The 16 Days of Activism for NO Violence Against Women and children campaign has begun and Independent Media is very much a part of it with our #Don'tLookAway crusade. File picture
Durban - “My b**** too foreign, need a visa, I don’t need her”.  “Sit down, b****! You move again I’ll beat the s*** out of you”.

Artists like Eminem and Rich the Kid, like many others in their genre, make millions out of songs that are littered with expletives in reference to women.

Is this merely popular culture, complicated personal issues, a reflection of society or the entrenchment of a patriarchal society? 
And in any case, everyone is doing it, so why does it matter?

According to Cookie Edwards, of the KwaZulu-Natal Network on Violence Against Women, some songs contain lyrics that very worryingly hint at violence against women, and perpetuate a belief system that women are mere objects.

“If you look at the content of some of the lyrics and images, women are portrayed as objects, usually submissive to what the man wants, and there for the entertainment and leisure of men. This shows that we still live in a patriarchal world, and women are objects to be done with as per someone else’s wishes. 

“I have to stress that it doesn’t happen with all music. But we should be concerned about this and not encourage it, as it has become a social norm and acceptable for women to be seen as objects. Why is it that a woman walking along the road is whistled at or harassed? It’s entrenched in our minds and society that this type of behaviour is acceptable,” she said.

With cases of extreme gender-based violence in the news in recent weeks, Edwards said she and fellow activists questioned whether they were winning the fight for equality and rights.

“When we still hear and see incidents of femicide and gender-based violence, we ask: Are we making any headway? Are we losing the fight for what’s right? And it’s so heartbreaking, but if we can save some women, then we are making a difference. The only way to stop this is to get men and women speaking at the same table on these issues. 

“We cannot win this war if it’s only women speaking at an event, or only men. Let us be inclusive and speak together to start changing mindsets, behaviours and attitudes,” she said.

Songwriter and musician René Tshiakanyi, a well-known face on the Durban music scene, said musicians were often caught in a complicated situation. 

“When I write lyrics it starts with a feeling, and as I mature as an artist, I become more conscious of my words and their impact on the community.

“Some of my songs were written about journalists working in dangerous situations, and another about Nelson Mandela. However, when you are signed with a record label, some of your songs are written by other people, and you are expected to sing it because you are bound by a contract. 

“But there are so many different factors in this industry, there is no easy answer. However, as we grow as artists, we become more aware of our responsibility to guide those who look to us. There are many other artists who produce good, clean music that doesn’t carry any of the negativity – singers like Adele and Ed Sheeran,” he said.

Tshiakanyi suggested that support should be given to those artists whose music does not follow the trends of objectifying women.

Psychologist Dr Sherona Rawat said the repeated use of violent lyrics and images, or excessive exposure, normalised the issue and made it acceptable.

“It makes what was once unusual and extraordinary ordinary and familiar. It becomes just a part of what we view as ordinary within our world,” she said.

Rawat suggested that the best way to counter the “normalisation ” was to draw attention to the negativity embedded in it. 

“The aim is to first highlight the negativity, then to look for healthier ways of expression or to a means of eradicating such words or images from popular media. In addition, while bringing attention to a negative issue is important, giving people clear expressions of why it is negative is important if you want to honour individual freedom and right to choice , while still providing the groundwork for a safer social environment,” she said.

Independent On Saturday