Violence Toward Women Strikes a Sour Note

Classic rock has produced a disturbing number of songs over the years that involve violence toward women.

I only saw pieces of the 50th anniversary Beatles tribute on TV, but I’d be willing to bet no one performed a heart-felt rendition of Run For Your Life, the Fab Four’s musical homage to jealousy and domestic abuse.

You know the words, sing along: “I’d rather see you dead, little girl than to be with another man.” “…I’m a wicked guy and I was born with a jealous mind.” “Let this be a sermon. I mean everything I’ve said.” “You better run for your life if you can, little girl.” “Catch you with another man--- that’s the end, little girl.”

Inspired by a 1955 Elvis song, John Lennon eventually admitted it was his “least favorite” Beatles song. Radio stations in Canada, at least, stopped playing it in the 90s.

Neil Young sings that he was Down By the River when he shot his “baby,” shot her dead. Neil’s been quoted as saying he got his inspiration from another murder-your-woman song: Hey Joe.

hey joe cher

Cher's cover of "Hey Joe"

This ode to domestic violence tells the story of Joe, who shot his “old lady” when he “caught her messin’ ‘round with another man.” By-standers see Joe going somewhere with a gun in his hand, but do nothing to stop him. Originally recorded by a band called The Leaves, Jimi Hendrix recorded probably the most well known version. But there seemed to be no shortage of artists who thought Hey Joe might make a fun track for their album. Everyone from Nancy Sinatra to Cher to Patti Smith to Soft Cell thought they’d cover that little ditty.

(Women get jealous, too, in popular music but like Carrie Underwood, only take it out on the cheater’s 4-wheel drive.)

Rap songs have routinely objectified and disrespected women. “Bitches ain’t shit,” Dr. Dre will tell you. “but hos and tricks…” More recently, Eminem musically works through an abusive relationship with Rihanna in their duet, Love The Way You Lie.

blurred 4But maybe the biggest anti-woman song to make it up the mainstream charts is Blurred Lines, the summer hit that just won’t go away. Robin Thicke infamously performed it at the VMAs with a twerking Miley Cyrus and again at the Grammys where it was nominated in a couple of categories.

Rolling Stone called Blurred Lines the worst song of last or “any other year.” But that didn’t stop the “clean” version of the video from getting over 271 millions views on YouTube. Robin Thicke and his buds, fully dressed in suit jackets and hats, leeringly perform their runaway hit while supermodels prance around them in little more than underwear.

(There’s an “explicit” or “unrated” version of the video, too, where the prancing babe’s skimpy clothes are replaced by, well, nothing, they’re topless in thongs.)

My kids think I’m an overreacting old guy, that the song is about having fun in a dance club. I’m not sure how they got so desensitized.

Slate magazine came out in the song’s defense, too, saying it’s a flirtatious song about a woman who’s just “playing up her ‘good girl’ persona.” Robin Thicke and his pals are merely reminding her “it’s okay to be a bad girl and unleash her animalistic, sexual side.” Uh, yeah, right.

Slate points at lyrics like: “The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty. Go ahead, get at me” to show the woman in the song is a willing participant in whatever might happen next. But other lyrics like: “You the hottest bitch in this place,” “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two,” and “smack that ass and pull your hair like that” kind of say otherwise. Plus, the repeated: “I know you want it” refrain gives the song its overall rape-y vibe.

The “I know you want it” mantra perpetuates the myth that women must be “asking for it” by the way they dress or how they dance or simply Robin Thicke’s active imagination. It’s this boys will be boys attitude that leads politicians to question whether a rape is “legitimate” or news commentators to advise women in the military to expect to be assaulted.

“Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity,” President Obama said last month at a press conference. “An estimated 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted at college and that’s totally unacceptable.”  He was announcing the formation of a taskforce to protect college students and military personnel from sexual assault. Only time will tell how much good this taskforce will do to raise the awareness of my kids’ generation.

“Some of this is a job for government. But really, it’s up to all of us. We’ve got to teach… young men to show women the respect they deserve. I want every young man in America to… understand that being a man means recognizing sexual violence and being outraged by it, and doing their part to stop it. This is a priority for me, not only as President and Commander-in-Chief, but as a husband and a father of two extraordinary girls.” --- President Obama

Nothing blurry about that.

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