I’ve long thought about posting on this subject, but I genuinely didn’t know where to start – but the impetus came after the recent confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as yet another set of abuse allegations appeared to get brushed aside for political expediency, despite the detail of the allegations suggesting a short-tempered man who was deeply unsuitable for such an important, pivotal role.
There is a content warning this week, by the way: for mentions of sexual assault, rape, violence and general abuse.
Thanks, then, to a great many of my readers, for suggesting on a recent thread a whole number of songs that might fit the bill. 155 suggestions were made, for 139 individual songs, and I’d used seven of them before (remember: I don’t re-use songs if I can help it). They were a thought-provoking list, too, with meanings I’d not perhaps noticed before in a number of songs, and it also got me listening to some music from my past that this shed new light on.
What I also found interesting was that there are a number of male artists who are well aware of the problems with masculinity, and have written songs about this fact. But there is a great number that appears entirely unaware or ignorant, and I wanted to include at least one of those – hence the last song in the list.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Look out, as usual, in early December for /Countdown/2018, where I’ll wrap up the best music of the year.
/In My Tribe
The band 10,000 Maniacs – fronted by Natalie Merchant, who has gone on to have a respected solo career since – probably hit their peak with this excellent, searingly aware album in 1987 that could also be said to be some way ahead of its time. It was dealing with mental health issues, illiteracy, domestic abuse, and also toxic masculinity when many artists wouldn’t even pay lip service to these subjects in song then. The dramatic Don’t Talk tackles the latter with a defiant tone, as the protagonist sees through the violence and the verbal abuse, calling out the man in question for their shitty behaviour, and how they won’t take it any longer (and how the drink really isn’t helping). As a side note, I’ve known this album for over thirty years, as my dad picked it up when it was released, so as a child I knew this album intimately. I’d not heard it in a while when I listened again for this post, and it has held up very well indeed (and I still know most of the words, it turns out).
Until they got suggested in the thread for this post, I’d rather forgotten about the existence of this excellent electro-industrial band from the nineties. Fronted by the forceful presence and distinctive vocals of Maria Azevedo, they had an unusual sound that didn’t really sound like anyone else. This song, though, is one of their best – a searing takedown of a gaslighting ex, as realisation dawns around exactly what they’d done and Maria details exactly what was wrong now she’s had time to think.
/Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah
There have been few bands as important, perhaps, as Bikini Kill in fighting back against male dominance. They energised a generation of women (and many since) as they scorched out of the Pacific Northwest with their taut, furious punk songs that deal with men, politics and sex. This song fights back against shitty male expectations around sex by reminding them that they don’t give a fuck about their views or their requirements, the critical hook delivering the knockout punch:
“WHITE BOY…DON’T LAUGH…DON’T CRY…JUST DIE!”
Needless to say, there were a great many other songs that I could have picked from Bikini Kill’s back-catalogue, but I don’t think there is another track quite as on the money as this one when it comes to the now-accepted term of Toxic Masculinity.
/Tell Me How You Really Feel
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
The key hook in this song comes from a quote attributed to the author Margaret Atwood (who among other things, wrote the dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale that seems to get closer to the truth by the day), and it comes from a broadly angry – and excellent – album released earlier this year by Courtney Barnett. One where it is still partly the personal, but it is also bloody furious at the way men are treating women (I could name three or four songs at least), and is part of a wider, welcome fightback to get equality and respect – and that this quote is still even remotely close to being true is frankly proof enough that toxic masculinity is a problem.
/Are We Sexy Enough?
/Tracks of Wire
Easily one of the best political punk-rock albums in recent years, the female duo deux furieuses are absolutely raging at the state of the world on this album, taking on a whole range of subjects as they deal with the world that they see. Perhaps, though, the most bitter fury was unleashed on this extraordinary, confrontational track, where they painstakingly detail where men might threaten to rape them. Sadly that answer is everywhere, pretty much, and the “threat” of rape is an all-too-common missive sent online, with pretty much every woman in the public eye reporting rape threats from some internet troll at one point or another.
It genuinely blows my mind as to why any man would want to threaten someone like this. But then, when it is sent as a message on the internet to someone they likely don’t know, “it doesn’t matter”, right? No, it really fucking does. There is no need to do it, and perhaps – and I know the logistics of it are near-impossible – they should all be reported to the police, and anyone confirmed as sending these messages goes on the sex-offenders register for life. After all, if they are threatening it, they might do it, right? That might focus a few idiotic minds.
/You Are The Problem Here
Released on International Women’s Day last year – and proceeds for it went to Women For Women International – this is, like deux furieuses, bluntly and directly taking on the men that choose to use sexual violence as a control method. The fury and desperation in the song – that they are fucking sick and tired of reading and/or hearing about yet another rape case, likely where the man gets away with a short sentence or light punishment, or it doesn’t even make prosecution – seeps out of every second, and the song is even more striking for it.
We need to do better. That is doing more about supporting those that are victims of any form of sexual violence, we need better judiciary treatment of these cases, and the book needs to be thrown at those that perpetrate it. I don’t give a fuck if they are someone important, someone rich, someone with a “promising career”, or they are just someone. They must face the consequences of what they’ve done.
The Specials – in their many variants over time – were entirely unafraid of dealing with difficult subjects in song, as they questioned social justice in many ways (most notable for their iconic Ghost Town, of course). This song, though, is an extraordinarily harrowing listen, as a matter-of-fact delivery from a woman’s point-of-view about a day where she meets a “nice man” who plays nice, showers her with affection, and then won’t take no for an answer, and rapes her – the horror of the song made all the worse by the way the delivery changes when things go bad at the end. “I’m one of the good guys” these kind of people might protest, “I treat my women right”. But you “expect” sex in return? Er, no. Fucking no. You deserve nothing.
/Joy As An Act of Resistance.
One band entirely made up of men that are unusually self-aware of their position, their failings and the world around them, is IDLES – who have released an exceptional album this year in the form of Joy As An Act of Resistance, which asks a great many difficult questions. One of them comes in the form of the rolling Samaritans, one of a couple of songs where vocalist Joe Talbot questions the conduct of men, here in the terms of vulnerability and the way men are conditioned to behave. He’s talked at great length in various interviews on this subject, too, and this quote particularly stuck out to me:
There’s no vulnerable side and brave side. Vulnerability is a vehicle of showing who you truly are. What we do is hide parts of ourselves that we don’t like because we’re told not to like them by society. The more you learn to love yourself, who you are, your entirety, and listen to yourself long enough, you become confident enough to show all of yourself. [source]
The music of IDLES may not be for everyone, granted, but their lyrics at least should perhaps be read by more.
Another band have been addressing what is now known as Toxic Masculinity for a great deal longer, and indeed Greg Dulli and The Afghan Whigs pretty much wrote an entire album on the subject. Gentlemen is not far off a state-of-the-world address from a man who is all-too-aware of his failings but doesn’t appear to offer much in way of changing his behaviour. I could have picked quite a number of songs from this album, but the title track seems rather apt – as he implores that really he’s a good man (a “gentleman”), while displaying the faults of toxic masculinity all through the song – preying on weakness, demanding sex, turning up uninvited, drinking – the various parts of which are then examined in more detail elsewhere on the album. The album was “shot on location”, according to the liner notes – this is the trailer warning you about what you’re about to get into.
This song was a big thing last year. 6Music made Drunk their album of the year, and playlisted Friend Zone for seemingly months, without ever to my knowledge commenting on the questionable nature of the song, and Pitchfork also loved it, and it was frequently called an “unrequited love” song.
It’s nothing of the fucking sort.
So let me break it down for you
Don’t call me, don’t text me, after 2am
Unless you plan on giving me some
It’s a song of ugly male entitlement, wailing that he can’t fuck his “best friend”. The “friend zone” is an invention of men who think they can fuck anyone they like. Sex is not something that someone has to engage in, with anyone. Everyone has their right to make their own decisions about their relationships. And if they say no, or don’t show any interest, you have no fucking right to anything.
And hearing this in the months after Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed ten and injured thirteen more at his Texas school after having his advances rejected by a classmate makes it all the more distasteful.