Our campaign a success: thanks for speaking out against eroticised violence against women
Time for some good news. This week my colleague Sharon Haywood of Adios Barbie received news from MTV that it would not air Kanye West’s Monster video. Collective Shout and I had teamed up with Adios Barbie and other global women’s groups to try to stop release of the video and screening by MTV. I wrote a number of pieces against this ‘rape scenario set to a sound track’ (here, here and here), we launched a petition through Care2 and Change.org and momentum gathered, attracting international media coverage. Now MTV has responded. I’ll allow Sharon to take up the story, with a reprint of her blog post here.
A Monster Success
By Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor
It’s official folks, and you heard it here first: MTV and VH1 will not air Kanye West’s “Monster” video. Jeannie Kedas of MTV Networks, which also controls VH1, has recently confirmed that neither channel “has plans to air the video.” Kedas cited MTV’s voluntary standards department as a guiding force in their choice, but you can bet that our collective online movement against the official release of “Monster” also had something to do with MTV’s principled decision.
When I first watched the leaked clips of “Monster” I was so infuriated and disturbed that I couldn’t just say, “That’s an incredibly offensive and misogynistic music video. Wow, artists are really pushing the limits, aren’t they?” and get on with my day. In the past, there have been countless media messages that have riled me up, but never have I been so affected than after watching those unofficial clips for the first time. My stomach literally turned as I took in images of nearly naked dead women hanging from chains, a contorted dead woman splayed on a couch wearing nothing but red stilettos, and two dead woman propped up in bed being maneuvered like playthings by Kanye himself. Oh yeah, don’t forget Kanye gripping the hair of a woman’s severed head. I couldn’t just sit by and tweet how P O’ed I was. I’m so glad I didn’t.
“The video was submitted to MTV, but it wasn’t banned; rather, edits were requested based on the channel’s decency standards.
MTV has not banned Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ video,” the network said in a statement to MTV News. “We have been in constant communication with the label regarding this matter. However, we are still awaiting the edits we requested in order for the video to be suitable for broadcast.”
So, we waited and continued to speak out against the use of eroticized violence as mainstream viewing. On June 5th, the official release of the long-awaited version of “Monster” appeared online. The only thing that was strikingly different from the leaked clips was the disclaimer at the beginning of the video: “The following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and shall be taken as such.” It might as well have read: “Warning: The following content may cause physical and emotional upset such as nausea and seething anger” because the final cut still contained the same sexually violent images that sparked our activism in the first place. It’s obvious that the inclusion of a disclaimer tells us that someone at Def Jam, UMG, or even West himself is paying attention to our protest. Note to artists and producers: A disclaimer does not erase nor excuse misogynistic content.
We want to publicly acknowledge and applaud MTV Networks for choosing not to air “Monster.” We congratulate MTV for reinforcing the fact that violence against women, even if couched in a horror-film format, should never be used as a way to engage and entertain viewers, many of who are under the age of 18. We need you to let others know that MTV is acting as a leader by recognizing that eroticized violence in no way, shape, or form, is entertainment. (Here’s their Facebook page. Like ‘em.)
And what about UMG, the other target of our petitions? Despite my many attempts to procure an official statement, UMG has nothing to say on the record. Some may argue that UMG shouldn’t be held accountable, as the company is not responsible for the creation of West’s content; the artist’s own record company Def Jam assumes that role. Instead, UMG focuses solely on distribution (as is indicated in the copyright at the end of “Monster”). Thanks to MTV, there aren’t many distribution options left for the video. (Here’s MTV’s Twitter handle. Thank them personally. I have.)
It’s high time that media big guns, like UMG follow MTV’s lead and recognize that profits can still be gained by taking a socially responsible stand—not in spite of doing so, but because of it. As your support has shown, there are a growing number of consumers who give more than a damn about what choices are offered to them as entertainment. Corporate bigwigs need to also realize that our work is not yet done. Far from it. Our petitions did not target the music industry as a whole but instead we focused on a single video as taking one step toward positive change. As Change.org says,
“We believe that building momentum for social change globally means empowering citizen activists locally — and that the influence of a local victory is always much larger than the change it immediately achieves.”
The sum of many small victories means notable social change. We know that the video’s lack of distribution will not eliminate the presence of misogyny in the music industry. But at least we know we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve been heard. And we’re fairly sure that the music industry will continue to listen.
Shapewear line to help you be more like the “lucky” slim girls
I was recently asked to comment on a ‘story’ about underwear brand Triumph announcing new body shape descriptions, replacing fruit (apple, pear) with artists (Botticelli, Rembrandt, Ruben, Da Vinci, Raphael and Matisse). I gave a quick comment that it was still labelling and I didn’t think labelling of any kind was helpful . Emphasising health was more important than putting a label on body size, shape or weight.
At that stage I hadn’t seen the TV footage depicting women in underwear identifying themselves as a particular artistic shape, parading through Sydney’s Pitt Street to promote the brand.
As I looked into it more, I came to conclude that what we were seeing was an advertising puff piece masquerading as news – another excuse to show women (with generally ‘acceptable’ bodies in the first place) walking around the streets in underwear under the guise of body image concerns. ABC’s Media Watch featured Triumph’s media stunt here and reported it would have been worth over a million dollars in free advertising.
Triumph’s body image ‘shape report’ report seemed to be just the peg on which to launch some new underwear. As the media release says : “The Shape Report supports the launch of Triumph’s Shape Sensation range.” Oh my goodness – really?
An analysis of the findings of the report (conducted in conjunction with Marie Claire) with commentary from authorities in the field – sans the underwear models – would have been more convincing. But would the TV networks have been so keen to cover it without the public display of women in lingerie?
In promotions about the different body types, Triumph describes those with the body type considered ideal as “lucky”: “Do you have a smaller waist but a fuller bust and bottom? Lucky girl. You’re blessed with a typical Rembrandt body. ” This shows that despite mouthing platitudes about body image diversity, the company still gives primary value to a particular body type – which defeats the whole (supposed) purpose. The shapewear is designed to conform/bind bodies to an ideal – to make you more like the lucky girls.
When you click on the image for the ‘style advice’ you will see the women are magically transformed into something quite different – here’s what becomes of ‘Matisse’ and ‘Reubens’ for example. Yep that’s the transforming power of the Triumph Bonded Long Short.
As my colleague Lydia Turner from BodyMatters Australasia says: “The reality is women’s bodies are not limited to these shapes – trying to squeeze every woman’s bodies into them only perpetuates the idea that women’s bodies are objects to be categorized”.
If they really did want to celebrate all body types, and create an environment where women felt better about their bodies, they could start with including them in their catalogues.
The approach of Triumph – and other companies spouting body image concerns – isn’t to advocate changing the toxic culture which makes women feel bad about themselves but add to it with more products we can buy to make us look ‘better’.
‘Poisonous lies about what we have to do to be considered attractive’
Triumph is also running a competition looking for six ‘real’ women to be ‘ambassadors’ for their body type to promote the company’s new range of body shaping lingerie. We can apparently only feel better about ourselves if we look attractive and acceptable and that means ‘real’ women need to “find their shape and change using Best Body Shapewear”. As Collective Shout supporter Nicole Jameson of Adelaide points out in her March 30 letter to Triumph, it ends up being just another beauty contest – entrants’ success is dependent upon online votes with finalists then flown to Sydney for a ‘final judging session’.
Today I was asked by a friend via Facebook if I would vote for her entry to become “an ambassador for her body shape”. Intrigued, I clicked the link and arrived at the website for your “Shape Ambassador Body Shape Competition”.
At first, I was encouraged to see a lingerie company seeking ‘real women’ to represent their product. But the more I explored your website, the more confused I became. You are seeking for women to represent “real female body shapes”, yet these women will become the public face of a product which hides and changes their bodies.
We live in a toxic culture, which promotes unnatural and unattainable standards of beauty to the detriment of the mental and physical health of millions of Australian and NZ women. Your own survey has identified that 70% of respondents are unhappy with their body, and that 82% would prefer to have a different body shape. This not a marketing opportunity – this is a tragedy. Women do not need to be sold a product which exploits our insecurities in order to help us attain false ideals – we need to be told that we are acceptable and beautiful as we are. Your competition, along with your ‘shapewear’, denies that there is beauty to be found in our ‘real’ bodies and feeds poisonous lies about what we need to do in order to be considered acceptable and attractive. It is disgracefully disingenuous of you to dress up such a hideous assault to our self-esteem in the guise of ‘body confidence’.
So no, I am not going to vote for my friend’s entry. Rather, I am going to discourage her, and everyone else I know, from entering your competition. Then I’m going to tell them that they are beautiful as they are, and don’t need to waste their money on appearance-altering underwear to cover up their ‘real’ bodies. Australian women don’t need to “find our shape and change”, Triumph. Your company, on the other hand, could apparently do with a good long look in the mirror.
How convenient to caricature someone whose work you oppose by reducing them to a cartoon parody. Like I haven’t had enough Helen Lovejoy clichés to last a lifetime? Oh, and look, another media studies academic watching The Simpsons. Are we impressed yet?
Where Stephen Harrington sees “a graphic critique of post-feminist female sexuality”, I see Kanye West holding a woman’s decapitated head. Where those like Harrington see ambiguous, complicated narrative and linear narrative fantasy, I see semi-naked dead women swinging from ropes around their necks.
When I see Rick Ross in the ‘Behind the scenes’ You Tube clip tucking into a plate of raw meat before a spreadeagled dead woman on the table, I see the brutalization and degradation of female sexuality. I don’t think ‘Oh, check out that satire’.
King Kanye has produced a carnage of female corpses, brutality and eroticized violence: torture porn. I agree with Zerlina Maxwell who described it as ‘a rape scenario set to a soundtrack’.
And Ta-Nehisi Coates has asked, what if John Mayer decided to cut a video with dead black women strewn about?
But of course my readings are to be dismissed. Because Harrington is a MEDIA AUTHORITY and he knows best.
Harrington’s dismissal of media interpretations other than his own as invalid, wrong, or hysterical is to buy into a predictable stereotype designed to dismiss women and their readings of culture. Only those like himself can coolly and rationally respond to culture. The rest are to be condescendingly dismissed.
Telling women who read oppression and offense into cultural representations that “they are reading it wrong” is to delegitimize their cultural interactions and ignore their perspectives.
Sharon Haywood from Argentina and I started a petition sponsored by Collective Shout, Adios Barbie, the Coalition Against Trafficking Australia and CATWA International, and Media Watch (U.S) calling on Universal Music Group to withdraw the video. That petition is hosted on two well respect global sites for activists: Care2 and Change.org. So far 10,000 have signed.
We believe that the mainstreaming of videos like this increases desensitized and callous attitudes toward violence against women. Women are reduced to sex-doll like playthings. They are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even when dead. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women.
We hoped to challenge the view that women’s pain and suffering is perfect fodder for entertainment.
…I teach [in the ‘hood’] in a very rough zip code. This crap is the ONLY music these kids listen to, so it has everything to do with violence against women because it forms their opinions.
… I have to hear the high school boy say “b–ches are only good for three things, f—ing, cooking, and cleaning.” I have to hear the high school girls…explain how you know a boy really loves you if he hits you.
Rappers…promote the ideas that the measure of a man is how many b–ches he can f—, or how much violence he can do, and that women’s only value is what’s between their legs, and as a punching bag. And that harms women and men.
Those kids just don’t seem to understand that misogynist rap videos are just graphic critiques of post-feminist [read anti-feminist] culture.
While not specifically naming West, international recording artist Moby may as well have in this article from 2005. Moby asks why racism is seen as bad but misogyny seen as cool. To those creating music which glamourises misogyny he writes: “you have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create”.
Sex is a ‘source of negativity and fear’ for so many women and girls. Yes. But it’s not the fault of my colleagues and I. West’s video is one great big dog whistle to all the women and girls who’ve had to put up with abusive sexuality that their pain is just good fun and entertainment. And it’s a dog whistle to men who choose to be perpetrators as well.
I talk to a lot of girls every year. They tell meabout being dis-empowered by pornified imagery which conveys their power lies in their ability to pleasure men on demand. They say boys are acting in more sexually aggressive ways towards them. They share stories of coerced sex, unwanted hookups, pressure to provide oral sex at parties and to send naked images. These stories come from girls as young as 11 and 12.
The sexualisation of murdered women on CSI doesn’t make West’s video any better. Just because we haven’t listed every last example of media sexualisation of female destruction, doesn’t mean we don’t see it elsewhere. We just choose our battles, and we’ve identified West’s video as a significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.
Harrington can keep watching The Simpsons and I’ll keep working with my friends around the world to try to make things better for real women.
Why won’t Kanye West repond to outrage against Monster video?
Mass desensitisation to abuse and exploitation
I’m not interested at all in going after Kanye West for the sake of it. That would be very boring. It specifically relates to the carnival of carnage he has created, the ‘rape scenario set to a soundtrack’, the idea that torture porn is sexy. We are targeting what he has created and the message it sends and the harm this causes – MTR
Sarah Parker at Change.org has blogged again with an update on our petition against Kanye West’s Monster video. She asks why Kanye West or his management have not responded given the level of concern globally.
Care2 and Change.org are both hosting our petitions which have so far secured a combined signature count of more than 8000. We’ve passed our original goal of 5000 so have now revised the target to 10,000.
When did promoting violence against women become an acceptable form of art? Hundreds of years ago, actually. But the question is, does that make it okay today? Over 7,000 activists all over the world say “no” and have put their collective foot down over Kanye West’s music video, “Monster.”
I recently reported on a petition started by Melinda Tankard Reist and Sharon Haywood that asks Universal Music Group, distributor of the video, to stop it’s official release, MTV to declare it will not promote the video, and Kanye to officially apologize for eroticizing violence against women. If you haven’t seen the leaked clips, the video contains beautiful, lingerie-clad women, possibly zombies or vampires, now dead. Kanye, Jay Z, and Rick Ross kill them and enjoy the spoils of victory – kissing the dead bodies, hanging practically naked bodies from the neck by chains, and eating a plate of raw meat between the legs of another scantily clad dead girl, to name a few. Nikki Minaj gets in on the act as a fanged dominatrix “interrogating” her pink-haired alter-ego, also played by Minaj. Read more>>
Kanye West, seems to have Swift-ly moved on from the Taylor-saga to the next level of drama in his new ‘Monster’ Vid. Facebook status updates have begun to take up the cause. As a social networker, have you voiced your objection in between your updates of being hung over and sleeping outdoors?
There’s a vulture in our popular culture that feeds on the ritual humiliation and exploitation of the female population. ‘Freedom of expression’ is the cry of opposition that would seek to hypocritically enforce oppression in the name of libertion.
But Kanye’s new video steps over the vultures line by perpetrating the lyrical crime of ‘rape and pillage a village’ in graphic detail on the unresponsive females in his pimp-flick
So let’s talk about the ideologies we spin to the masses through the music franchises. Rape and exploitation is a sexist expression of the mass oppression that flows from TV screens to our streets, from police stations to limited-rape-justice for the female nation. Only a monster would find arousal from sights of women being incapacitated to their eyeballs. Monsters should never become mainstream.
Will you make a contribution to the Twitter revolution? First things first, join the word on the street and sign the petition that denounces ‘Kan-ye for being a fan of raping dead women’. Spread the word, so that your message is heard loud and clear by Universal Music Group and MTV before they release ‘the Monster.’
What’s entertaining about women in lingerie hanging by their necks on chains? What’s artful about images of drugged, unconscious women about to be sexually assaulted?
It’s misogyny, graphic and simple.
Instead of artistic expression, political and social commentator Zerlina Maxwell described Kanye West’s music video for Monster as “a rape scenario set to a soundtrack.”
Yet that’s not what many commentators are saying about the gruesome and degrading images in the rapper’s video, which has yet to be officially released even though it’s all over the Internet either in full or in part.
West has suggested that the video’s necrophilia and brutality are aimed at generating controversy and sales. Still, there’s a profusion of intellectualizing and rationalizing about the video.
Much of that commentary includes attempts to absolve African-American men from criticism of their misogynist lyrics and the grotesque images of violence perpetrated on white women because of the history of slavery and colonialism.
Among the most inflated and convoluted praise for depravity as art comes from progressives. Salon.com’s Tracy Clark-Flory deliberately set aside the question of misogyny and wrote that the video “offers a fascinating Rorschach test of our current sexual culture.”
Writing on The Atlantic’s blog, Chris Jackson deflected the question of misogyny saying he couldn’t answer it given all the other examples in popular culture.
Instead he fatuously wrote: “Kanye is like [French Renaissance writer] Montaigne, who said of himself that he doesn’t record being, but passing … The most difficult and most intriguing aspect of Kanye as a rapper is that you never know whether he’s celebrating or satirizing an idea or doing both at the same time.”
However, it’s worth noting that Jackson’s Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates disagrees.
Coates described the video as “boring racism, boring sexism that hearkens back to the black power macho of Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver at their worst … the work of a failed provocateur boorishly brandishing his ancient affects.”
…Far from breaking new ground, West’s video only sinks to a deeper level of depravity, bringing the mainstream closer to what’s come to be known as torture porn.
It’s part of a growing social tolerance or numbness to violence against women. Kathleen Lahey describes it as “the remapping of male primacy onto contemporary culture.”
Lahey, a Queen’s University professor and expert in law and sexuality, has no doubt West’s video fits the definition of hate speech under Canadian criminal law, which makes it illegal to incite public hatred or advocate genocide of an identifiable group.
I’ll take mine dead, thanks. Horror porn is not ironic.
[Trigger warning for victims of violence]
When you look at this image, what do you see? An ambigious, complicated narrative? A post-modern analysis of culture? A man who loves his mothers and sistas?
And what about this one? Do you see poetic form? Linear narrative fantasy?
How about this? Satire? Irony? A work of art?
These are the kinds of descriptions being employed to justify Kanye West’s Monster video clip, lyrics and general body of work. (You can find some of this analysis here and here).
When I see these images, I see violence against women. I see glamourised misogyny and eroticised violence. I don’t see Kanye’s carnival of carnage as an art form or as post-modern cultural commentary.
These images and more are available on-line (leaked version, no, I’m not providing the link) and coming to a TV screen near you when Kanye West’s almost 18-minute Monster video clip is officially released at any time.
Here’s another image.
That last one is from a ‘Behind the scenes’ You Tube clip. That’s Rick Ross by the way, tucking into a plate of raw meat while taking in the view of a spreadeagled dead woman on the table. Looks like those rappers had a blast making the Monster vid. I tried hard to see the satire but couldn’t find it.
Monster is a track on Kanye’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which went platinum yesterday. His fans are calling him the best rap artist in history and a “genius.”
King Kanye has produced a carnage of female corpses, brutality, death. It is horror porn.
The Monster video depicts scenes of a murderous rampage with most of the dead being women. Dead women in lingerie swing from chains around their necks. Naked female corpses adorn the furniture. Two other female bodies are joined by West in bed. He kisses one. There are overtones of necrophilia.
Having viewed the preview and the behind the scenes clip, (which I first wrote on ABC The Drum/Unleashed) , I had wondered whether the full length version could possibly be more chilling. It is. There is the decapitated woman’s head scene (above). Nicki Minaj is a sword wielding dominatrix, terrorising her (at times) hooded female tulle-attired victim (Minaj doubles as both). Nothing like a bit of women-on-women violence to liven things up.
One exception to the dead-bitches-are-the-best theme is what appears to be a young boy being devoured by two female-like creatures. Of course this is to be condemned also.
The album’s one million sales will no doubt drive even more interest in the Monster video. Which makes the petition we have going against it even more important.
Universal Shame: Act to prevent the release of this monstrous video
Sharon Haywood and I started a petition sponsored by Adios Barbie, Collective Shout, and the Coalition Against Trafficking Australia, (since also sponsored by Coalition Against Trafficking International and Media Watch) calling on Universal Music Group to withdraw the video.
The petition is directed to CEO/Chairman of Universal Music Group Doug Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org) and CEO of MTV Judy McGrath. (email@example.com). It can be found here . (You can also read an interview with Sharon Haywood about the campaign, at this link ).
We believe that the mainstreaming of videos like this increases desensitized and callous attitudes toward violence against women. Young people are seeing images and absorbing harmful messages which glamorise misogyny and brutalise women. Women are reduced to sex-doll like playthings. The Monster video conveys a message that women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even when they are dead. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment.
We decided to run this campaign because we wanted to challenge the status quo – the increasingly common view that women’s pain and suffering is perfect for entertainment.
We believe West’s work will contribute to a culture that is already dangerous for women and girls. West just paid $200,000 for a custom- made watch made with his face on it . Think what that could do to address violence against women. Violence against women we believe his work is contributing to.
Bitches are only good for three things
Violent lyrics, combined with brutal visuals, are socialising young people and helping form their view on relationships and sexuality. Monica R, commenting on the Care2 petition site, wrote on the weekend:
…I am in the hood Monday through Friday. I teach there, in a very rough zip code. This crap is the ONLY music these kids listen to, so it has everything to do with violence against women because it forms their opinions.
OK, it’s just a video to you. But I have to hear the high school boy say “b–ches are only good for three things, f—ing, cooking, and cleaning.” I have to hear the high school girls refer to each other (their FRIENDS) as “b–ch” and “ho”, and hear them explain how you know a boy really loves you if he hits you.
I’d love it if rappers would come clean about their college degrees, but instead they pretend to be “hood” while living a wealthy lifestyle. They promote the ideas that the measure of a man is how many b–ches he can f—, or how much violence he can do, and that women’s only value is what’s between their legs, and as a punching bag. And that harms women and men.
You have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create.
While not specifically naming West, international recording artist Moby may as well have in this article from 2005.
In it, Moby asks why is racism seen as bad but misogyny seen as cool? He says anyone creating or promoting music which glamourises misogyny should be ashamed: “you have blood on your hands, and you should be deeply, deeply troubled at the culture that you’ve helped to create”.
i’d like to write about misogyny. a few years ago when the prodigy released ‘smack my bitch up’ i spoke up and criticised the song for being overtly misogynystic and irresponsible. i was in turn criticised on radio for ‘being too uptight’ and not being relaxed enough to appreciate the ‘humor’ in misogyny.
then 5 years ago i spoke up about the pernicious and pervasive spread of misogyny in popular culture, and again i was crticised for making a big issue out of something that no one else seemed to care about.
i respect the prodigy and i respect eminem as talented and relevant musicians, but i spoke up because i found the misogynystic content of their lyrics(among many others) to be deeply offensive. even if they themselves are not misogynysts
i found it irresponsible that they, and many others, would release music that glamourized misogyny.
2 months after ‘smack my bitch up’ was released i went to visit a friend of mine who was in hospital after being beaten by her boyfriend. she had brain damage and multiple fractures due to his pushing her down a flight of concrete stairs.
misogyny is not funny. it is not a joke. and it should not be treated lightly.
and now we find out that a british man who is obsessed with eminem killed a woman with a metal baseball bat
and stuffed her body into a suitcase.
am i being ‘too uptight’ for not seeing the humor in this?
Bob Herbert in an article titled ‘Women at Risk’ in the New York Times in 2009, made this point:
We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.
We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment. Read full article here
Let Universal and MTV know that the victimization of women as a valid form of entertainment is never acceptable and the video needs to be withdrawn. Kanye West and his management should also apologise.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
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