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Feminist WTF Moments

May 7, 2011

Cosmo Lee said you need to know what a song is about to have a deeper understanding of the music. At first, my thoughts were just a Big Lebowski quote: “That’s just like, your opinion, man.” Lyrics? Pshaw! Johan Hegg said it himself during Amon Amarth’s set this week. “It’s death metal. If you don’t know the words, no one will know.”

So, I windmill and headbang to my heart’s content without looking up any lyrics. After all, I’m mostly disappointed by esoteric wankery or bad teen poems whenever I look up words to songs. Why would I go out of my way to find something that would detract from my enjoyment of the music? I don’t need to know the “deeper meaning” of a song when I’m rocking out in my room and my neighbors are doubled over in silent laughter.

Something always throws a wrench in that arrangement.

A while back, I had a Feminist WTF Moment when I was blasting the album “Burial Ground” by Grave.  The lyrics “DIE YOU FUCKING WHORE!!” interrupted my trance during the song “Sexual Mutilation”. I did a double take, stopped what I was doing, and backed up the song.

My thoughts were, “Damnit! Why were these lyrics the ones that I could understand out of the entire album?” I know, it seems kind of silly to be bothered by one that – after all, the band is called GRAVE, they’re a death metal band. It like, comes with the territory, ya know? It could be compared to Walmart selling CDs with the curses taken out. All the sex and violence is fine, just don’t curse!

My discomfort runs deeper than simple cherry picking. Prostitutes and sex workers live in state of uncertainty, not knowing if they’re going to survive this day, not knowing if this John is going to get his rocks off on spilling blood. Because such work is criminalized in the United States, prostitutes bear the brunt of others sadistic desires – both from pimps and Johns, and they can expect no justice for crimes committed against them. They exist perpetually between a rock and a hard place.

It’s this climate that allows us to scapegoat prostitutes: to laugh with glee at murdering them in Grand Theft Auto, to give oscars to songs called “Hard Out Here For a Pimp”, to call it “theft of services” when men rape them at gunpoint, to prosecute 15 year old prostitutes trafficked into the trade when they cannot legally consent to sex,  to blame them for their own murders

And yes, to scream “Die you fucking whore!” and not bat an eyelash at the implications.

When it comes out that dead bodies were people who once engaged in sex work, all bets are off. It’s no biggie, they’re JUST prostitutes, their lives are worth nothing. Someone else already sentenced them to death, and we approve of such judgements. They deserved to die for what they were doing, amirite?

As a culture we only acknowledge that some deaths are tragedies. Others are not even blips on the radar. The result is still the same. Someone died. Their voice will never be heard again, their families will be without a mother, daughter, sister… someone will miss them dearly.

So what’s on the other end of this story? We scapegoat prostitutes because we project everything we feel is wrong with ourselves onto them. It’s not a problem that some dude will seek sex and going as far as paying a stranger for it. His needs, motives, vulnerabilites… those are not what’s wrong with the picture! It’s some woman who “chose” to sell sex. (It’s not a free choice across the board.)

Thus, we call for their deaths. An outpouring of emotion as cleansing as a public stoning.

“Die you fucking whore!”

Yeah, this is all from one line of one song. I can’t find the lyrics to that song anywhere. I’d like to know the context. However, my view towards lyrics has changed considerably. Try as I might, I can’t completely erase the anti-feminist sentiments and “deeper meaning” from my consciousness on this one.

Touche, Cosmo. I’m not willing to bang my head to my heart’s content to something like this. Well played, sir.

\m/ Ms. Anthropia

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2011 10:12 pm

    Hello! I listen to some grind, death, and black metal. I admit that a lot of grind bands (and metal bands in general) speak horribly of women. (ie, gorerotted’s “can’t fit her limbs in the fridge” and “her gash i did slash.”) man, it’s just an awful lot of hate directed towards women.
    being a female and a fan of metal, i have stopped to ask why in the hell i subject myself to that kind of anti-female content and negativity. hell, why do i ENJOY it, let alone put up with it? i don’t have a solid answer, but i would like to say that demeaning women is not something limited to metal bands. i would also like to say that on the same note, metal bands are not limited to demeaning women! they’re offensive and harsh on all sorts of topics and levels. grind in general was specifically designed to offend. death metal often does, too.
    i don’t listen to grave, but i searched for the lyrics of the song you mentioned. i found the song but i did not find the line that you quoted within. maybe i found something unrelated. but, if looking in to the context of those lyrics will salvage your relationship with a band you enjoy listening to, go for it.
    while i understand the implications of letting people get away with talking poorly of women or prostitutes, your morals aren’t compromised (unless you chose for them to be) because you listen to a death metal band that talks poorly of whores. i think that there should be a balance each person finds within themselves. it’s not all or nothing.

    Or is it?

  2. Beth W. permalink
    May 7, 2011 11:26 pm

    This is not in any way meant as an apology for such lyrics (which make me uncomfortable too). I think men in metal still forget that there are women listening. And I think a lot of these lyrics are expressions of fears/neuroses about women. On the one hand, they feel like they are saying these things to a mostly safe & male audience, so we get to “listen in.” I think it’s only one part of the bigger picture about how they feel about women (including prostitutes) but it gets center stage in metal because a lot of metal lyrics are about exploring fears. On the other hand, there ARE women listening and this stuff makes us intensely uncomfortable. It also makes the guys feel uncomfortable, to some extent, but they relate to these kinds of words differently.

    I’m someone who listens to lyrics pretty closely. And I’ve sat through a lot of songs with negative things to say about women. I’ve had such mixed feelings about those songs. A few I like or tolerate, but some just drive me nuts.

  3. War Master permalink
    May 9, 2011 11:13 pm

    I’m afraid we might’ve got a case of identifying the narrator with the author. Which of course is a very problematic assumption, especially in metal. When Mille Petrozza sings “My only aim is to take many lives” he doesn’t actually want to commit mass murder. When Ola Lindgren sings “Die you fucking whore!” he doesn’t necessarily have something against sex workers.

    Also “whore” can mean practically everything in a metal song. Occult’s “The Nazarene Whore” (this band had a growling female vocalist) deals with… I guess you can figure that out.

  4. Ralph permalink
    May 11, 2011 10:12 pm

    I think I have to agree with War Master here. Murdering anyone is a terrible thing, and women are indeed a part of “anyone” but people in general tend to confuse the author and the speaker. I’ve had this problem several times when I’ve allowed someone to read my short stories, “Oh there’s so much fighting you must have a lot of pent up aggression.” Do we accuse Stephen King of hating women because women have been killed in his novels? Or any other novelist or screen writer? I feel you may have written this incredibly hastily especially since you said you don’t know the context in which he says “Die you fucking whore.” It could have been about anything, something righteous in fact, and you lash out immediately with your RAWR feminist anger. I don’t know the context either, so I can’t defend Grave, but I recommend you think before you speak next time.

    • May 13, 2011 3:04 pm

      Hey Ralph,

      Yes, the context could very well have been anything. I considered the fact that maybe it was some deranged weirdo talking to some woman who broke his heart. “Die you fucking whore” though? If it’s some breakup scenario, I’d say, “Ok, chill and eat some ice cream for a week, it will be ok!”

      There are writers who cater to male points of view, and audiences (male and female) are supposed to relate to the male point of view by default. Some screen writers do simply have a male bias, though they’re not frequently called out on it. If a film has many female characters beyond a certain threshold, it’s dismissed as a “chick flick” by “serious” audiences. If it’s a movie with all male characters, the bias is just considered the “normal” or the “default” despite the fact that women are half the population.

      Yes, I do realize this might be some character Grave created for this song. Yet my point remains: considering the shit that sex workers deal with all the time, and how we condone those injustices, I don’t think I can enjoy this “story”. Write it off as “RAWR feminist anger!” if you want, you’re entitled to your views.

      Ms. Anthropia

      • War Master permalink
        May 15, 2011 11:40 pm

        In my opinion Metal has to be viewed as a form of art that can’t be properly experienced on surface level (though I’m not implying you do that). On the other hand I don’t think that vocals are as important in Metal as in other genres (Rock), so I can enjoy Metal with stupid lyrics (not if they are too biased but I find it difficult to draw a line). These people are musicians, not poets, so a song can on the one hand be composed very intelligently and communicate an interesting concept, a deeper meaning (which I think is always vague on an intellectual level as music is an art form that is based on aesthetics) but can on the other hand have idiotic lyrics. So my point is this: If I understood you correctly, you say that these particular words “die you fucking whore” stick out of the song, so if someone casually listens to metal, she/he could get the impression that it’s okay to be ignorant or insulting against sex workers. But I think that music by good Metal bands like Grave is specifically designed to not be listened to casually. Someone who does is doing it wrong anyway and Grave can’t be blamed and someone who doesn’t already realizes that it can’t be understood as mysogynist propaganda. Propaganda in Metal destroys the concept of Metal.

        PS: I disagree with Ralph. I am glad that someone puts some thought into this and writes about it.

  5. Serena permalink
    May 12, 2011 11:51 pm

    There’s also the other side of this to consider. While there is a problem with anti-women lyrics in metal – there is also the fact that are discouraged in society from listening to heavy metal (or, in certain cases, even hard rock). Even radio stations that play hard rock (which includes some of the lighter heavy metal, such as Metallica) tend to cater strictly towards their male listeners, and act as if there their female listeners don’t matter (or, perhaps, even exist). So another thing to consider is that women who choose to listen to heavy metal can find it empowering to listen to a genre of music that they’re apparently not to like. The thing is, our society expects women to be into stuff like Lady Gaga and other pop music – since there can be a sense of rebellion in choosing to listen to Metallica over Lady Gaga. In other words, women choosing to listen to heavy metal are rebelling against the gender norms that society tries to impose on them.

    So does anyone feel find it a bit of a paradoxical situation, because you just happen to really like the way heavy metal sounds (and you refuse to listen to pop music, just because it’s what women are expected to like) – but you have to contend with misogynistic lyrics in your favourite genre of music?

  6. AngeliKlaw permalink
    May 15, 2011 5:27 pm

    I’d like to see/hear some badass chick scream lyrics about raping and sexually violating men and then see how the male listeners respond. I often wonder how that would change the feel of a metal gig.

    I get that a lot of the stuff talked about in metal lyrics is fantasy. And I also get that a lot of it is about being – or maybe role playing is a better phrase here – extremely aggressive. But it’s the common threads of aggressive fantasies that make me ask myself if something more is going on.

    The two most popular lyrical themes in extreme metal are rape and murder. It doesn’t matter who is singing and/or playing the instruments, when the victim in the lyrics is gendered as a woman, rape and murder are mixed and, inevitably, inseparable.

    What is the goal of vocalizing such fantasies? What does it mean that the lyrics are widely accepted, and too often repeated?

    For me, it means doing lots of research before I go to a gig because the chances of my PTSD flaring up and fucking up the rest of my whole fucking week at any old death/black/grind metal gig are really fucking high.

    • War Master permalink
      May 15, 2011 11:52 pm

      “I’d like to see/hear some badass chick scream lyrics about raping and sexually violating men and then see how the male listeners respond.”

      I think I’d buy that record. Sounds like an interesting concept :)

      “But it’s the common threads of aggressive fantasies that make me ask myself if something more is going on.”

      Like Pantera? They’re garbage.

  7. Akhlut permalink
    May 17, 2011 2:15 am

    Just started reading your blog. Very cool stuff and very interesting.

  8. Chris permalink
    June 12, 2011 9:00 pm

    Great blog there. Love the genre and so on. On this topic, my take on it that they got some issues with women, lots of metalbands do. Ofcourse the lifestyle they have, easy women, lots of alcohol and drug abuse ain’t doing their worldview any good. Remember reading an interview with Lemmy from Motorhead a while back, he said that due the the life he had, his view on women is fucked up.

    Personally I don’t let lyrics bother me, I’m in for the music, unless the lyrics are good, but they seldom are but I’m a man though. Reading what alot of these bands think pass for poetry is a sad tale though and alot of it is quite bad. I can understand why some people react to them though, often they contain hateful, misogynic murder/rape fantasies, anti-religion(which I like but that’s me, ever the atheist), mass murder thoughts and songs about suicide, drugs, war and all the other bad shit out there.

    Metal gave me an outlet in my youth and now, when I’m closing in on the big four-point-o, I’m still addicted to it. The older I get, the more brutal my music needs to be for some reason. Oh well…

  9. Anne permalink
    June 20, 2011 4:34 am

    Just started reading your blog – as a female who loves metal, it’s given me a lot to think about.

  10. September 10, 2011 2:30 pm

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU for creating this blog – the heavy metalscene DESPERATELY needs some women to stir some shit up. It is SO heavily male-centered, often bands treat their audiences like they are 100% men, and that is just bullshit!

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