Consent and Coercion in Music

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Entertainment Column

Music is something people turn to for relief, artists and consumers alike. It can evoke emotions, offer advice, or change the way you think about a situation. Many people start listening at a young age, whether to their parents’ favorite songs or to the radio. The issue is that many popular songs use objectification and misogynistic undertones to promote rape culture among young, impressionable listeners.

Take “Timber” by Pitbull and Ke$ha. My best friend in elementary school loved Timber, but upon listening back recently, I heard this refrain: “Face down, booty up (Timber)/That’s the way we like the what (Timber)/I’m slicker than an oil spill/She say she won’t, but I bet she will (Timber).” The first two lines in the phrase above would qualify as objectification: “the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.” An eight-year-old could subconsciously be influenced by this, as it foster the idea that objectification is normal. The last line is an entirely different form of problematic. It completely disregards consent. If someone initially says no, convincing them to say yes, or continuing to ask until they say yes is not consent, it’s coercion. These comments support rape culture by promoting coercion, and are detrimental to childrens’ understandings of their ability and others’ ability to consent. 

Similarly, One Direction’s lesser-known track “Why Don’t We Go There” discusses coercion, with lines such as “Don’t say no, just let go.” With One Direction’s fan base being primarily preteen and teenage girls, this message is extremely harmful, as it creates a negative connotation surrounding saying no. This promotes situations where people feel bad for refusing sex, even if they are asked beforehand. Likewise, in “Peer Pressure” by James Bay and Julia Michaels, the lyrics say “I don’t usually give in to peer pressure/ But I’ll give in to yours.” By romanticizing coercion, this dismisses a prominent form of sexual harm. Yet another song that promotes sexual harm is “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J. The lines “She may contain the urge to run away/But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks” normalizes non-consensual physical restraint, promoting the idea that consent can be taken rather than given. These lyrics may seem harmless to young listeners, but they build a subconscious misunderstanding of the meaning of consent.

Even if none of these examples were sexual, they still involve consent. To promote consent in sexual relationships, there must also be consent outside of sexual relationships. These songs are demonstrations of normalization of assault, which contribute to the foundation of rape culture. Consent is something you can practice day to day, on a smaller scale, such as asking before you hug a friend, or recognizing examples of objectification and lack of consent as you consume media. This way, we can begin to understand all the little issues that have created the dangerous culture of sexual harm.

For support after sexual harm, two wonderful resources are Jasmina Viteskic in G202A and at jasminaviteskic@berkeley.net, or the Health Center in H106.