I’m driving in the car, listening to Five FM. Yeah, to 2 Chainz and his boyz Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky rap that song F***in’ Problem, the lyrics in the background while I’m thinking things, what we gonna have for dinner, hope the kid isn’t late, that sort of thing.
2 Chainz raps I love bad bitches, that’s my f***ing problem… She love my licorice, I let her lick it… Turn a dyke bitch out, have her f***ing boys, beast…
…. listen carefully to popular songs (I’m quoting rap in particular, though there’s no end of examples from a variety of genres) in the public domain, to get a sense of how relationships and sex – sacred to many – is replete with hurting and killing. Eminem (Marshall Mathers) raps in his song Kim: Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you? Now shut the f*** up and get what’s comin’ to you… You were supposed to love me… Now bleed! Bitch bleed! Bleed!
The arrogant and blatant objectification of women and the aggressive overtures of violence against women are astounding. The lyrics of a number of popular songs show a confrontation of the sexes as raging and base. But female pop stars also tease, taunt and sex it up.
Rihanna, swathed in gold lamé and clutching her pubis on a YouTube video, sings Hey rude boy, is you big enough? Hey rude boy can you get it up? This is all right there on my cell, I check it out as I wait in my car for my kid to come from school.
It has always been the job of artists, writers, poets and musicians to show us who we are. And in today’s world we’re often reflected as sex-obsessed and desensitised to sexual assault, murder, fucking, killing, all of it part of our everyday cultural (and real life) experience.
Indeed, our society is so permissive that ‘fuck’ peppers everyday speech, that sexual touching is modelled on TV, that sex education is taught from age five because we have to warn our pre-schoolers of inappropriate advances, of men wanting to steal virgins to cure AIDS… There seem few taboos, whatever boundaries did exist around sex mean little or nothing.
It used to be that we’d warn our children against ‘stranger danger’ but nowadays a South African woman or girl is more likely to be attacked or raped by someone she knows. And when it comes to femicide, a shocking total of around 2500 women, the intimate partners of husbands and boyfriends, were murdered in 2012 in South Africa.
The callous and gruesome rape and evisceration of Anene Booysen, a Jack the Ripper crime against her very womb, wasn’t perpetrated by some deranged madman. It’s alleged that her boyfriend was amongst the attackers on the day she was targeted and objectified as some ‘woman thing’ to be reduced to battered flesh.
And while this case, and the Pistorius case in which his intentions are still to be argued, have stolen the headlines recently, there’ve been a number of horrendous incidents of violence against women and girls reported in the last month. These include the rape of an eight-year-old girl whose right eye was gouged out during her ordeal by her fifteen-year-old attacker now declared ‘mentally unfit’ to stand trial.
My God, why do such a significant number of our boys and men do such unspeakable damage to their friends, sisters, daughters, and partners, to women they know and claim to love?
It’s commonly acknowledged that sexual assault and rape are fuelled by the need for power. And we have to acknowledge that our society remains obsessed with changing power dynamics – between the races, between the rich and poor, and by logical extension, between men and women.
As women claim their space, some aggressively so, men who possibly feel diminished or can’t cope with the shift in power, men who feel deeply ‘powerless’ will want to assert their power.
Of course there are many contributing factors to high stats of rape in South Africa – 144 women report rape to police each day and an estimated 3500 girls and women are in actuality raped or sexually assaulted each day but don’t report the ordeal. Social inequality, superstition and a lack of education around sex play a part; the practices of corrective rape and rape as gang initiation happen all too often.
Most disturbingly, there seems no understanding that to rape and kill a two-year old – or any woman, any human being, any sentient creature – is wrong and against the very essence of humanity.
As traditional feminism points to society as the creator of the ‘monsters’ who rape and kill (dysfunctional families, drugs, poverty, a permissive society) feminist Camille Paglia’s view is that man is born dangerous. He, we, are born primitive, born with base instincts and sex drive planted in us by nature. It is through socialisation, through the rules of society, that our will-to-power, in whatever form it shows itself – rage, rape, murder – is kept in check.
Paglia, often considered a dissident bête-noir as she rocks the boat, writes, ‘Everything sacred and inviolable provokes profanation and violation.’ No wonder then that it’s the sanctity of ‘home’, the sanctity of ‘partnership’ and ‘love’ which bears the brunt of extreme ‘powerlessness’. The women closest to powerless men, those who have lost or lack power, bear the brunt of a reassertion of power.
Paglia is slated for her assumption that sex cannot be taken out of the rape equation. She writes in her book Sexual Personae: ‘Modern feminism’s most naive formulation is its assertion that rape is a crime of violence but not of sex, that it is merely power masquerading as sex.
But sex is power, and all power is inherently aggressive. Rape is male power fighting female power.’ It is this assertion of power through rape – the aberration of sex – which is enacted with alarming regularity and with such tragedy in South Africa.
Perhaps if we are honest and address a pervasive sense of ‘powerlessness’ in our society and communities, we can begin to build stronger foundations based on human worth. How do we treat our boys? How do we allow them to treat us? Do we celebrate our boys as emotionally vulnerable beings?
Do we nurture an intrinsic sense of power which has nothing to do with the domination of women or anyone else for that matter? Do we teach boys (and girls) values which will support them through life, values which will help them to stand on the side of Right?
And men and boys must be taught to practice self control.
There is never an excuse to act out the violence so blatantly expressed in the more extreme rap song lyrics. If our boys are better socialised, and taught from the word go to respect women, they will believe as Paglia insists, that ‘Rape is no more to be excused than is murder or any other assault on human rights.’
Of course the Rubik’s cube in this case has many configurations. Of course abuse in the home will create ‘monsters’, drug and booze fuelled nights make it easier to rape and kill. And here’s another side to the cube – we women must treat ourselves with dignity.
In the Lil’ Kim video How Many Licks, she raps I’m on the way to the club after three bottles I’ll be ready to f***… She turns herself into a doll with replaceable parts, ‘a move so infused with self-objectification that it seems almost laughable in its own obviousness,’ says researcher Daniel Levitin in a study which looks at the influence of music on emotion.
Personally, though I regard rappers as modern poets of our time, it disturbs me to hear young women and girls singing and vibing to lyrics which objectify the female of the species as sluts, bitches and ho’s. As girls and women continue to speak out against rape, we must surely consider too that self-objectification undermines equality.
Not all rap lyrics undermine women, though, and it’s Tupac Shakur, RIP, who reminds us that since we all came from a woman… Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman…( it’s) Time to heal our women, be real to our women…
The message taught from boyhood must be No means No. But we have to go beyond this to ensure that boys and men know that intrinsic power comes as they, all of us, stand up for human rights. It’s delusional to believe that power comes from hurting anyone. I’m on twitter @JoanneHichens
Joanne studied art, psychology, and creative writing. She has worked as an artist, lecturer, facilitator at a psychiatric clinic, fiction editor, journalist, creative writing supervisor, short story writer and novelist. She has written stories and opinion pieces for various publications including the Cape Times, 'O' Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, The Big Issue and Itch.
Her crime novel DIVINE JUSTICE, published by Mercury, is acclaimed as a SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN KILLER THRILLER and a LITNET TOP TEN READ. The sequel, Sweet Paradise, will be published 2014.
She is currently the curator of the hot new SHORT SHARP STORIES AWARD, an annual award for South African short fiction, and teaches creative writing in the Master's degree programme at Rhodes University.
'I write on the issues that grab my interest, and add a touch of the personal and of philosophy.'
Story by Joanne Hichens