Musician Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, but the new video for his song, Monster, is “beyond disturbing“. The issue? The piece depicts scene after scene of highly eroticized violence against women: dead women in lingerie, hanging from chains, sprawled or propped up in bed.
The video inspired a petition to stop the record label from promoting the video. I asked the petition’s author, Sharon Haywood, to talk about the situation and her goals for the petition.
1) What prompted you to start the petition?
I first became aware of the leaked video clip via Melinda Tankard Reist’s article. Watching it produced the most intense feelings of revulsion, a physical reaction that literally made me feel sick. I couldn’t digest the fact that a huge part of Kanye’s following is children and teens who will be further desensitized to thinking women are just sex-doll-like playthings for male entertainment. I feared what other brutal images the full-length video would bring. I have never initiated a petition before and I couldn’t think of a better reason to start one.
As I worked on the petition with Melinda I needed to watch the short clip many times over. What horrified me even more and reinforced the importance of this petition was that I recognized my reactions were less visceral as I repeatedly viewed the video. In other words, I was becoming desensitized–despite my awareness of the issues. If as an activist and feminist I could have my senses dulled by repetitive viewing, imagine what it does to kids and teens?
2) Is there a place for freedom of speech in this? Is disturbing imagery sometimes appropriate?
As Melinda says so eloquently, “free speech shouldn’t mean hate speech. Free speech should be fair speech.” If this video focused on the degradation of other groups, such as black or Jewish people, people would see this video as a hate crime and this debate would not exist. It should be no different for women. We do not want this video circulated to any audience–it is appropriate for no-one.
Various versions of a full-length video are circulating now online, which has prompted some people to argue that the petition is no longer relevant because the dead/drugged women are actually zombies. But how many zombies are clad in lingerie (or less) and don stilettos? This premise is a thin veil that still reveals the fact that the women in the video are victimized by eroticized violence.
Yes, shocking images, when used to incite positive action can be appropriate. For instance, the late Isabelle Caro, well-known for her battle against anorexia, posed naked for an anti-anorexia campaign. Her skeletal frame shocked people but it was via this shock that she hoped to raise awareness and advance education about the illness that took her life. The Monster video, on the other hand, does not have any positive goal. It contributes to a culture in which violence against women is endemic.
3) What do you hope to accomplish with the petition?<
We decided to run this campaign because we wanted to challenge the idea that violence against women can be justified in the name of “art.”
Aside from the obvious we would like to see more responsibility-taking within the music industry. Studies have shown that repetitive consumption of violence and objectification against a specific group makes it all the easier to commit and permit violence against that population.
So great is today’s level of desensitization that the barbaric treatment of women is seen as normal and to be expected. We decided to run this campaign because we wanted to challenge the status quo. Simply put, we’d love to see more responsible depictions of women and eliminate the idea that violence against women is entertainment.
4) If you could send a message to Kanye West, what would it be?
I’d urge him to consider that in the United States a woman is assaulted every 2 minutes. And then have him consider that he probably has a woman in his life that has already been assaulted even if she doesn’t let the rest of the world know. Showing images like the ones in Monster feed this epidemic. He might think twice about eroticizing violence if he realized it could actually hurt a woman in his life that he cares about.
My thanks to Sharon for taking the time to answer these questions. If you would like to sign the petition, it can be found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/prevent-official-release-of-kanye-wests-women-hating-monster-video/.
Photo courtesy of Napalm filled tires via Flickr.