Saturday, 6 March 2010

'All Rise': Misogynistic Lyrics that Harm

This is one of these postings in which I begin going on about some pop song that you have not heard for ages but which irritates the life out of me whenever I hear it. Perhaps I should gather this one together with 'Red Corvette', 'One of Us' and 'Africa' on my own playlist of irritation. Anyway, in this case the song, 'All Rise' by the boy band 'Blue', released in May 2001, it seems so much more recent, still gets air play; I have heard it three times in the last fortnight and with a new comeback tour scheduled for 2010, I suppose it is time to get all my irritation about the song off my chest.

I take no particular offence to the group who are pretty similar to a lot of boy bands of the early 21st century. They had a reasonable amount of success as a group and on solo projects. What irritates me about their first and seemingly enduring hit (reached No. 4 in the UK charts) is the misogynistic nature of the lyrics. At a time when the media is acknowledging that feminism is under severe attack, it seems that this song is simply another element in that trend. The pushing of girls and women into ultra-feminine, often highly sexualised and always submissive roles and boys and men into muscular, violent, dominant roles is based on consumer goals of companies. By avoiding unisex clothing, toys, devices, etc. you can sell more. The price society pays is to push back the gains made by women since the 1960s and promote violence among young men and physical abuse and sexual exploitation of women.

So, what gets me so het up about 'All Rise'? The song uses a legal metaphor for the singers in the role of a young man to accuse his girlfriend of being unfaithful to him. Phrases from court like 'all rise', 'I rest my case' In addition he is bitter about the 'free rides' and the 'faking' she has been doing, presumably lying about the affair she has been having, though it could be read as him claiming she had faked orgasms. The concept might be fine and clearly the song is catchy and appeals to many listeners which is why it still seems to be on playlists nine years after its release. However, the tone is pretty aggressive: 'With your back against the wall/ Nowhere to run/ There's nobody you can call'. The worst is during the rap break: 'Step in my house you find that your stuff has gone/ But in reality to whom does the stuff belong?/ I bring you into court to preach my order/ And you know that you overstep the border'. So finding his girlfriend unfaithful he has taken back everything he has given her (and the suggestion is that it is natural that he has bought everything she owns because of course he is the economically-dominant male and she is the economically-dependent female) and has simply thrown it all out, despite the fact that 'the decision of the jury has not been spoken'. So, despite all this legal rhetoric to dress up the situation, the man goes ahead and makes his own decision and the punishment is for the woman to lose everything she possesses. If the fictional woman had been having an affair, then given the nature of her partner I would not blame her.

Now, you might say, 'well, why does all this matter? It is only a song.' However, at a time when there is a television campaign aiming to alert teenagers, particularly girls, to abuse in their relationships is it then fine to have a song which says to young men: 'suspect your girlfriend, you have the right to punish her if you think she is unfaithful' and includes backing her alone against a wall? The attitude sums up the worst in macho culture and its behaviour to women. This was why the concept of chivalry was invented to stop knights in brutal medieval times abusing women and others in society. These days such concepts have been thrown out and 'might is right' seems to apply in all cases.

We have all met those thuggish men who are incredibly jealous, often with no just cause, and keep the women around them in fear of retribution if they even look at another man. People in the UK complain that Middle Eastern husbands constrain their wives without seeing that many men in this country, particularly white men, behave in just the way that is condemned elsewhere, but it is acceptable as it is 'their own business' not anyone else's. We need far more positive messages in songs about what is really acceptable behaviour to young women, songs like this do harm. I was gladdened when I heard a new version of this song playing on a number of the 'Heart' radio stations across southern England in recent weeks that has, in particular, cut out the rap break and so toned down the misogynistic message of this song.

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