Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Wrong Message

I’m the first person to admit that I often find I love a catchy tune, and listen to it over and over, before I actually hear the lyrics. Sometimes I’m amused by them, sometimes I’m impressed by them, and sometimes I’m shocked or upset by them. With some songs, I don’t learn their significance until I am encouraged to watch the music video, either by friends or by a media storm that’s surrounding them, and then I worry about the message that these popular tunes are subliminally transmitting to our children and the population in general. I’m not alone, though - plenty of people like to publicly complain about songs, books and movies that send The Wrong Message.

Take Rihanna’s latest pop video, for instance. I noticed that there was a bit of negative hype about its content, so I decided to go and have a look. Released on 31 May 2011, the music video for Man Down shows Rihanna shooting a man dead in the street. As the video progresses, we learn that he raped her the night before.

The video has been in the news following heavy criticism for the violence portrayed in it. Unfortunately it’s not the fact that she was raped that’s making everyone hot under the collar, but the fact that she shoots her rapist. This made me wonder not about the message the video sends, but what message this sort of reaction sends: murder’s shocking and horrific, but rape? Well…it’s only a woman who gets hurt then, isn’t it? How dare she want to exact revenge! I soon found that I’m not the only person who has been confused by the media’s focus on the murder, rather than the rape, in this video. Lesley Morgan Steiner even goes so far as to suggest that, far from being banned, it should be required viewing!

Her critics say that Rihanna is sending The Wrong Message, and should be encouraging rape survivors to report their rapes, not kill their rapists. Fair enough, I suppose. I don’t think murder is the answer. But do these critics really understand the reality of what happens when a rape is reported by a woman? Of adults who are raped, the 40% who do report it risk a lot when they decide to do so. Only 6% of these reported rapes will actually result in a conviction for rape - from the statistics I can find online, that’s the lowest conviction rate of all reported crimes. Some say that’s because it’s not an easy thing to prove because it’s a he said/she said scenario. However, the rape conviction rate used to be over 35% 25 years ago, so that argument doesn’t make sense. I suggest that one of the reasons could be because juries are being influenced by the over-reporting of false rape allegations in the media, which suggests that it happens far more often than it actually does. The Fawcett Society report on rape facts (this is a download) suggests that only 3% of reported rapes turn out to be false - not a high number, yet false rape claims are reported in newspapers over and over again, making it appear that it’s a far more common occurrence than it really is.

Which brings me to Plan B and his alter-ego Strickland Banks. Plan B’s latest album is called a ‘concept album’, which basically means the songs and the videos for those songs tell a story, and The Defamation of Strickland Banks tells the story of a singer who is approached by an amorous fan. He rejects her and she tells the police that he raped her…well, that’s what’s implied. The most famous and arguably the most catchy song in the series is She Said, the video of which shows the court case where Banks is found guilty.

And I think that this sends a far more damaging message than Rihanna’s video does. It says that when women get pissed off with a man, they might accuse him of rape and he might get put in prison. So beware of women, men! And juries, bear this in mind when you’re sitting on a rape case - women who are alleged to have been scorned before the alleged rape took place are probably lying.

But has this damaging message been picked up by the media? No. Google ‘Rihanna criticism’ and you get at least a whole page of hits bemoaning the violence in the video of Man Down (although it’s not actually that violent or graphic - she shoots, he falls, people scream. I’d rather see that than a load of men in gold jewellery molesting a girl in a bikini, but that’s a subject for another post!). Google ‘Plan B criticism’ or ‘Strickland Banks criticism’ and all you get is a bit of moaning about the lack of depth in his ‘concept’. This is just one more example of how skewed things are in our culture: where it’s ok to perpetuate the myth that women falsely accusing men of rape is common leading to shockingly low conviction rates, but it’s not ok to suggest that rape survivors might be angry and hurt enough to find their own way of doing justice because they know the law is highly unlikely to do it for them.

by Clare Kirkpatrick


  1. While I agree wholeheartedly that women are treated terribly differently than men throughout life and perhaps especially in the media, I have to take issue with you that you suggest the rape victim hooting her assailant is justice. Surely it's revenge? The whole point of the justice system is that it is supposed to be impartial and I worry that in promoting the idea that two wrongs make a right, this too sets back women's cause.
    There is no easy answer. There are women who use their sex to manipulate men and who are more than capable of falsely accusing a man of rape. I don't doubt that these women are in the minority, however, as - I hope - are the men who carry out rape and other sexual assault. What I believe we need to do is to stop seeing ourselves as different to men in what our rights and responsibilities are and find some way of working together. For as long as we consider ourselves different and ask for positive discrimination, we will engender anger and resentment. This will not help feminism. And I'm sorry if I'm all rambly and all over the place here but I'm very tired and maybe not putting my point across as well as I might.
    Music videos are horrendous as is most advertising. A recent TV ad for a car (renault?) showed Vita Von Teese stripping and Rhianna posing provocatively. The only man shown as a 'positive' role model and desirable as far as the car's image was concerned was the fully clothed Marlon Brando. I could weep at the inequality.
    I agree we need to do something and keeping the debate going is a good part of that. How many judges, ad execs and music impresarios will read it or participate is another thing entirely.
    I'll shut up now.
    Great thought provoking post.

  2. As a survivor of something myself, I realise that the issues involved are massive.I won't get into those; others have said plenty.
    What does bother me(above and beyond thse issues) is that when it comes to court, I believe both victim and accused should be entitled to anonymity. In those cases where someone is found innocent, the mud sticks forever. No smoke without fire and all that.

  3. A big part of the outrage is that it's a woman dong the shooting. Violence is 'unfeminine' and so it is more 'inappropriate' to see a woman wielding a gun and taking her vengeance. If it were a man holding the gun and shooting a woman down in retribution for something, even though this is just as wrong, would it have provoked the same response? Or any response at all? I seriously doubt it.


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