Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights abuses affecting the world today. Every day, thousands of women and girls are abused and murdered by their families, raped in armed conflicts and attacked for defending woman's rights1. Many believe there are still violent undercurrents, such as the depiction of violence towards women in some music, which have not allowed women to be truly free from detrimental social norms. Simply stating that VAW (violence against women) is wrong and dealing with situations one by one as they occur is no longer an option as it is such a widespread phenomenon. Violence against women in music is now a global phenomenon, and is common in many of the world's most famous artists. The problem has become even more widespread thanks to the advancements in technology, and in particular the internet which allows the access and sharing of this style of music all over the world. While in most countries films (and to an extent TV shows) are given age ratings such as universal, 12A or R in order to suggest what age group are mature enough to deal with its content, however, so far such a rating system has not been created for music, meaning people of all ages are exposed to many violent images they would not have access to via other forms of media.2 Yet music videos depicting violence towards women exist and are often unrated, such as Eminem and Rhianna's 'Love the way you lie'1. This, combined with the ever increasing use of the internet to obtain and share music, shows that there are inconsistencies between the expectations and restrictions put on music and music videos and the expectations and restrictions placed on other forms of media. Also due to common ownership of mp3 players, radios and computing equipment it is harder than ever to keep track of what music children/ young people are listening too. Often genres such as rap and hip-hop are blamed for these misogynistic lyrics, but there are a huge range of songs depicted violence against women from rap to rock to county, and in America, France, the UK and many more (see scrapbook for examples). The discussion of whether music depicting violence against women should be banned creates a platform so that we can begin to discuss if all music depicting any crimes should be banned.
Note: In order to illustrate the examples of violent language towards women in music involves directly quoting from the original source. In many cases this means the examples contain strong and violent language that some may find offensive. However, it seems necessary to keep this language intact in order to properly quote from the source, and also in order to illustrate the extreme nature of violence towards women that is prevalent in these songs.
While music depicting violence towards women appears on the surface to only demean women, it can be offensive and degrading to a range of people. One popular culture reference to a situation like this comes from the British television show called The Office, in the episode 'Merger'1. In this episode the character David Brent tells a racist joke and while this did not offend the black character present, many other characters were still offended by this joke.
People may be offended by the ideas behind the music, as it seems that people who glorify violence towards women in song appear to think that this violence is acceptable. Men could be offended by these ideas just as much as women might. As songs like this become 'mainstream' in some cultures, everybody in that culture becomes affected by it, and some men and women may feel degraded by this association. Finally some people may argue that the person who writes and/or sings lyric that depict violence towards women degrade themselves in this act.
The issue of whether music is degrading to women or any other demography in society is irrelevant to the question of whether it encourages violence or aggression towards women. In fact, the proposition undermines itself through this claim by suggesting that this music should encourage violence to all segments of society; should we therefore ban all music?
Music depicting violence to women causes and sustains the cycle of violence. The Scottish Home Affairs correspondent Lucy Adams reported in 2005 the levels of domestic abuse committed by 16-18 year olds grew by around 70%. One of the reasons suggested for this dramatic raise is the culture of music that depicts and glorifies violence towards women (heraldscotland.com). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports that a study conducted in a variety of US states illustrated that music that depicted acts of violence 'led to more aggressive interpretations of ambiguously aggressive words, increased the relative speed with which people read aggressive vs. nonaggressive words, [...]The violent songs increased feelings of hostility without provocation or threat'. Although they are quick to assure that it is NOT the music type that has this affect, it is simply the lyrics, as even humorous aggressive songs have this effect. They conclude with the idea that 'Repeated exposure to violent lyrics may contribute to the development of an aggressive personality' and thus lead to more aggressive behaviour. While currently there is little to no research specifically on the link between domestic violence and lyrics that depict abuse to women, the current information that we have on violence and music lyrics suggests we can expect a similar effect. Thus if we were to ban music depicting violence towards women, people could not be influenced by it and levels of violence would drop.
Violence towards women is a common and world-wide phenomenon, occurring on every continent and throughout history. Therefore it seems crazy to suggest that levels of domestic violence are related to this small sub-culture of music that depicts violence towards women. If we are arguing that it exposes people to situations where they hear (in lyrics) or see (in music videos) then it could be countered that if anything this music is just highlighting these incidences of violence that are still occurring and we might as well ban the news or television drama as they expose people just as much without an age reference.
We already give films, DVD's and games an age appropriate rating. In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America is charged with the responsibility of providing ratings to consumers.
It would seem that it would be simple to stretch these criteria to a similar music body. Therefore people would only be subjected to violent lyrics when it is deemed they are old enough to hear or buy this material, and it would stop younger people from being exposed to this kind of music. This also means that no new state-run institution needs to be created; it would operate, like the MPAA, independently of government control. As such, claims that any form of music censorship would suffer from practical problems are short-sighted, we simply need to extend the medium that already exists.
The difficulty with this is that games, DVD's and films are all very visual medium, whereas music is audible and arguably a more imaginative medium. Other non-visual mediums, such as literature, are not restricted by age ratings and therefore it seems unfair to restrict music on these grounds.
Asha Jennings began a boycott of misogynistic music in hip-hop, resulting in the 'take back the music' campaign supported by essence magazine. Jennings claims that this type of rap/ hip hop music is 'telling people [black women] are bitches and hos and sluts and not worthy of respect [...] And that's exactly how society is treating us'1. She continues that images of women 'tends to be objectified, degrading, very stripper-like' or as nagging vicious and manipulative money grabbers1. Jennings' worry is that in these videos women are depicted as menial, subservient and purely as the object of men's entertainment. The lyrics that go with these music videos compound these ideas of women as undeserving of male respect e.g. 'wouldn't piss on fire to put you out' (Eminem), 'Then I straight smoked the ho [...] and she thanked me' (NWE) (All lyrics in full are in the scrapbook). These images in themselves are violence towards women, as they dehumanise them. As this becomes a dominant image in society, young people who look up to these rappers mimic their behaviour and believe it is ok to disrespect women,2 as that is what they have been exposed to. This works in the same way for young girls, who cannot relate to the male rappers and so instead mimic the women they talk about, while also following their views on women. This idea that women are not deserving of respect must affect the levels of violence towards women as if you abuse someone you cannot fully respect them. Therefore if music depicting violence (and for this argument, disrespect) towards women was banned, then violence towards women in the real world would be reduced and this must be seen as a good thing.
The music is not the reason for the lack of respect for women; rather it is a much broader problem that cannot be prevented simply by targeting music. Within the part of that culture that is music the problem is not that music depicting violence toward women provides negative role models but rather that there are no positive role models to balance this. Banning music depicting violence towards women would not solve the problem as it still would not provide positive role models in order to replace the previous depiction. Therefore rather than putting energy into banning music depicting violence towards women, we should create a counter culture of strong, independent women who will not stand by domestic abuse or violence.
There are many reasons it would be impractical to ban certain types of music: First, who would choose what music counts as inappropriate and on what criteria? This would include concerns such as the Rolling Stone's song, 'Brown Sugar' which depicts sexual violence towards a slave by a slave owner (see scrapbook). It would be up to this censor to assert whether this song is highlighting and mocking a distressing moment in history, or whether it is glorifying this incident or merely describing it with no moral judgement. The censor would also have to then choose which of these where fitting reasons to ban the song. This is just a matter of opinion and thus no-one can be unbiased in making a decision. If this is true then it seems that no-one should have the right of it over someone else's opinion.
Second while there could be a ban made on recording or selling songs that depict violence towards women, or prohibit them being played on the radio, with current technological advances it would be very difficult to enforce a total ban. Music is widely available on thousands of websites via video/internet radio etc. More basically, music is a very communal activity and people may sing in crowds or to each other. Country songs (as a genre) have one of the highest percentages of music depicting violence towards women, and these songs tend to have an oral history. Thus even if there was a ban on new songs being recorded, these old songs would continue to be heard and new songs may be heard to a smaller audience. Thus people would still be exposed to these lyrics of women being abused in music.
The final reason it would be difficult to ban music that depicts violence towards women is that this runs a risk that this will only encourage musicians to write such songs, which become more popular for being 'forbidden fruit'.
None of these arguments pose a significant problem. While setting criteria may be difficult and there will always be cases where it is a matter of interpretation this is not a reason not to create a strict and detailed set of criteria. There could be an appeals process to make sure that a song is not banned based purely on one individual's opinion.
That a ban on recording and selling the music could be avoided through pirating or songs being passed down orally does not matter as if this was happening the ban would already have enough of an impact. The ban does not have to be totally comprehensive in order to have the desired effect of reducing violence towards women simply that it prevents many people listening to the music. The audience would be reduced to a tiny minority and those who remain would be aware of the lyrics as they would have to specifically seek out the music rather than simply being exposed to it with little thought of what it may contain.
Finally there is unlikely to be a large forbidden fruit effect, some people may want to try it in order to find out what it is like. But unlike for example drugs there are direct substitutes that would be almost exactly the same but without the violent lyrics so there is little point in going to the extra effort to get illegal versions.
Many feminists criticise the idea of banning music that glorifies violence against women, as they perpetuate the idea of women as helpless victims who cannot cope with male criticism or violent language. One such group of people are 'power feminists'1 These power feminists believe that by complaining that men are depicting violent language towards women, and attempting to get this banned, the gender stereotype of women as a victim is reinforced; thus undoing any feminist progress that tries to assert men and women are equals. Power feminists believe that instead women should take this language in hand, assert/ defend themselves and retaliate in order to state that women are equals to those who produce this violent music.
To ban music that encourages violence against women would be done with the intention of protecting women; if it is necessary to paint them as the victims of violence that they are, that is a small price to pay. Furthermore, bans on child pornography would not be met with claims that their ban merely encourages the view of children as victims (as an argument against the practise). Why is that any different in this case?
We desire freedom of expression.
Many of those who argue that censorship of music depicting violence towards women would be a bad thing do so on libertarian grounds. That is, they believe that to restrict the creation, circulation and consumption of this type of music would result in a restriction of people's freedom of speech/ expression. As some people enjoy and relate to the type of music that depicts these images, to deny people the right to listen to this music is to unfairly restrict their enjoyment and marginalise their tastes.
Some people take this further to say that morbidity is part of the human condition. A consequence of our highly developed brains is that we become very conscious of our mortality, we become fascinated with violence as well because it is so closely linked to death, and we all want to understand death, we all want to know what happens after we die. So people end up seeking different ways of dealing with their fear of death, and one common way is desensitizing ourselves to the idea, perhaps through subjecting ourselves to an environment awash with death, i.e. music that depicts violence. This obviously extends to the creative aspect of humanity as well. We all spend a lot of time thinking about violence, so it is not really surprising that the most creative of us end up making art about it. From paintings, to music, to theatre, we are obsessed with violence in our entertainment, even gratuitous violence. We have famous painters like Francisco Goya who invoke gruesome violence for effect1 and who also receive critical acclaim; Stanley Kubrick won an Oscar nomination for directing A Clockwork Orange, a movie rampant with violence, sexuality and misogyny. Both these examples show violent art which have had both critical and commercial success. Therefore for the proposition argument to successfully defend the banning of music depicting violence towards women it would seem that we would equally have to ban films and paintings that display similar themes. This would result in a huge restriction of expression and society would potentially loose a vast amount of creative output. Furthermore from the examples given above it would seem that a ban would go against popular desire.
However, while freedom of expression is definitely an important concept to consider, such freedoms can only go so far. When it comes to language that promotes violence then freedom of expression is no longer sufficient reason not to ban something as a physical harm outweighs the right to freedom of expression. Many countries such as Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India ban hate speech because it has severely damaging effects injuring people's dignity, feelings and self-respect and potentially promoting violence.1 Similarly, if we accept the arguments in the proposition arguments above, and we believe that this type of music can be harmful, then it seems that perhaps freedom of speech can be over ridden in order to protect those that this music injures (i.e. some women). Furthermore the banning of music which glorifies violence towards women may perhaps overtime lead to people's attitude toward this style of lyrics changing, and therefore any harmful attitude that arise from it may begin to be unacceptable by the majority.
Banning music that glorifies violence is at risk of the 'slippery-slope' of censorship, which occurs on two levels. Firstly that while music depicting violence towards women may be banned for the best intentions, this censorship may end up extending to other unpopular pieces of art, literature, film or news stories. It may follow that once music depicting violence is banned, that definition of violence may be expanded, afterwards that it is easier to ban songs that contain a political message as there is already precedent. While it is unlikely that it would ever be carried to such an extreme this could continue, until simply anything that is disliked by those in control of the banning is prohibited. It may also discourage people to say or publish expressions of their own for fear of them being considered pornography and being prosecuted1. Equally likely would be the spread of such bans to other forms of media as mentioned in opposition argument one.The second concern of the 'slippery slope' argument is that banning this type of music may cause a stagnation of creative output as people are scared to produce any music that might be considered offensive. This might result in no new styles of music being created and thus styles of music may begin to become torpid.
1Schauer, Frederick F, Free Speech: A Philosophical Enquiry, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)
No 'slippery slope' situation exists. It would be clear that the ban only applies to music that glorifies violence. This is not a justification that could be infinitely expanded to cover more and more music and art. It could not be considered a precedent to ban music with a political message as most political messages do not promote violence.
Far from stifling creativity it is likely to stimulate it. Artists would need to find new styles of music and would attempt to find ways around the ban while still keeping their music as near to its previous style as possible.
Anderson, Craig A. Janie Eubanks and Nicholas L. Carnagey, 'Exposure to Violent Media: The Effects of Songs With Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 5. 2005.
Schauer, Frederick F, Free Speech: A Philosophical Enquiry, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)