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now don’t you start being a man…

June 8th, 2007     by Thea Lim     Comments

At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful, man-hating, eternally grumpy and ugly-arm-pitted feminist, I really hate it when male pop singers release touchy-feely power ballads about how other men shouldn’t hit women. Take, for example, Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy”, released last month in conjunction with the Canadian Women’s Federation (CWF) Shelter from the Storm Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women.

For most of May, the radio regularly played infomercials with extremely intense stats on violence against women - and that’s amazing, because violence against women is not a topic we talk about, in real statistical terms, very much on commercial radio. And Urban’s song was meant to support a radiothon to raise funds for the CWF - so that was nice of him.

But that pesky ungrateful, naggy nit-picker in me couldn’t help but feel that Urban’s song seems to almost sentimentalise domestic violence, lapsing into soft-hued, apolitical images that stop us from thinking about the cultural roots of domestic violence, because we’re too busy swaying to the music.

In the words of Urban:

Well, she was precious like a flower She grew wild, wild but innocent A perfect prayer in a desperate hour She was everything beautiful and different

Is it just me or do sickening stereotypes about the purity of women - and the converse, as in, images of strong, protective and masculine men - just lead us to the toxic land of gender roles, which breeds such awful things as gender violence in the first place?

And how about Nickelback, whose 2001 hit “Never Again” asks “Haven’t you heard ‘Don’t hit a lady?’” and suggests that if you beat a woman then you’re not a real tough guy.

The reason why these good-intentioned pop songs make me toss my cookies is because:

1) they totally seem to insinuate that the musicians are “the good guys” who would never hit a lady, and the song is a platform to prove their good-guy-ness

2) and if there’s good guys and bad guys, then it means that violence against women derives from individual choices made by individual men. It means it has nothing to do with a culture that teaches men to bottle up their emotions, and that teaches men that aggression is the only real, manly acceptable way to express anger or sorrow. It just seems like an oxymoron to use “BE A MAN!” rhetoric as a means to discourage violence against women.

The thing is, all men are both capable of, and responsible for, violence against women. So an anti-domestic-violence campaign by men shouldn’t involve claims that there are a handful of violent men, and they’re over there, and those wussy, baby, freak cowards oughta be beaten senseless by us Real Men.

Instead, it needs to start by recognising that all men from around these parts are victims of the belief that aggression and violence are the epitome of masculinity - and that a huge part of ending violence against women is tossing that belief in the trash. Like the White Ribbon Campaign, started right here in good ol’ Canada.

Is that to say that men can never sing songs about how violence against women, physical and otherwise, needs to bite the dust? Not at all! Please see Propagandhi’s (more good ol’ Canadian men) “Refusing to Be a Man”:

i’m not going to try to tell you that i’m different from all the rest… but don’t tell me this is natural. this is nurturing. and there’s a difference between sexism and sexuality… and i refuse to be a “man”… a battle hymn to celebrate the fact that we don’t have to become or remain what we’ve come to hate.

Tags: media savvy

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