Why Is Domestic Violence ‘Invisible’?

So far this summer, I’ve blogged about doctors who don’t want to screen their patients for intimate partner violence, even when it will take a minimum of time out of their exam schedules. I’ve written about employers who would rather fire victims than develop effective domestic violence policies. I’ve quoted numerous journalists making misinformed or outright obnoxious statements about victims. Besides the obvious link in subject matter, there’s another common trend. These are all people who should know better, but they continue to ignore or trivialize a problem which exists right under their noses.

One the biggest challenges for domestic violence advocates is getting the issue to a level of national recognition that will provoke policy change, increased education, and widespread awareness of how to end the problem for good. People care about domestic violence – but it’s just not the kind of issue that consistently riles people up, gets them to donate money and time, and that they regard as a widespread issue. It’s more prevalent among women than diabetes, breast cancer and cervical cancer, but whereas we all hear about the screenings and vaccines we should get if we want to stay healthy, the same level of education and care does not exist for women at risk of domestic violence. There will always be misogynists who think that domestic violence is prima facie acceptable. But there are far too many people who agree that intimate partner violence is never justified, and yet treat it as a less important issue than any number of other social problems.

My question is: why is it so difficult to get people to rally against such a widespread, common, and devastating phenomenon? I have a few ideas, which I’ll voice below, but I’m interested in hearing your answers in the comments section.

Theory #1: People think it will never affect them.

Despite an ever-growing list of counterexamples, from Halle Berry to Madonna, people draw upon their own stereotypes to conclude that such cases are exceptions. Too many assume that domestic violence only occurs in poverty-stricken households with substance problems, where the victims are too economically downtrodden and uneducated to leave. They think that they don’t need to worry about their neighbors, friends, or children being victims – and, they certainly don’t think that they would ever be ‘foolish’ enough to enter into an abusive relationship themselves.

The doctors, lawyers, and politicians who can start to implement real-world policies that effectively combat domestic violence don’t have the same gut-wrenching personal incentive to fight DV that they do to, say, combat drunk driving. Anyone can get hit by a drunk driver on the highway, but if domestic violence is almost exclusively the domain of the uneducated poor, then those in charge of addressing social issues at a policymaking level have no chance of being affected. This, of course, is the result of an enormous cultural misconception about domestic violence; the reality is that domestic violence cross-cuts all socioeconomic backgrounds, and manages to influence those it does not directly affect in the form of rising insurance premiums and taxes.

Of course, I’m being a bit unfair to humanity here. People are certainly able to feel huge amounts of sympathy for the victims of, and even take action in response to, large-scale tragedies that will never affect them. They do it all the time. Plenty of Americans rail against foreign genocides or corruption; many, many people donate to aid organizations like the Red Cross in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or a spate of earthquakes. The issue is not that people are never capable of focusing on issues that will not directly affect them – it’s that, for some reason, domestic violence is not the sort of issue that raises people’s sympathies to the point that they actually take action.

Theory #2: People think it’s the victim’s fault.

Unfortunately, domestic violence may fall by the wayside simply because society still can’t shake some degree of victim-blaming. We’re thankfully light-years past the time when most people would just assume that a battered woman had done something to antagonize her husband and think nothing more of it. Now, the victim-blaming is more insidious. Some wonder whether there is some commonality among DV victims that makes them seek out abusive partners. Others – many, many others – are confident that any strong woman would be out the door the first time a partner hit her. The “why doesn’t she just leave?” mentality seems, on-face, to be the natural product of a belief in female independence. Women are no longer expected to be tied to a man, so that means victims are liberated in a way they never would have been previously, right?

Unfortunately, the assumption that leaving an abuser is a crystal-clear option fails to account for the myriad of complexities that might stop a victim from leaving. The abuser might have sole access to the bank accounts. He might be able to petition for sole custody of the children or the pets. And, of course, victims are typically placed in increased danger after leaving or making plans to leave. The narrative that all it takes to end domestic violence is for a woman to be ‘strong’ and leave an abusive relationship is oftentimes just as damaging to victims as the narrative that they should stay with an abusive husband  for the good of their family.

This is what sets domestic violence victims apart from the ‘innocent’ victims of natural disasters, random gun violence, or our other societal woes. The attitude is not that victims deserve the violence – it’s that, given that they don’t leave when it’s clearly so simple, they don’t deserve to be helped.

Theory #3: People think it’s a private matter.

These misconceptions could be addressed by increased communication and discussion about domestic violence and its true effects. Yet it still seems that a truly far-reaching and candid discussion about domestic violence is far on the horizon. We are far from the days when domestic violence was considered a perfectly acceptable form of wife-discipline, and we’ve even made great strides from the default legal assumption that most abuse is a private relationship issue, but domestic violence is still treated with a large degree of stigma.

There are, of course, still the backwards sorts out there who honestly do believe that a man has the right to do whatever he wants to his own wife in the name of ‘discipline’ or ‘keeping the house’ or whatever other twisted excuses he can concoct. To add insult to injury, however, there are also those who think that it’s bad for society to discuss violence against women for the victims’ own good. These so-called feminists think that calling the act of domestic violence is wrong because it automatically means that people treat the recipient of that violence like a fragile victim, ignoring her autonomy and personal strength. They reject a discussion of domestic violence because of the preexisting societal stereotypes of victims as weak, ineffectual, and submissive – and while doing so, completely disregard the fact that those stereotypes are the things that need to change. Carol Sarler’s explanation of why calling Nigella Lawson a victim of domestic violence is degrading to Lawson and to feminism is a prime example of the latter stance. It may be true that social attitudes toward victims are misinformed at best and counterproductive at worst. But this doesn’t mean that we should pretend that instances of violence do not occur, simply because labeling them as ‘domestic violence’ allows people to exercise those attitudes. Instead, we should work on changing attitudes about victims at the same time that we address domestic violence in a broader context.

What does this mean for a broader societal discussion of domestic violence? No one wants to talk about it: not the people who think it’s not a big deal or victims are ‘making it up’; not the people who think the home is inherently private; and not even the people who care the most about women’s rights, since they are worried that to harp on the ‘victimhood’ of the women involved erodes their independence. It also means that victims are not likely to step forward and share their stories, because to admit to a history of abuse is to invite criticism on the ground of their seeming ‘weak’ or ‘passive’ (two other accusations leveled at Nigella Lawson).

When people don’t talk about a problem, they can’t understand it. No one can truly appreciate the devastating consequences of domestic violence without hearing about those consequences, either from advocates or from survivors themselves. And in a world where the conversation is muted as it is now, it’s all-too-easy for people to assume that domestic violence is ‘just’ a man hitting his wife around a bit when he’s drunk – not the cycle of violence and manipulation it actually becomes.

Theory #4: People don’t think they can do anything about it.

A final obstacle to getting society to confront domestic violence is the fact that even when people realize that DV is a problem of shocking magnitude, they don’t think that domestic-violence-specific legislation or support is an effective way to address it. As with all of the other roadblocks, this mainly stems from misunderstandings surrounding domestic violence itself.

If you believe that domestic violence is the natural product of poverty, substance abuse, poor anger management skills, and disregard for the law, as many people are wont to do, then it’s natural to also believe that tackling all of these ‘root causes’ will conveniently solve the problem of domestic abuse. If you believe that women would flee their abusers in droves if only they had a little bit of financial support, it’s natural to support better social welfare in general over specific domestic violence programs. These attitudes ignore the fact that domestic violence can rear its ugly head in relationships of all stripes, from high school couples to a wealthy, middle-aged couple – and they seek to apply a generic solution to a highly complex and specialized problem. Of course we need to devote more resources and energy toward helping people to economic independence and better education. But we can’t do this at the expense of addressing the specific causes of violence toward women, and the specific solutions which can help women of all backgrounds leave their abusive relationships.

Looking Forward

The Mary Byron Project looks for solutions to the individual problems surrounding the very complex issue of domestic violence, and often finds them. Changing entrenched attitudes and perceptions, however, can be much more difficult. That’s why I’m interested in hearing what you have to say on the issue. What makes domestic violence such an ‘invisible problem’? And, most importantly, what can we do to change this?

Criminalize Revenge Porn Now

All-too-frequently, lawmakers fail to play catch-up with the technological advances surrounding them in society; by the time they can see the tangible implications of these advances and act on them, countless people have already been harmed. Equally frequently, the legal system (and society at large) disregards or downplays the plights of victims of relationship violence due to a morass of sexist attitudes and discriminatory procedures. ‘Revenge porn,’ or the nonconsensual distribution of nude photos or video, sits at the uncomfortable crossroads of these two gaps in the law.

Beyond Humiliation: Revenge Porn’s Real Impact

No one should ever have to go through the process of having highly personal  images of oneself scattered for the world to see on the Internet – even worse, at the hands of someone the victim trusted enough to share this sort of media with in the first place. This alone constitutes a form of psychological torment that allows the revenge porn publisher a degree of power over his victim, even from hundreds of miles away and months or years after the relationship ends.

But truly malicious aggressors can do much more than that. This article shares the ordeal of Holly Jacobs, who not only had the awful experience of finding explicit photographs of herself online, but also the much worse experience of active harassment at the hands someone she believes to be her ex. He targeted every aspect of her life: hacking her Facebook profile with the photographs; affixing her name and contact information to the images he posted online; emailing them to her boss and co-worker; and tailoring the titles of the videos he posted so as to appear high on a search results page when her students Googled her qualifications as a teaching assistant. Jacobs attempted to move on with her life, changing her name and starting End Revenge Porn, a forum and advocacy hub for victims. But her attacker was still at it, posting photos with information about where she would be presenting her thesis at an American Psychological Association conference and encouraging viewers to attend her presentation and proposition her. Jacobs is now participating in a criminal suit against her ex, Ryan Seay, who is charged with stalking, harassment by use of personal identification information, and unlawful publication.

This may sound like a particularly bad example of cyber-aggression, and it is certainly true that many revenge-porn-posters are content to simply post nude photos of their exes, maybe with a name or contact information attached, and maybe with a little rant discussing how much of a ‘slut’ or a ‘bitch’ their ex is to justify how much she deserves it. As mentioned before, it’s not a stretch to say that this can still psychologically devastate a victim – especially when she has to worry every time she applies for a job that her potential employer will Google her name and reject her as a result of the images. And it’s also the unfortunate case that Jacobs’ experience is replicated, in parts or its entirety, in the stories of women all across the country.

The Road to Criminalization

Equally unfortunate is the fact that there exists limited legal recourse for victims to either salvage their online reputations or bring their aggressors to justice. Some revenge porn sites allow women to remove their photos – if they pay sizable fees – and third-party reputation management sites will charge as much or more simply to push the photos onto a later page of search results. The criminal justice system is woefully inadequate, given that police and prosecutors see the images as having been freely produced in the first place. And a variety of factors – the poor applicability of specific civil laws, the significant time and financial investments required, and the desire not to incur even more undesired attention upon oneself – conspire to make civil suits unlikely as well. Free speech advocates come down on the side of revenge porn distributors and site hosts. What all this means is that – just as victims of physical domestic violence lose faith in the justice system when they turn there first after an episode of violence – victims of revenge porn quickly learn that no one is willing to protect their interests as they see their lives torn apart around them.

I mentioned before that lawmakers are oftentimes slow to wise up to the full implications of the technology developing around them. That’s a charitable explanation for why only one state – New Jersey – has a statute explicitly prohibiting the distribution of nonconsensual pornography. Florida lawmakers introduced a potential statute criminalizing revenge porn, but it stalled in the legislature last May. California legislators are attempting to push through a similar bill right now, which faces criticism on the grounds of vagueness and the potential to undermine other legitimate exercises of free speech. But even if the California state senate and governor approve this legislation, that’s still only one state out of 49 that have yet to criminalize this kind of behavior. It’s worth noting that New Jersey only successfully passed its legislation after the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old college student who killed himself after his roommate covertly filmed and showed others his romantic encounter – and the California bill is up for discussion only after 15-year-old Audrie Potts hanged herself after three boys sexually assaulted her at a party and posted pictures of the incident online. Maybe eventually, it won’t take similarly horrific incidents to propel other states into taking action.

Victim Blaming: It’s Everywhere

There are, of course, solid legal obstacles to passing such legislation that must be considered before (hopefully) state legislatures decide that the rights of victims in this instance are more important. But it’s likely that a good part of the inadequate response to revenge porn is grounded in society’s tendency to trivialize the abuse of women in all its forms.

This problem pervades media coverage of revenge porn issues – this CBS Detroit article on the California bill refers to victims as “sexy exes” and concludes with a pithy “The bottom line: Cameras, bedrooms and exes don’t mix.” But it’s even more evident in the responses that victims receive when they seek support from their peers: things like “You should have known never to give a guy those sorts of pictures” or “I’ve sent guys this sort of photo before, but only ones I knew wouldn’t post them.” To some, victims are making a big deal out of nothing (and for them, The Revenge Porn Challenge offers you a tongue-in-cheek yet compelling response). And others, even if they recognize the significant impact revenge porn can have on someone’s life, congratulate themselves for being smart enough to avoid that kind of scenario while simultaneously deriding the victims for not being as savvy. These are exactly the type of responses one sees to less technologically-oriented intimate partner violence, and they are exactly the type of misinformed responses which make the victim feel even more vulnerable than before. There are differences between ‘conventional’ relationship abuse and ‘newer’ types of cyber harassment, but society’s treatment of victims and their plights is one of the most striking similarities.

There may be those who are still convinced that some of the blame must be incumbent upon the victim; I will admit that for a while, I bought into the ‘if you don’t want explicit pictures of yourself online, then don’t take those pictures’ camp. But we should remember that these kinds of situations aren’t always examples of perfect consent in the first place. The kind of guy who’s willing to violate his ex-partner’s trust by posting revenge porn might also be the kind of guy who has the upper hand in controlling his partner already, and thus may be able to convince her to take or send him explicit images even if she initially protests.

On top of that, though, any relationship must contain some degree of intimacy, and some implicit assumption of confidence. There is any number of aspects of a relationship someone might not want shared upon a breakup – snide remarks about a boss, friend, or family member, intimate sexual details, or even something as simple as the alarm code to a house. It’s not the victim’s fault if she gives a pair of keys to her boyfriend, he refuses to return them after they break up, and then he burgles her house – there was no reason for her to suspect at the time that giving him access to her residence was a risky move. Similarly, women shouldn’t be faulted for presuming that their partners are not the kinds of sleazebags who would upload their nude photos to a website in the event that they ended the relationship.

Let’s make something clear: any kind of move on the part of someone’s partner or ex-partner to humiliate them or make their life miserable, even from afar, is unacceptable. It’s an expression of a need for control over the victim that society ought to condemn. It doesn’t matter if the person initially consented to the taking of the images – publicly violating their trust takes their initial consent and warps it into something completely unrecognizable. Educating women about the need to not trust their partners with explicit images is only a band-aid solution to the problem, and one which completely misaddresses the issue at hand. What we need is actual legal action – always a challenge for advocates against intimate partner violence – that specifically and rigorously sanctions those who distribute explicit images without the consent of the person depicted. New Jersey’s taken a step in the right direction, but it’s time for California and the rest of the country to follow suit.

Realities of Sexual Assault

Realities of Sexual Assault.

Check out what the producers of Law and Order:SVU have to say about VINE.  When Mary Byron was murdered in 1993, her family  knew that she could have been kept safe had she known he was on the street.  Because of this well publicized murder, VINE was invented and put into use first in Louisville, KY – and then it spread to almost every state in the US.

Knowledge and use of this service has saved lives.  Most of the millions of viewers of last night’s episode will never need VINE, but for those who will, NBC has made sure they are aware.  And on behalf of all those victims, we thank them.

Ky Supreme Court v. Ky General Assembly: Who Makes Law in KY?

Remember in high school civics when you learned about “separation of powers?”  You know the drill:   The legislative branch makes the laws, the judiciary interprets the laws, and the executive branch enforces the laws.  Well, in the context of protective orders, it looks like the Kentucky Supreme Court may need to go back to school.

A little background might be useful here.  Protective orders are the legal remedy domestic violence victims use to access the court system and seek protection from their abusers.  The remedy was created by statute – KRS 403.715 et. seq.  In the very first part of the statute, Kentucky’s legislative body, the General Assembly, declared that the intent of the statute is to “[t]o allow persons who are victims of domestic violence and abuse to obtain effective, short-term protection against further violence and abuse in order that their lives will be as secure and as uninterrupted as possible . . . .”

The process of obtaining an order of protection, very simply put, goes something like this:  A victim goes to the courthouse, or intake center, or clerk’s office and completes a petition for an emergency protective order (EPO).  The petition is presented to a judge and, if it establishes the existence of domestic violence and abuse, the EPO is entered.  The order is then served on the batterer, along with a summons ordering the batterer’s appearance at a full hearing.  If, after the hearing, the court again finds the existence of domestic violence, a more permanent order, known as a domestic violence order (DVO), is entered.[1]

But what happens if the court, on reviewing the petition for an emergency order, does not find the existence of domestic violence or abuse?  Does she still get to go forward to a full hearing to try and convince the court of her need for protection?  In KRS 402.745(1), the General Assembly answered this question with an unequivocal yes:

If, upon review of the petition as provided for in KRS 403.735, the court determines that the allegations contained therein do no indicate the presence of an immediate and present danger of domestic violence and abuse, the court shall fix a date, time, and place for a hearing and shall cause a summons to be issued for the adverse party.

Protective orders are akin to civil lawsuits.  In a civil suit, say a trespass case, the process is initiated with the filing of a complaint.  In a trespass case, the complaint may be accompanied by an order seeking an emergency injunction preventing the defendant from entering onto the plaintiff’s property.  Even if the emergency order is not granted, the plaintiff still gets to go forward and prove that he is a victim of trespass.

The General Assembly thought the same should hold true for domestic violence victims.  If the petition for an EPO is denied, the petitioner still gets the opportunity to be heard by the court.  The court still must issue summons to the respondent and hold a hearing with both parties present before dismissing the case.  Like our trespass case, the suit does not end only because petition for emergency relief was not granted.

Makes sense?  To me it does and, apparently, it did to the General Assembly.  Not so much to the Kentucky Supreme Court.  Last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court adopted new rules of criminal and civil procedure, as well as new rules governing Family Courts.  In FCRPP 10 (Family Court Rules of Practice and Procedure), the Court stated, in relevant part:

FCRPP 10 shall read:  If an emergency protective order is not issued . . .for failure to state an act or threat of domestic violence between the parties, the finding of the . . . failure to state an act or threat of domestic violence shall be noted on the petition by the judge, and no summons shall be issued.

What’s a judge to do?  The Kentucky General Assembly has said a judge must issue a summons if the emergency order has been denied.  They made this very clear when they said a court “shall cause a summons to be issued to the adverse party.”  In legal speak, “shall” is a mandatory term that means the judge doesn’t have another option.  The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, says “no summons shall be issued.”  Again, the word shall means a judge doesn’t have a choice – under the rule, they can’t issue a summons.

Here’s where separation of powers problem occurs.  Both the Supreme Court and the General Assembly are legislating – that is, making law.  What the Supreme Court is ignoring is their high school civics lesson – only the state’s legislative body can make the law.  The Supreme Court only gets to interpret it.

The irony here comes in at the end of the process, regardless of what a family court judge chooses to do.[2]  Say a victim seeks an EPO, it’s denied, and a judge issues a summons, holds a hearing, finds domestic violence exists and enters a DVO.  The respondent appeals the DVO, saying, in part, no summons should have been issued pursuant to FCRPP 10.  The case goes first to the Court of Appeals, but for a final resolution, guess where it will end up?  That’s right, the Kentucky Supreme Court!  Are they going to follow the General Assembly’s pronouncement or their own rule?

Sadly, the bigger problem is not what will happen if a case ends up before the Kentucky Supreme Court.  The bigger problem is the countless victims who will essentially be kicked out of court all over the state by judges who choose to follow the erroneous rule of the Supreme Court.  We’ve all heard stories of judges who will do nearly anything to erect barriers to victims seeking protection.  The Kentucky Supreme Court has handed these judges a huge barrier to use at will.

[1] Obviously, this is the way the protective order process is supposed to work in a perfect world.  If anyone knows where that is, let us know; we want to relocate there.

[2] If I were a judge, I would follow the statute because the pronouncement of a legislative body trumps the statement of a Court that is exceeding its constitutional authority.  Incidentally, I aced high school civics.

Broken Records

DISCLAIMER: This blog post contains EXPLICIT lyrics. As it is my final entry for The Mary Byron Project’s wordpress blog, Marcia Roth (my wonderful boss and the Executive Director of the MBP) allowed me to write from a more personal perspective. While the issue about which I am writing has vast import, I wanted to focus specifically on the effect song lyrics had on my classmates and myself this past semester. The opinions presented are my own. –Emily

Misogynist song lyrics have been around way longer than the hip hop movement. In the 1930s, blues legend Robert Johnson released a song that contained the lyrics “I’m goin’ to beat my woman until I get satisfied.” In 1975, American rock star Ted Nugent came out with the song, “Stranglehold,” which includes the lines “you ran the night that you left me/ you put me in my place/ I got you in a stranglehold baby/ that night I crushed your face.” Lyrics like these are the result of a long history of condoned misogyny and sexism. Since the dawn of time (refer to the Bible), women have been considered subhuman. At one time, people actually debated whether or not men and women were the same species.

And though things have changed for the better, there remains a stubborn misogynist streak in our culture. It is still OK to tell a woman, “don’t speak you shouldn’t be saying nothing at all/ Cause it’s hard to talk with a mouth full of dick and balls/ So put it in your mouth and blow/ Put it deep down in your throat/ Niggas like me don’t wanna hear that shit/ so do what the fuck you been told.”[1]  Maybe you think I’m exaggerating. But put those words in a song, add a cool beat, and you’ve got a platinum record.

People listen to these songs, hear these words, sing along to these words, and eventually, the message seeps in. We grow comfortable hearing these sentiments. We learn to tolerate them. The cycle continues.


This past April, Yale University hosted the Ying Yang Twins at its annual, all-day event known as Spring Fling. In the weeks before the Ying Yang Twins descended on campus, uproar arose over the offensive nature of the group’s lyrics. Numerous letters and editorials were printed in The Yale Daily News, various student groups called meetings, but nothing really happened. In the end, the rap duo came to campus and I’m told they gave a pretty good performance. I did not attend.

I have not always been so conscious of song lyrics. When I was in 7th and 8th grades, I went to A LOT of Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties. I was 12 years old and “partying” for the first time. The song “Get Low” by Lil’ John and the East Side Boyz came out in 2002. This song played at nearly every party I attended, and it’s still a crowd favorite at parties in college. It’s a reminder of our middle school days; it’s a familiar throwback that’s sure to get everyone going, especially when they hear the words: “To the windowww, to the wall.” But, let’s think about this for a second —This song makes us nostalgic?

Now give me my dough back and go get ya friend
Stupid bitch standing there while I’m drinking my hen
Steady looking at me, still asking questions
Times up nigga pass me another contestant
Twerk something baby work something baby
Pop yo pussy on the pole do yo thang baby
Slide down dat bitch
wit yo little bit then stop
Get back on the floor catch yo balance then drop
Now bring it back up clap yo ass like hands

Excuse me while I retroactively puke on my Bat Mitzvah dress.


 There are so many disgusting lyrics that blare over the radio speakers every day, that it would be futile to try to address them all. Though there are dozens of other musical artists that perform misogynist and sexist songs, I’m going to focus on the Ying Yang Twins because the controversy that occurred at my college this past spring really made me — as a student, as a member of the Yale Daily News editorial board, and as a woman — think about the import of song lyrics on society. Music is a part of culture. Misogynistic and sexist music reflects the culture in which it was created and the cultural reality likewise conforms to its reflection in popular music. Music feeds and perpetuates culture in a way that no other form of media can. A piece of artwork may be really powerful, but it can’t get stuck in your head like a song. Since language was invented, people have composed lyrics because lyrics didn’t need to be written down to be remembered. So often, we recall songs but we fail to see the words that comprise it. It is about time we all open our eyes and confront the message that our ears so readily accept. 

On April 19, 2010, selected members of the Spring Fling Committee wrote a letter to the Yale Daily News in order to explain their decision to book the Twins. They wrote, “Of the many artists the Committee considered this year, many were deemed offensive, in that they had at least one offensive song … Of the artists we considered offensive, most were hip-hop artists, and most hip-hop artists we considered were offensive.” Putting aside the absurd wording of these two sentences, let’s move on to the following paragraph:

“While we considered a few hip-hop artists who were not offensive, when we evaluated all of the hip-hop artists solely based on entertainment value and cost, the Ying Yang Twins were clearly the best choice. In addition, though we considered the Ying Yang Twins offensive, we concluded that the group was not too offensive to prevent our selection. Unlike some offensive artists, the Ying Yang Twins do not advocate the commission of specific criminal acts, the standard that we have generally used for disqualifying acts.”

The clincher in this paragraph for me is the last sentence. “Unlike some offensive artists, the Ying Yang Twins do not advocate the commission of specific criminal acts, the standard that we have generally used for disqualifying acts.” This is an absolutely false statement. If any one of them bothered to look up the lyrics of the Ying Yang Twins, he or she would quickly find that they do, indeed, “advocate the commission” of a quite a few “specific criminal acts.”

Here are some choice excerpts from their 2003 album:

Dick so big got caught in her throat.
Do it hurt? (yeah) do it hurt? (hell yeah)
One nut, two nuts that’s what you get

That hoe don’t want no more
That bitch better have my dough
Suck it [repeat]
Lick it [repeat]
Fuck nigga that’s enough said.
See a bitch is only good for a duck head. (quacka)
Low self-esteem nigga can’t out mack her

Then again, their 2005 album shows a lot of growth. There’s a whole song (“Live Again”) about how hard life is for a stripper. How nice! Obviously, the boys have learned a lot. Or perhaps not. After all, this CD also includes the song “Badd” in which the duo raps: “I don’t wanna hear ’bout your motherfuckin’ blues/I’d rather see your ass clap clap in them shoes.”  

Apparently, their concerns about the hardships of a poor stripper were fleeting.  

But before we rashly assume that the Ying Yang Twins are complete misogynists, let’s look at the song “Hoes,” in which the Twins explain that Women are fine; it’s just the Hoes and Bitches that bother them.

Forreal bitch, don’t take the shit wrong
Thinking I’m nice I’ll break you jawbone

Cockblockin bitches
you unproper bitches
What’s the problem bitches?

And I’m gonna show you all I don’t need no help,
Just as soon as I loosen my belt


They go on to clarify that “Yeah, I love you all respectful women/Independent women/I takes ’em out all the time.”

Notice they don’t say respectable women — They don’t respect the women they love, the women they love respect them.  

In the final verse, the Twins proclaim:

This is the men’s national anthem for this year
All you real women,
You all can sing this shit too
If you a hoe and you hate another hoe,
you can sing this shit too
If you a bitch and you hate another bitch,
you can sing this shit too
So everybody’s gonna sing this shit

I can’t help wondering how the Ying Yang twins are distinguishing “real women” from “unproper bitches” but really, it shouldn’t matter how the Ying Yang Twins define women. They are just two people and all people are entitled to their own opinions. However, there is a major difference between these two people and any other two people. The Ying Yang Twins are platinum-selling rappers. This means that over a million of people have purchased their music and millions more have heard their songs on the radio or at clubs. They may be just two people with an opinion, but they are also two people with a vast audience and frightening power to disseminate their ideas and values. The media maintains major influence over society, and one cannot deny that the lyrics of the Ying Yang Twins are both a result and a perpetuator of an ingrained and historically condoned chauvinism.

The 2005 album also features the infamous “Whisper Song” with the refrain “Beat da pussy up.” A commenter on a Yale Daily News article dismisses the offensiveness of these words by pointing to the fact that the Ying Yang Twins are referring to “consensual rough sex.” But as I peruse the other songs on the album, I feel inclined to question the consensual part. For instance, in the classic “Pull My Hair,” D-Roc raps:

First start wit brain
Then imma beat the pussy up
Hit it from the back
And beat the pussy up
Girl why you fronting
Doing all that running
Be yo ass still…

These lines (particularly, “Girl why you fronting/ doing all that running/ be yo ass still) make me wonder whose idea the hair-pulling really is. Additionally, there is a distinct difference between rough sex and violent sexual assault. Sex and violence have been sadly conflated in the public psyche to a disturbing extent. Violent assaults between men and women are nearly always conjoined with intimate relationships.

We cannot point at the Ying Yang Twins and say they are perpetrators by virtue of their song lyrics, but there certainly is some level of emotional and mental abuse aimed at women in their songs. Additionally, we must consider what listeners take from their lyrics. It is more than conceivable that their songs lead some men and women to think that such language and behavior is acceptable — that women are not people, that they are just sex objects. Couching their words in beats, the Ying Yang Twins and similar artists lull the public into feeling comfortable with their attitudes. Soon, we become comfortable enough to sing along. This comfort indicates the worrying capacity for humans (no matter how intelligent) to ignore violence against women, especially when there is a sexual context.

Let’s return to the aforementioned letter published by the Yale Daily News. In the penultimate paragraph, the representatives of the Spring Fling Committee assert:

“This ultimate selection of the Ying Yang Twins had wide support among the Committee, including many female and minority members. No member voiced any personal offense to the lyrics of any Ying Yang Twins’ song. While we do not present this as evidence that the Ying Yang Twins are not offensive, we do think it suggests that, while the Ying Yang Twins may appear offensive, most who listen to their music, regardless of whether they are fans, understand that the songs are too ridiculous to be taken at face value. We do not believe, for instance, that any student will be swayed by their songs to degrade a woman without her consent, and, as such, we are not concerned by the offensive nature of their songs.”

I think the writers severely and dangerously overestimate the moral character of the listening public when they assert “most who listen to their music, regardless of whether they are fans, understand that the songs are too ridiculous to be taken at face value.” Anyone who reads the news knows that there are, in fact, many people who adhere to the attitudes portrayed in the Ying Yang Twins’ songs. The last line of this paragraph reads like a joke ­­­— “We do not believe, for instance, that any student will be swayed by their songs to degrade a woman without her consent, and, as such, we are not concerned by the offensive nature of their songs.” With this cockeyed disclaimer, are they implying that some women give consent to degradation (strippers, perhaps?) and in those cases, one has the right to degrade? And what exactly falls in the purview of degradation? Objectification and misogyny? Slurs and verbal abuse? Sexual and physical abuse? Rape and murder? Because all of these things happen on a fairly regular basis all over the world, and all are considered “degrading” to females. So what exactly are the authors condoning here? To show that I am not the only one outraged by this letter, here are two of the many comments made in response to the letter by my peers at Yale.

“Branford ’10” says, “I just can’t understand what’s fun or acceptable about hateful speech that advocates violence against women. And calling it “ridiculous” doesn’t justify anything.”

“Empty Words” offers this parody recapitulation of the letter: ‘C’mon guys, we worked really hard on this! Sure, YYT are offensive, but we don’t care very much. Besides, sexual violence doesn’t count if everyone knows it’s just a joke. Also, some of us are women!’”

Let’s rewind a little bit. Before the Spring Fling Committee published their letter, a member of the committee independently sent in a letter to the Yale Daily News. This letter was written as a joke, presumably with the intention of getting everyone to laugh about the controversy over the Committee’s musical choices. His letter received 61 comments, a few of which were posted by the author in attempts to defend himself. In a response directed at the writer, “Female Yalie 2010” writes:

“The fact that you think that dancing along to The Whisper Song is just a good time we should all take in stride is, in fact, part of a big, big problem.
I mean seriously, what if some guy said to your mom, or your sister, or your girlfriend, “Hey bitch, Ima beat your pussy up.”? I bet you’d be mad. I hope you’d be mad. But you think it’s okay for these guys to just get up there and say it, through microphones, to all Yale women? If that doesn’t bother you, then you are a part of the problem.
As someone who has been sexually assaulted previously, I have experienced first-hand the harm that these kinds of attitudes bring to all of us. For you to belittle the deep concern that so many of us feel about welcoming such a sexist, violent message onto our campus is deeply disrespectful.”

The above response is powerful due to the personal experience of the writer. But I think the most objectively powerful and convincing argument was posted by “Male Yale ’10”:

“Your utter disregard for the notion that media is something that influences and shapes people in society is amazing. [Name deleted], while you may be an intelligent human being as you say (though I doubt it, if your writing is any indication), your lack of compassion for people who are uncomfortable being put in a position of having their community support this music is extremely disheartening; as someone who hopes to be a role model at Yale, you’re certainly showing a total lack of empathy, inability to understand people’s concerns, and most of all, arrogance. In terms of the content of those concerns, your continual insistence that music can be separated as a piece of art from the impact that it has on people is just plain wrong; of course it offends people, but furthermore, it influences them. Think of the example set by the Ying Yang Twins, not for adults or men in the Yale community, but for young men, particularly young black men, around America. The music suggests that a lot of things are okay that are not, in fact, okay, and it idealizes those things. It has a real impact, and for you to believe otherwise is to belittle music itself, which you seem to have a lot of respect for as a form of art. I think you’d do well to think carefully about your opinions, why you hold them, and why you need to express them in the future. Or at least be willing to have them changed if other people are right.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


By hiring the Ying Yang Twins, we not only condoned their work, we applauded and promoted it. And in doing so, we condoned, applauded and promoted sexism and misogyny. Yale students are supposed to be intelligent, forward-thinkers. We should have known better.

Everyone should know better.

[1] “Georgia Dome,” Ying Yang Twins 2003

[2] “Georgia Dome”