I was browsing through my iTunes library today, and I realized I have quite a few (0kay, four) songs about domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. Now, this is a tricky topic to incorporate into art, especially for guys: much like rape, it’s highly gendered and really, really easy to screw up, resulting in some stunningly cringeworthy pieces. But it is also possible to make REALLY KICKASS and inspiring works that just about make you cry because they are living, singing proof that there are some people out there who Get It.
Starting out with the quintessential don’t-hit-your-girlfriend anthem Face Down by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus:
Okay. Some good, some… weird. The first verse is eerie: “Cover up with makeup in the mirror/Tell yourself it’s never gonna happen again/You cry alone and then he swears he loves you.” There are some really powerful lines here, although we get a little victim-blamey with “I’ll never understand why you hang around. Then the speaker changes his focus on the chorus and addresses the boyfriend, where we get some interesting challenges to masculinity. It still squicks me out a little, though- maybe it’s the presumption that Narrator Guy gets to yell at Boyfriend Guy on behalf of Girlfriend? The condescension of “heed my lecture”? (“I am a MAN, and I will tell you what to do with your girlfriend!) Actually, my major issue with this song is that the girlfriend kind of disappears after the first verse except as an object to be beaten or not beaten. Not beaten is good, but object is…not.
I will admit, though, that seeing the lyrics reassures me a lot. I used to think the line “She said ‘I finally had enough'” was “She said it and I felt like hurting you.” That, I really disliked, though I’m not 100% sure why. I think the eye-for-an-eye attitude maybe? It sort of reminds me of this post by Amanda Hess of The Sexist about how chivalry still reinforces the patriarchy.
Overall, it’s not awful, but something about it still doesn’t sit quite right with me. Squick Factor: 5/10
Next up, how about some emotional abuse and neglect? I present to you Flavor of the Week by American Hi-Fi:
All right, maybe not an abusive relationship per se, but unhealthy? You damn betcha. Also, it does bear some similarities to the “let me intervene and fix your broken relationship!” attitude in the other songs. (“I wish that I could make her see/She’s just the flavor of the week”) Honestly, though, I just wanted to include this for the last line. GOD I HATE THAT LAST LINE. “She makes me weak.” BECAUSE THE ONLY REASON WE SHOULD CARE ABOUT WOMEN IN ABUSIVE/NEGLECTFUL/UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS IS BECAUSE THEY’RE ZOMGHAWT! AND WE WANT TO BANG THEM. Sorry about the capitals, but that concept is just full of failicious faility fail. The rest of the song isn’t bad, though, encouraging communication in relationships and spending time with each other. Still hate the last line, though. Squick Factor: 99% 0/10, 1% 10/10. Next!
Oh, Bowling for Soup. You can rarely, if ever, make it through a three-minute song without some kind of fail, be it gender, race, trans, size, or whatever else. This song, 99 Biker Friends, is no exception. Despite its good intentions, it still fails, and fails pretty hard. Stunning similarities between this and Face Down: the masculinity questioning, the makeup lines, etc. etc. etc, though we do manage to keep a consistent point of view and avoid the damsel-in-distress scenario. But there is quite a bit of (implied) violence, and some more violence, and some stereotyped violence (prison guards? what the HELL?) Because if you beat HER down, we’ll beat YOU down! Body-shaming penis size joke in the third line, that throwaway line about lesbians, and so on and so forth. Not much else to say about it, except Squick Factor: 7/10. Gotta give them points for effort; gotta revoke most of ‘em for misspent effort.
Three songs that all fail in one way or another. Sigh. Isn’t there a way to sing about domestic violence without the Squick Meter going off? Wait, what’s that noise? Could it be…. Yes! It is! It is the DIXIE CHICKS!
Okay, full disclosure: I hate country. A lot. My first exposure to this was the cover version by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (which I still prefer, solely on musical grounds.) Buuuuuut the Dixie Chicks are pretty awesome, so it makes perfect sense that they would have written this. God, it’s fantastic- the acknowledgment of law enforcement’s inability (disinclination?) to successfully help victims of domestic violence, the sisterhood, the recognition that for women in small towns, sometimes marriage to a jerk is all there is, calling Wanda “abused” rather than using euphemisms- wow. Okay, I’m not in theory a fan of the vengeful school of thought, but I can safely call this an exception. What can I say? Schadenfreude plus happy ending equals happy, happy Thessa. Squick Factor? What Squick Factor?
And I don’t think it’s any accident that the only not-painful song among these has women as the primary focus and was written by women. I KNOW, I am perfectly aware, that domestic violence is also an issue for men, but it has been borne out by study after study that most victims are women. (If you have an issue with those statistics: please, argue with the Justice Department. I’m sure they care about your anecdata.) Therefore, strangely enough, women have the insider’s perspective on abusive relationships and thus can write songs that don’t fail. A shame there aren’t more of them.
P.S: If, like me, you are more of an alt/rock fan, I did find the other version of Goodbye Earl that uses the same footage as the Dixie Chicks one.