Originally posted on the Jewish Women's Archive Rising Voices Fellowship Blog
I’m in the car with my little brother, Zach, on our way to a restaurant. He’s singing along with the radio, sweetly off-key as always, when the lyrics he’s singing catch my attention.
Baby, I'm preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
I honestly couldn’t believe my ears when I heard those words, and looked them up online when we got home to be sure that I hadn’t heard them incorrectly, though I was hoping I had. Sadly, though, I wasn’t mistaken. These brutal lyrics belong to the song “Animals” by Maroon 5, a band that I used to love and admire. And if you think the lyrics above were graphic, they are nothing compared to the music video. The first thirty seconds alone show frontman Adam Levine acting as a butcher in a shop, stalking and taking intimate photographs of one of his customers, played by his real-life wife and Victoria’s Secret Angel Behati Prinsloo. Standing in the shadows, Levine follows his “prey” all around town, stands outside her apartment watching her as she changes, and even enters her room to photograph her as she is sleeping in minimal clothing. Levine croons out much of this song in his shop with his large and threatening butcher’s knife, seemingly comparing his love interest to a bloody slab of meat. Romantic, right? I see no reasonable explanation for this being categorized as a love song by Maroon 5, as the graphic lyrics and images do more to intimidate and scare than to make one swoon. For whatever reason, though, this song is supposedly meant to profess the love that Levine has for his wife. Does this make anyone else cringe?
One out of every three women worldwide will be affected by some sort of abuse in their lifetime. This statistic is unacceptable, almost inconceivable. The United States is not exempt from this statistic. We may not have as many newsworthy abuse statistics as India, for example, whose young girls and women are plagued by rape, forced prostitution, and acid attacks. However, we are still very far behind where we should be in policy, advocacy, and the stigma surrounding abuse survivors. The correlation between abusive and violent songs and sexual violence on college campuses is not something that can be ignored. We need to pay strict attention to what messages we get from the media and how those messages perpetuate violence and misogyny. Violent and offensive lyrics, such as those in “Animals,” glorify and romanticize sexualized violence, causing distorted views on healthy relationships. Objectification and violence toward women can too easily become mainstream when popular celebrities endorse this behavior. What’s even more frightening is that younger generations take in these messages. It was eerie hearing my eleven year old brother sing along to this song, which he did not because he understood its message, but because of it’s “hooks,” its catchy tunes and phrases. Underneath the sparkles and autotune, however, are lyrics that glorify themes of sexual violence and aggression towards women. Adults and children alike normalize these words and internalize them more than one would think. And that’s where things get troubling.
Like my little brother, we are sometimes unaware of the messages that we soak up along with the music we sing along to on the radio. Try listening to the radio one day in the car. Really listen to the lyrics of the songs, don’t just hum along to the chorus. Try to understand the message the artists are sending with their lyrics. If you listen closely, as I have, you’ll hear most songs about wanting sex, the shape of a woman’s body, or anger at women who have left. You won’t hear many songs about respectful and healthy relationships; those are rare.
So what is the alternative? In an ideal world, what would I want? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. It’s hard to imagine a world in which the constant diminishment of women didn't exist, because it has been so ingrained in our culture. But we have to imagine such a world. I don’t want our generation to be complicit in continuing the objectification of and violence against women. I don’t want my little brother carelessly singing along to offensive and violent songs, because they’re the top hits of the week. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable in my own car because some musician is singing about the things he wants to do to someone’s body. We need to change the station on violent, misogynistic songs. We need to talk to our little sisters and brothers and tell them that no, a healthy relationship is not one where one partner is minimized and threatened. Songs don’t just glorify what exists in our culture, they create our culture. We need to call out these songs that glorify the endangerment of women, because they should have no place in our culture or in our lives.
Ellie Kahn is a junior at Needham High School, where she loves to take art classes, write, and play Ultimate Frisbee. Ellie currently serves as Vice President of Community Engagement for Havayah, the teen community at Temple Beth Elohim. Ellie is an active feminist and is so excited to be apart of the Rising Voices Fellowship in partnership with Prozdor and Jewish Women's Archive. In her free time, Ellie likes to spend time with her two brothers, sing, and collage.