What’s In A Word: Music And Misogyny

There is constant discussion about how we need to change the inherently misogynistic nature of the music industry. Women (and I of course include non-binary women, though I don’t profess to speak on their behalf) are violently assaulted for simply existing within a cis-male-dominated space; women are omitted from festival line ups; women are harassed when they dare to speak out; women are sexually objectified and harassed while they dare to be creative; above all, women are continuously let down by a system set up to protect men and money above all else.

Still, talking about what needs to change is only one part of important work that needs to be carried out. Especially when misogyny is ingrained not only in the culture, but in the very words we sing along to. So much of our popular music, both contemporary and of eras passed and still celebrated, is rife with dangerous, damaging lyrics which perpetuate certain ideas about women, and its high time we decide that it simply isn’t good enough.

Recently here in Australia, we’ve seen a number of tours cancelled after campaigns took aim at barring certain artists including Tyler, The Creator, from entering the country due to their lyrical content. Action Bronson faced a similar situation in Canada. Chris Brown‘s Australian tour was also cancelled on account of both his lyrics and his criminal history. While we’re not here to defend Chirs Brown, it was increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that at the same time all this discussion about whether he should be able to tour here given his history was occurring, bands like Maroon 5, who have equally damaging lyrical content but occupy a different genre (pop), were free to tour and play to audiences here.

To that end, we present to you four different songs that aren’t hip-hop or R&B and discuss why they too, are problematic.

alt-j – Breezeblocks

Don’t let Joe Newman‘s near incomprehensible drawl fool you, alt-j are not only one of the most utterly boring bands put up on a pedestal they don’t deserve simply because they’re sort of strange and “indie”, but they have some disturbing and sexually violent lyrics. Breezeblocks, as far as anyone can tell, is about a man not wanting his girlfriend to leave and promptly deciding that killing her is his only option. The imagery in the song is all together uncomfortable, but the prize goes to the very opening line: “She may contain the urge to run away/But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks.”

Paramore, Misery Business 

For what it’s worth, Paramore front-woman Hayley Williams herself has stated how uncomfortable she is now with this song. In Misery Business, Williams’ describes another young girl as being a whore while simultaneously stealing her boyfriend as a way to prove she is a better kind of person. Bizarre. Williams has long been a champion of women in pop-punk, certainly a male-dominated space, and it’s easy to forget that she was a teenager when she wrote this song. “Misery Business is not a set of lyrics that I relate to as a 26 year old woman. I haven’t related to it in a very long time. Those words were written when I was 17… admittedly, from a very narrow-minded perspective.” Still, it’s interesting that this song was the one chosen to play on triple j on International Women’s Day last week following CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry‘s glowing introduction.

Beatles, Run For Your Life

The argument about whether or not Chris Brown should be allowed in Australia was heavily centred upon his past relationship with singer Rihanna, which saw Brown charged with assault after she ended up in hospital at his hands. What many people seem to forget is that John Lennon, one of the most revered songwriters in history, had his own history of domestic violence. Both his first wife Cynthia and his second, Yoko Ono, were victims of his violence and despite later saying that he regretted writing it, this song is a disturbing reminder that his rage ran deep. “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” Adapted from an Elvis song, it further proves that misogyny does not simply exist in one genre of music, despite many people arguing they don’t like hip-hop because it degrades women. Lennon followed it up later in his career with the apologetic Jealous Guy, but it seems kind of a wash to simply brush things off with “I’m just a jealous guy.

Nickelback, Follow You Home 

Ask any women travelling home alone from a gig at night how she feels and chances are, she’ll say something like “on edge”. Maybe she’ll tell you about how she only walks down certain streets. How she carries her keys as a weapon. How she didn’t wear the shoes she wanted to in case she needed to run from someone. Being followed home is a very real, very threatening experience. This song plays on that and makes it all the more unsettling. Chad Kroeger paints himself as someone who is devoted, someone who will withstand whatever this woman throws at him. “You can scream profanity/Leave me here to die alone but/I’ll still follow you home.” However, he’s also very aware of the hell he’s putting his partner through as he adds “And pray I’m never coming back.” Because when she’s screaming at you to leave her alone, its because she wants you to leave her the fuck alone. It isn’t devotion, what it is, is stalking. If we’re being honest, Nickelback could have actually made up this entire list, they’ve got scores of songs that demonstrate all the different kinds of problems they seem to have with women. Maybe they’ll appear on the next one…

Inspired by the now defunct blog Misogynistic Lyrics that aren’t Rap