There is much to be said about the fact that Eminem has sold millions of autobiographical albums regaling his often-violent views and behaviors towards women. Less talked about are the women on the other end of such violent attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Those voices are often relegated to the shadows. Sometimes, they choose to stay there—enclaved—out of necessity for survival. They stay there for many of the same reasons victims of violence choose silence. They won’t be believed or worse yet, they’ll be blamed. Although they remain in the enclave, women in music are not silent on the topic.
From Kelly Rowland (R&B) to Angel Haze (Rap) to Miranda Lambert (Country) and Thea Monyee (Spoken Word), women in all genres of music and poetry have used art to examine sexual assault and domestic violence against women. Both Haze and Rowland provide autobiographical accounts of abuse, Rowland’s abuse having occurred at the height of stardom. Their stories epitomize the concept of the personal as the political.
The key to community support and awareness seldom lies in discipline specific verbosity and convoluted legislation. But how often do we explore such in conjunction with the stories women tell us through their music or poetry? How often do we juxtapose the clinical/academic alongside the personal/artistic? What can we learn about the effects of violence against women when women tell their stories in their own words?
Play *Angel Haze “Cleaning Out My Closet” from the mixtape Classick
When I was 7 envision me at the bottom of stairs
And I silently swear that this is the truth no fallacy here
See I was young, man… I was just a toddler, a kid
And he wasn’t the first to successfully try what he did
He took me to the basement and after the lights would be cut
He whipped it out in sight of my eyes and forced his cock through my gut
In the verse above, we learn that Haze was victimized at a very early age by multiple perpetrators. This has more than one explanation. First, predators choose their victims strategically. Those who are most vulnerable are more likely to be assaulted. We know that elderly people, children and people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. It then comes as no surprise that multiple predators would profile Haze as a viable target. Second, it is likely that the initial assault subsequently left Haze with feelings of low self-worth, depression and self-blame thereby increasing the likelihood that she will be subjected to repeat assaults.
See it was weird because I felt that I was losing my mind
And then it happened like it happened like millions of times
And psychologically I was just as fucked as they come
I was confused I had to prove I wasn’t fucked from the jump
I was afraid of myself I had no love for myself
I tried to kill, I tried to hide, I tried to run from myself
My mental state is out of date and that’s how far as I know
The mental health components of sexual assault often go unaddressed in communities that hold to the adage of “Don’t air the dirty laundry.” Haze opened this piece with what sounds like disassociation. Depression, thoughts (or attempts and acts) of suicide, low self-esteem and self destructive behavior in the form of drugs alcohol and sexual promiscuity are often experienced by sexual assault survivors.
When I was 10, shit, I believed I could fly
I would just flap my fucking arms and meet with the sky
And then Haze goes on to describe something very common among survivors of abuse—the creation of multiple personalities to survive the trauma.
There was a point in my life where I didn’t like who I was
So I created the other people I would try to become
Perhaps most disturbing is that Haze’s abuse, like many survivors, occurred in plain sight. All too often, other adults are aware of sexual abuse against children.
But this is nothing ’cause I guess he told his friend what he do
And they ate it up shit I was like a buffet for 2
And then it happened then at home where everybody fucking knew
And they ain’t do shit but fucking blame it on youth
And I would swear that I would tell but then they’d think I was lying
And now the power that he held was like a beacon in mine
So now I got used to it, I put up with the shit
Imagine at 7 years old, being raped and sodomized by adult men and having the adults around you do nothing to stop it. Too many victims tell the same story. Someone knew. Someone turned a blind eye. In some instances, mothers are aware and suffer abuse at the hands of the same perpetrator through domestic violence (which also includes sexual violence). Some perpetrators spend years abusing multiple generations. Everyone seems to know about Uncle So and So. Young girls in the family are told to stay away from him. The implication is that if the girls can’t manage to escape his grasp, it’s their own fault. In other instances, girls are accused of having provoked the abuse. Adolescent and even toddler girls are charged with behaving too sexy or flirting with sexual predators. Girls recognize that no one is coming to their aid. They come to accept the abuse as their fault, their lot in life.
Then I grew up and I wasn’t within a reach of these men
But that didn’t me keep out of the motherfucking reach of my sin
The journey to healing after sexual abuse or assault if a lifelong journey. Long after women have reached adulthood they struggle with the effects of the abuse. Without the support of healthy friendships and family, the journey is so much harder. The best thing anyone can do for a friend or family member who has been abused is to believe them, support them and reassure them that what happened is not their fault.
I started starving myself fucked up my bodily health
I didn’t want to be attractive to nobody else
I didn’t want the appeal wanted to stop my own growth
Many women attempt to make themselves unattractive for fear that any physical appeal will “invite” predators. Society contributes to this by creating the impression that what a woman wears is relevant to sexual assault. Keep this in mind—women who wear burqas are sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is not about appeal. It is about power and control.
I’m not deranged anymore, I’m not the same anymore
I mean I’m sane but I’m insane but not the same as before
I had to deal with my shit, I had to look at my truth
To understand that to grow you gotta look at your root
I had to cut off the dead I had to make myself proud
And I’m just standing breathing living proof look at me now
I made it through everything I made you look like a clown
I’m fucking great, can’t fucking hate, you nigga look at me now
And I’m just saying this to tell you there’s a way from the ground
The makings of a legend is often hidden in trials
So just move on and just be strong and just accept what you can
Because it makes your story better when you read it, the end
That’s the story of every scar that I show
I made it out, this is a me nobody’s gotten before
Haze leaves us with a claim of victory over her abusers. She describes the healing power of sharing her story, finding the root of her anger, depression and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Haze emerges. Different. Unbroken.
I had to open my wounds I had to bleed till I stop
Thanks for joining me here as I cleaned out my closet
I said I opened my wounds I had to bleed till I stopped it
Thanks for joining me here as I cleaned out my closet