Rape isn’t funny

The Daily’s Amelia Schonbek tackles the notion that a song is just a song

If the author of the Hyde Park, “Engineering Frosh is not sexist,” (Commentary, September 14) intended to use his piece to dispel fears that participants in Engineering Frosh engage in activities that further anti-feminism, he failed miserably. Rather ironically, his piece instead served to illustrate exactly the type of misguided thinking that continues to perpetuate societal gender inequalities to this day.

First, we have to get one thing straight: “I used to work in Chicago” is an anti-feminist song, and though its verses depict – and make light of – the subordination of women, it continues to be sung at Engineering Frosh. The author states that it takes “an enormous leap of logic” to reach the conclusion that the song depicts violence against women, an opinion that can only be seen as misinformed. Repeatedly, the song’s lyrics tell of women who are on the receiving end of acts of sexual abuse. In the song, women are “nailed,” “slammed,” and “banged.” That the song uses inherently violent language to describe sex should not be overlooked, nor should the fact that it uniformly shows women as those being dominated, while men are the dominators. Though the author seems to think that “there is absolutely no indication that [the song] depicts anything but consensual relationships,” the lyrics clearly tell a different story. Verse after verse, a pattern emerges: women ask for something mundane (“butter she wanted”), and as a result, are subjected to sexual violence (“spread she got”). What exactly about such an encounter is consensual? The woman gets spread, she doesn’t spread her legs herself. And though the author cites the fact that there are “myriad verses where the pronouns are switched or are in fact written about men walking into the store” to suggest that the song isn’t so bad after all, the fact remains that sexual violence against men or women should not be celebrated through song.

Even faced with the above evidence, the author seems to think that singing a song like “I used to work in Chicago” does not equal “malice toward women, but rather comedy through innuendo.” He couldn’t be more wrong. Songs that portray violence toward women are not “silly” or “harmless” things, and calling attention to this fact does not “make issues where there were none before.” Rather, these songs reinforce and perpetuate a way of thinking that glosses over sexual abuse and uphold the notion that women are objects to be used to suit men’s follies. One may argue, as the author did, that only a person who is “psychologically disturbed” would ever carry out the type of actions described in “I used to work in Chicago.” Such a statement is not only wildly offensive, but it also completely misses the point. Let’s not be absurd – the main concern here is obviously not that swarms of male froshies, inspired by this song, are going to seek out department store jobs and take advantage of their female customers. The issue is that the song normalizes women as voiceless entities who are there to be taken advantage of – whether they like it or not – and that singing it is a statement of support for this brand of gender bias.

Further, to treat a song like “I used to work in Chicago” as merely “comedy through innuendo” is to fail to comprehend the significance of the words it contains, and their power. Surely, the author wouldn’t agree that it is acceptable to walk through campus and read aloud statements like “A lady came in for some help / Some help from the store / Help she wanted, AIDS she got!” Why, then, is a song containing these words so staunchly defended as good, honest fun? Part of the problem is that songs, for whatever reason, are seen as innocuous no matter what their content. But the truth of the matter is that, although transmitting information through a song may be perceived as less serious or weighty than some other forms of dissemination, this is not the case. The information that surrounds us – all of it, in all its forms – influences the way we think and the opinions we hold. Singing an anti-feminist tune breeds anti-feminism, whether or not you somehow think the song’s contents are funny.

The truth is, violence against women is not funny, and it should never be trivialized as it is in “I used to work in Chicago.” Continuing to sing the song ensures that existing gender inequalities grow stronger, and does both men and women a disservice. The only way to fight against inequality is to expose it and work toward abolishing it. Stop singing “I used to work in Chicago.” It’s the first step.