What About Anti-Rape Songs That Trigger Rape Victims?
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."
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.