I haven’t been listening to a lot of country songs in the past few years, so have missed a lot of music I might have otherwise enjoyed. I wrote in the last post about Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead.” I like this song. I find songs about strong women very appealing.
It’s not as if there is no precedent. Martina McBride dealt seriously with the issue of domestic violence in “Independence Day.” It was a somber song, told from the point of view of the girl orphaned by her mother burning the house down with her and her abusive husband within. There is no justification, just sadness and understanding. “I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong, but maybe it’s the only way,” McBride sings. There was no outcry from country music listeners — the woman dies in the process of killing her abuser. Murder-suicide is okay.
And then there was “Goodbye, Earl.” The Dixie Chicks blew up a tornado of controversy when they released this lighthearted ode to killing a guy who “walked right through that restraining order, and put [his wife] in intensive care.” Many people were outraged; the song was banned from a lot of stations, and those that did play it often followed it with a PSA and the number of the battered woman’s helpline. (Not that this was necessarily a bad thing.) You see, in this song, the women killed the abuser and got away with it. They weren’t punished.
“Goodbye, Earl” is a recognition of the way that the system often fails victims of abuse. And it celebrates women who refuse to take it, who act in their own self-defense. Because that is what these songs are about, self-defense. (The Rocket Scientist, when he first heard “Gunpowder and Lead,” far from condemning the woman in the song, speculated on whether she was using buckshot or slugs, and which would be more effective.) I would bet that any man sitting in house fending off an attack from someone who has assaulted him before and whom the victim had every expectation would try to hurt him again (as in “Gunpowder and Lead”) wouldn’t even be charged — at least probably not in Texas, which is where Lambert hails from.
I have no problem with these songs.
I do, however, have a big problem with Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”
For those of you who have not heard this little gem, it is told from the perspective of a woman who is outraged that her boyfriend is in a honky-tonk, and who believes he is going to cheat on her. Note: she doesn’t actually know that he is cheating on her:
Right now he’s probably slow dancing
With a bleached-blond tramp
And she’s probably getting frisky
Right now, he’s probably buying
Her some fruity little drink
‘Cause she can’t shoot whiskey
So, in the face of his potential infidelity, what does she do?
I dug my key into the side
Of his pretty little souped-up 4 wheel drive
Carved my name into his leather seat
I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights
Slashed a hole in all 4 tires
And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats
This is not empowerment. This is violence. Admittedly, it is violence against property not a person, but it still violence intended to send a message. A chilling message. While she may simply intend this to be revenge, and she is going to walk away from the relationship, her boyfriend would be quite justified in wondering if the next time she would be taking a Louisville Slugger to his head.
If a man did this, he would be seen as a potential abuser. No one would find it light-hearted. Women’s groups would be speaking out, as well they should. In this case, men’s groups (who often take positions I disagree with) are screaming, as well they should be.
Abuse is abuse. Violence is violence. The gender of the victim is totally irrelevant.While the statistics on sexual abuse indicate that women are the victim of sexual abuse much more often than men, the stats about domestic violence are much, much more even.* The Resident Shrink says that in her practice victims of domestic violence are evenly split along gender lines.
People make Tiger Woods jokes. They don’t make Rihanna jokes, for the very reason that domestic abuse is a serious topic, and beating up women is not acceptable.
But it is — or should be — no more acceptable to attack your husband with a nine-iron than it is to slap your girlfriend. It is no more acceptable for a woman to terrorize a man by destroying his car, than it would be for a man to do likewise. Such abuse should never be celebrated in song, as though it were trivial and worse yet, deserved. Infidelity, real or imagined, should result in breaking up at the most, not violence on one side and terror on the other.
Men deserve to have their pain treated with the seriousness it calls for. Women deserve being treated like adults, to be called to account for the injuries they do to others.
Pain — and accountability — do not recognize gender. In this case, neither should we.
*And this is not even to address the problem of women to women domestic violence, or man to man. Just as domestic violence often knows no gender, neither does it know sexual orientation.