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Sarah Starrenburg

21st Century Love Song. Apparently.

Posted on Mar 1, 2011 in Art, Society | 0 comments

Really Mr. McFadden? This is really the chorus of your new single?

“I like you just the way you are

Drunk as **** dancing at the bar

I like you just the way you are and

I can’t wait to get you home so I can do some damage

I like you just the way you are

Drunk in the back seat of my car

I like you just the way you are and

I can’t wait to get you home so I can take advantage”

– Brian McFadden, Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar)

McFadden maintains, in the face of public backlack which is both considerable and entirely unsurprising (to everyone but him, apparently), that this is not a song which condones or in any way alludes to date rape.

This is a love song to his bride-to-be.

Actually, to be fair, I don’t have that much trouble believing his account of the genesis of this song. He says that Delta very rarely drinks, and he thinks it’s kind’ve cute watching her on the rare occassion that she does and she gets a little drunk and dances for him.

Okay – we do already know from his first ode to her (Like Only A Woman Can) that, in his eyes at least, they’ve got a bit of a bad boy/good girl thing going on. So I can believe that he gets a bit of a kick out of feeling like he’s teaching his “angel” (LOAWC) to colour outside the lines from time to time.


Even if that’s where the beginning of the sentiment behind this song emerged, McFadden still has a few questions to answer:

1. Say you do find a drunk, dancing Delta pretty sexy to watch, and say Delta knows this and enjoys your attention. Fine. But “do some damage”? “Take advantage”? Those are the phrases you, as a the father of two daughters, chose to send out into the world?

2. Say the idea that this could be perceived as a song that condones date rape never crossed your mind the whole time you were writing it. But then you’re trying to maintain that not one person in the long chain of recording, production, management, marketing or distribution ever saw that possibility in the lyrics? No-one ever mentioned it while you were honing the song from its first draft to exactly those specific lyrics? Or they did, and you just didn’t think it was that serious an issue?

3. As Melinda Tankard Reist very aptly points out – If you truly had no idea of the connotations of the song; if you truly meant no overtones of violent, antisocial or flat out illegal behaviour; if public perception truly is, as you say, a misinterpretation of your song…

Then why is this the cover art?

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Why We Need Men

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 in Politics, Society | 5 comments

The first time I heard the two words put together, just a few days ago, my brain struggled to comprehend what it could possibly mean.

‘Corrective Rape’.

The mind recoils from even the suggestion. That these two words even exist together as a phrase is an appalling indictment on the depth of human depravity.

Yet this phrase does exist. And, what’s sadder, it exists as a descriptor for a particularly ugly kind of violence against women.

Millicent Gaika (right, pictured) knows about this phenomenon first hand. The South African woman was bound, strangled, tortured and raped for five hours by a man who boasted that he was ‘curing’ her of her lesbianism. This is the face of so-called ‘Corrective Rape’ – a heinous crime whereby men, specifically in South Africa, rape lesbian women in order to ‘turn them straight’.

Though post-apartheid South Africa was the first country in the world to constitutionally protect its citizens from discrimination based on sexuality, it is a culture of the worst kind of patriarchy. President Jacob Zuma himself (below, pictured) stood trial for rape as recently as 2006, and a South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. Perhaps this is not surprising, since a 2009 survey by the country’s Medical Research Council found that one in four men admits to raping someone. Moreover, 62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence, with a third of these believing that girls enjoy rape.

All this in a country with the world’s largest population of HIV-positive individuals.

It’s so very, very wrong.

It’s wrong the way that kidnapping little boys, arming them with assault rifles and forcing them to attack their own villages is wrong. It’s wrong the way that sterilising Jewish women and performing medical experiments on them in concentration camps is wrong.

Some things are beyond discussion, or politics, or opinion. There’s no room for devil’s advocate here, no back and forth, no particular contexts or cultural relativity. They’re Just Wrong.

And anyone who entertains for even a second that that might not be the case, needs to seriously re-examine their humanity.

It’s disgusting. It’s sickening. It’s obsene.

But it’s more than any of these things.

‘Corrective Rape’. Seriously – how do you even begin to describe how wrong that is? I can barely bring myself to use the phrase and dignify this abominable euphemism as if it’s in any way representative of reality.

In fact, there seems to me only one thoroughly fitting descriptor for the ugliness and depravity of the whole situation.

It is, quite simply, fucked up.

So what can you do about corrective rape in South Africa? Well, you can sign the petition that over 140,000 people have signed, and add weight to the call for President Zuma to take action.

Perhaps you can personally make a real difference in South Africa. Perhaps not.

But what you can do, what you must do, is be sickened, be appalled, be outraged. And then stay that way whenever you see or hear something similar.


Because, as Dumisani Rebombo (right, pictured) ,  a South African man who raped a school friend as a teenager and 20 years later – after the rare step of seeking out the woman to apologise – is now a gender activist, explains, “We live in a society that has known so much violence for so much time that it becomes normalised,” he says. “People don’t shudder and jump when they hear these things….There are men who don’t rape but when they see these atrocities around them they remain silent. When they speak out, we will win the battle.”

We must shudder. We must jump. When we see even the beginning of behaviour such as this, we must speak out. We must guard the culture we are part of.

This is especially true for men.

We need you men. This behaviour…this is not you. This is not your gender. This is not who you are. I know this. Many women know this.

But too many don’t.

Too many women don’t know the kind of men I know. Good men; strong men; protective men. Men who would never for a second think there is really such a thing as corrective rape; never suggest its legitimacy.

And we need you – I need you – to uphold that standard. To guard against the smallest devaluing of female worth. To reject even the beginning of male sexual entitlement.

We need your voice. We need your strength. Now more than ever.

Because rape, ‘corrective’ or otherwise, isn’t a women’s issue. Rape is a men’s issue.

And we need men to fight it.



Nkalen, Michael, ‘Protest against “corrective rape”‘, Sowetan Live, Jan 6, 2011.

Shields, Rachel, ‘South Africa’s Shame: The Rise of Child Rape’, The Independant, May 16, 2010.

Smith, David, ‘We have a major problem in South Africa’, The Guardian, Nov 18, 2010.

Medical Research Council of South Africa, ‘Preventing Rape and Violence in South Africa: Call for Leadership in a New Agenda for Action’, MRC Policy Research Brief, Nov 2009.

Kelly, Annie, ‘Raped and Killed for Being a Lesbian: South African ignores “corrective” attacks’, The Guardian, Mar 12, 2009.

Mkize, Nonhlanhla, ‘Cloud over the Rainbow Nation’, Human Sciences Research Council, Vol. 5, No. 1, Mar 2007.

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Love, Marriage and Kanye

Posted on Jan 18, 2011 in Art, Society | 0 comments

“Two dead women in lingerie swing back and forth from the ceiling from a chain around their necks.

Two young women are slumped on a silk-sheeted bed, like corseted lifeless mannequins. A man advances on them. His intentions are clear.

Another woman in fetishized clothing lies spread-eagled on a table in front of a man eating a huge plate of raw meat.”

ABC’s The Drum published the above, describing Kanye West’s music video for his new single, ‘Monster’, in an article entitled ‘Who Says Female Corpses Aren’t Sexy?’

The author, Melinda Tankard Reist, goes on to describe the overwhelming and in no way veiled messages of eroticized violence against women which saturate the song and video –

“Then there’s these lines: “I put the p-ssy in the sarcophagus” (which, in case you’re wondering, is a flesh eating coffin) and “rape and pillage a village, women and children”.

The clip is not only interested in fetishizing female bodies – it revels in fetishizing female pain, female passivity, female suffering and female silence. The ultimate female is the quiet, passive female – a mannequin – who accepts violence, abuse and suffering while remaining hot and sexy.”

We’re talking serious NSFW stuff here. Not Safe For Work Women.

It brought to mind a poem I recently read on the blog of author Tim Challies. It was submitted to him by a reader, a woman whose husband’s heart had been damaged by exactly the kind of messages of hatred being promoted by Kanye. I defy anyone to read it and not take the danger of this kind of ‘entertainment’ seriously.

I Looked for Love in Your Eyes

I saved my best for you.
Other girls may have given themselves away,
But I believed in the dream.
A husband, a wife, united as one forever.

Nervous, first time, needing assurance of your love,
I looked for it in your eyes
Mere inches from mine.
But what I saw made my soul run and hide.

Gone was the tenderness I’d come to know
I saw a stranger, cold and hard
Distant, evil, revolting.
I looked for love in your eyes
And my soul wept.

Who am I that you cannot make love to me?
Why do I feel as if I’m not even here?
I don’t matter.
I’m a prop in a filthy play.
Not an object of tender devotion.

Where are you?

Years pass
But the hardness in your eyes does not.
You think I’m cold
But how can I warm to eyes that are making hate to someone else
Instead of making love to me?

I know where you are.
I’ve seen the pictures.
I know now what it takes to turn you on.
Women…people like me
Tortured, humiliated, hated, used
Images burned into your brain.
How could you think they would not show in your eyes?

Did you ever imagine,
The first time you picked up a dirty picture
That you were dooming all intimacy between us
Shipwrecking your marriage
Breaking the heart of a wife you wouldn’t meet for many years?

If it stopped here, I could bear it.
But you brought the evil into our home
And our little boys found it.
Six and eight years old.
I heard them laughing, I found them ogling.

Hands bound, mouth gagged.
Fisheye photo, contorting reality
Distorting the woman into exaggerated breasts.
The haunted eyes, windows of a tormented soul
Warped by the lens into the background,
Because souls don’t matter, only bodies do
To men who consume them.

Little boys
My little boys
Laughing and ogling the sexual torture
Of a woman, a woman like me.
Someone like me.

An image burned into their brains.

Will their wives’ souls have to run and hide like mine does?
When does it end?

I can tell you this. It has not ended in your soul.
It has eaten you up. It is cancer.
Do you think you can feed on a diet of hatred
And come out of your locked room to love?

You say the words, but love has no meaning in your mouth
When hatred rules in your heart.
Your cruelty has eaten up every vestige of the man
I thought I was marrying.
Did you ever dream it would so consume you
That your wife and children would live in fear of your rage?

That is what you have become
Feeding your soul on poison.

I’ve never used porn.
But it has devastated my marriage, my family, my world.

– anonymous

~ ~ ~

Is this the world we want? Do we want to advance the age old metaphor of the battle of the sexes into a massacre, or, to use Kanye’s lyrics, a ‘pillaging’ of the value of the female soul and body? Do we want the norm moved even slightly by this kind of voice? Do we want our children to believe there is any room for these kinds of attitudes and behaviours towards women? Is this okay with anyone, really?

It’s not okay with me. There’s a petition gaining international support to prevent the clip from ‘Monster’ from being released. I usually lean towards the side of freedom of expression over censorship, but for this – I signed. When your value as a human being is being attacked, you can’t sit silent. You have to stand and say no.

You can say no here.

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The Good Old Days?

Posted on Jan 14, 2008 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

We are assailed daily by the voices of doom, reminding us of our worst tencencies as the human species. Yet Steven Pinker, a psychologist and author from Harvard University, makes a somewhat revolutionary argument in ‘The Decline of Violence’ (a short article within the book which I am currently loving, “What are you optimistic about?”) – that society is actually getting better; more considerate; more civil:

“In 16th century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to the historian Norman Davies, ‘the spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonised.’

As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would now be unthinkable in many parts of the world…Cruelty as popular entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge supertition,… torture and mutilation as routine forms of punishment, execution for trivial crimes and misdemeanours, assassination as a means of political succession, and homicide as the major means of conflict resolution – all were unexceptional features of life for most of human history. Yet today they are statistically rare in the West, less common elsewhere than they used to be, and widely condemned when they do occur.

These practices are, to varying degrees, hidden, illegal, condemned, or at the very least…intensely controversial. In the past, they were no big deal.”

For all that is still very wrong, dehumanising, and violent in our society and our world, it is perhaps good to take a moment and give thanks for all that is not. To give thanks that God still works in hearts, and that those hearts can change norms, societies, laws, nations, and even, sometimes, the world.

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