Challenging sexually violent song lyrics

With sexual harassment in the spotlight should we also be challenging sexually violent song lyrics?

Though not necessarily a new thing, there seems to be a growing number of songs with overtly sexist and misogynistic lyrics in the music charts. Though sexist language has unfortunately featured in some music for a number of years – arguably as a reflection of how society views men and women at any one time – language in some song lyrics has now also become sexually aggressive, violent and abusive towards women. This seems to be becoming something of an accepted norm by young people and society in general.

A number of artists rap or sing about cheating on women, having sex with numerous women whenever they like, whilst at the same time shaming women for what they wear or how they behave. Their lyrics also often include objectifying terms, e.g. Ting (urban dictionary definition: someone you can have fun/do things with and there won’t be any strings attached, applied to men and women), hos and bitches (offensive terms for women). Whilst this all objectifies women (in particular but not exclusively) there are also lyrics that extend this further, promoting sexual violence and rape.

There is an argument that many will not listen to the lyrics or take them at all seriously when they do. This is similar to the argument made about violence in computer games: listening to sexually violent lyrics or playing violent games, does not necessarily make you want to replicate the behaviours and actions you hear or see.

However, there is a danger that lyrics that aren’t just sexist towards women, but that actively promote sexual ownership and violence against women, could inadvertently become ingrained in the way young people view each other and impact on their ideas about relationships between men and women.

We have heard from young girls themselves that have been exploited and abused who say things such as ‘cheating is normal’ or ‘that’s what was expected of me’ or ‘it was my fault because of what I wore/how I spoke to him/who else I spoke to’.

As professionals, we talk to young people about consent and what a healthy relationship looks like, but if the culture they are surrounded by is perpetuating and even encouraging a dismissive and throw-away at best, and violent and abusive at worst, approach to sex and relationships, our job becomes much more difficult.

Though sexist lyrics are hardly a new thing, this in itself is a problem. During recent times of historical sexual abuse cases, the #metoo campaign and calling out sexual harassment when we see it, will this all be for nothing if there are still artists that perpetuate and encourage sexual violence towards women?

With popular music being largely in the domain of young people, it is worrying that there aren’t more artists with an international audience considering the effects their music will have on the people listening to it. We have seen a shift; some artists are writing about this very issue, turning what could be a sexually violent lyric into something ironic, parodying their peers. However, this has not yet become widespread.

Numerous articles online about examples of sexually violent lyrics in songs have public comments such as “it’s hip-hop, you can say whatever you want, that’s why it was created”;  to saying that a song is about a particular woman so it’s ok/free speech; to women deserve to be spoken about like this because they chase after men with money/lead men on/wear clothes that suggest they want to be spoken about in this way and finally to someone who said “most women like being called bitches”.

If we continue to see lyrics featuring content about rape and abuse, we may struggle to help some young people to fully understand love, consent and what a healthy relationship should be. We are concerned about the long term impact this could have on the behaviour of men towards women and the way young women and young men view themselves in society.

Please let us know your thoughts.

About Safe & Sound

In 2017 the NSPCC reported that the number of recorded sexual offences against children has been increasing significantly. In England offences against under-18s have increased by 115 per cent in the last five years. However, as many cases of sexual abuse including child sexual exploitation are not reported or detected, let alone prosecuted, it is difficult to assess the true scale of the problem.

The effect of child sexual abuse is devastating. It impacts upon a young person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and can lead to serious long-term issues such as mental-health problems as well as drug and alcohol addiction. It often impacts on a young person’s confidence, self-esteem and ability to engage with education and employment.

Our tailored programme Move to Safety helps to support young people in Derby and Derbyshire who are being, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited to move to a place of safety. We help support them to move forwards in ways that are right for each individual young person, so that they are no longer trapped or defined by the horrific things that have happened to them.

Safe and Sound’s Move to Safety Programme helped 134 young people in Derby and Derbyshire in 2016-17.

To support one young person to Move to Safety costs £1,800.

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