Public Comment

A Song and a Me Too Moment

Carol Denney
Friday June 08, 2018 - 07:12:00 PM

It started with a slightly salacious lyric that moved quickly through what any woman would recognize as the typical trajectory; he loves her, he kills her, he mutilates her body in an effort to humiliate her and/or cover his tracks. It elicited a couple of nervous laughs, but most of the audience quietly endured it. 

There's nothing original in such storylines. If you cleared all folk, rock, rap, and ballads of this stuff you'd have a free speech battle and knock out half of both the traditional and contemporary canon. The music was a classic blues riff so there was nothing in the music itself that was particularly original, either. Some of the women in the hall exchanged glances, but most of the hall just quietly waited it out, even giving it reluctant, polite applause. 

But one woman addressed it. She sat quietly at the piano when it was her turn to play, and told the story of her own reaction to hearing the story of another unnamed woman murdered and mutilated played for laughs. She spoke quietly, with no apparent anger. The mutilation song singer tried to interrupt her and someone near him hushed him, pointing out that the woman onstage had not interrupted him during his performance. 

The story-teller onstage did her best to compliment the player's playing. She had no trouble convincing us how hard she had tried to just enjoy what she could of the performance, because we all had tried to do the same. But she just couldn't, she said quietly, and began to sing. It was a song about people from disparate worlds trading perspectives sung and played with elegance, simplicity, and beauty. It was a song about the sometimes complicated path to unity and respect. 

Woman after woman met eyes across the hall during the song, tears running down cheeks, sighs of relief breaking like waves across a barren beach. The dark hall seemed to fill with light, with stars. Without knowing how or why small groups of us nodded toward the lobby after the song ended so we could just cherish the moment, meet each other, be there longer. 

When the mutilation song singer had tried to interrupt the woman onstage he'd said, "no women were hurt in the writing of that song" or something similar, a play on the typical disclaimer in movie credits to ward off critics of animal abuse, etc. He was wrong. Women walk daily through a world where they're thought of as prey and discarded as an inconvenience. The ugly jokes, the songs about digging a hole in the meadow go right by many people; perhaps most people. But women, and the men who care about them and listen to them, have songs capable of putting things right. 

No free speech rights were violated in addressing that night's misogyny. The sad, sapped nature of the mutilation song was the perfect setting for a woman's voice in perfect, resonant, original, powerful response, and a flowering of connections in a crowd of both men and women who knew, after patiently waiting for a long, long time, that a world with a long way to go can, in fact, change when women's voices are included. It may not be all it takes, but it is a powerful way to begin.