apart the inner fibers of her soul
boy you'll never know how it feels to fear the shame
feel free to walk down any dark street without fear
without shame no one is going to touch you
and you don't need protection
she shouldn't need protection!

and you can sit there with that stupid smile on your face
and try to convince me that you care
defined by your power, defined by her body
the innocence she feels, everybody else contains
it's lost it's gone, but I guess it doesn't matter anyway

. . . and if he ever cares, maybe he will feel ashamed
for everything he's stolen, for all the trust she gave
possessed and broken, she cries but it's not our problem
pull down your goddamn blinds

he will never think he's wrong
she will never feel quite right
you will never think he's wrong
you will never think you're wrong
she will never feel quite right

About that "Triggering" thing: First of all, it's refreshing to hear guys making music in a male-dominated genre speaking out about a crime that predominantly affects women. This is not simply a political statement. In a scene where artists and fans are predominantly male and sometimes under the influence, sexual assault is a very real possibility (and if you haven't read Jonathan Fischer's CP story about a record label taking a stand against alleged rapists in its ranks, you should). I also love how the song addresses the idea of rape as a larger social concern by directly calling out rape apologists in the audience: "you will never think he's wrong / you will never think you're wrong / she will never feel quite right."

That being said, how do we deal with anti-rape anthems with lyrics—the blood forever runs in her head / into her hand, between her legs / where his mind lies—that are likely to trigger victims of sexual assault? It's not that I require all my anti-rape anthems to be vague, upbeat club tracks—which, it should be noted, can also be disturbing to rape survivors. Several times on this blog, readers have asked me to invoke a "trigger warning" when speaking explicitly about sexual assault, but since rape is a constant topic of discussion on this blog, and every post is a potential trigger to someone, I've decided not to include any explicit warnings. But what about when we exit the world of sexual assault blogs and enter a medium where we don't expect to be bombarded with talk about rape—like, say, the radio? I do think it's worth examining whether some songs written by feminist allies can end up inflicting some unintentional damage on the group for which they're attempting to advocate.

On Nirvana's "Rape Me," commenter Jill wrote, "Cobain, for all of his faults, was very progressive and feminist. That said? I still find the song disturbing and don’t really listen to it, no matter what its intent." Jaded16 wrote, "I somehow never got the whole anti-rape sentiment in this song. Though Curt Cobain was a feminist, this song creeped me out the first (co-incidentally the last) time I heard this song. I intend to keep it that way." And Kripa hypothesized, "It’s kinda like Mad Men, where they showcase all the misogyny of the early 60s and the whole damn point of the show is to let us know how awful things used to be, but still, it creeps me out because I suspect that on a subconscious level, the producers are reveling in all that sexism.
So the song “Rape Me” is good in intent, not so good in execution, I guess?"

I don't think that "Unspoken Request" is reveling in sexism, but it is, to some extent, trading in shock value. Explicit lyrics can help to get the attention of people who don't often think about the problem of sexual assault; they're also likely to reach those people who will never forget their rape.

  • http://herfiveradio.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    "But what about when we exit the world of sexual assault blogs and enter a medium where we don’t expect to be bombarded with talk about rape—like, say, the radio?"

    I have a lot of conflicted feelings about this. A number of the blogs I read do contain trigger warnings, and the readers are grateful for them. However, growing up in the 80s and 90s when music censorship hit its apex, I can't see that working outside a blog. iTunes labels certain tracks with "explicit content," but I'm not sure what their standards are. Also there's a huge difference between a song that's cartoonishly violent and one with a real message, even if the content is similar.

    "I do think it’s worth examining whether some songs written by feminist allies can end up inflicting some unintentional damage on the group for which they’re attempting to advocate."

    Fugazi's "Suggestion" was mentioned a few weeks ago. It's definitely in the ally camp, but how is not appropriation? Especially when you consider that Fugazi comes from a hardcore background that's largely male and largely inhospitable to women?

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Kathy, I'm not saying it's not appropriation. That's why I raised this discussion! I don't think that just because a song is triggering or engages in appropriation that it's not otherwise worthwhile, however. I'm also not suggesting that radio stations censor songs (even though they already do this), or that iTunes mark songs with trigger warnings. I'm asking that people who write songs about rape and listen to songs about rape engage in a discussion about how those songs function.

  • je di

    I write poetry and if it were to be published it would certainly set off triggers for some people. I know the toughest times for me in regards to triggers were my teens; when I wasn't ready to deal with the things that had been done to me. Now I'm 30 and I find songs such as these cathartic. It says I'm not alone, that people hear my cry they know what's being done and that people are denying it; hearing that message is validating to me. The thing about triggers is that they are deeply personal. My biggest triggers these days are reading about powerful clergy members covering up rape and molestation and any light hearted tv or movie that reminds me of my innocence lost. I think the best we can do is respect the individual survivor's reactions, support her/him and not judge him or her for what triggers and why. -j

  • http://aperfectvagina.blogspot.com/ Jeannette

    As a rape crisis counselor, I can tell you I think about this stuff all the time! Triggers can occur in the most unexpected places and in the most inconvenient times. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot we can do to keep rape survivors from seeing/hearing things that can be triggering in public. That's rape culture for ya. Personally though, I'd rather listen to non-oppressive music instead of music that is graphic and explicitly anti-rape. I feel like that would be a better alternative.

  • Greg

    Incredibly intense visual lyrics. I actually felt uncomfortable listening to that song. I'm a guy, not a rape victim or perpetrator, and it wasn't easy for me to hear. I can't begin to imaging what it would like for a person to hear that song who isn't in the same circumstances as me. As for shock value, I think there might be said to shocking people out of complacency. I've generally gotten along better with my female friends than other male friends, and it's not always comfortable to be reminded of some of the things they've told me (nor should it be), but it's better by far than being ignorant or oblivious. That being said, if it's pure appropriation, using shock and the pain that someone else has experienced to sell records, with no consideration as to the effects it might have on those who've been victims of acts like the musicians describe, then that's intensely despicable. Intent and result are what matter, I guess, as one can't really be separated from the other.

  • http://tyciol.livejournal.com Tyciol

    Being triggered by a lot of things in society doesn't exactly mean it has to be a 'rape culture' society. It really depends on how sensitive and wide the range of triggers is. I mean, like the word "sensitive" could be a trigger, yet I wouldn't exclude it from society for fear of the word making it into a rape society.

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