Domestic abuse survivor Rihanna has a new song about murder, which isn’t news. Most genres of music are full of songs about death, murder and killing. I used to joke that parents worried about their kids should be just as concerned about violent folk music as violent rap. Yet the video for Rihanna’s Man Down places the murder in the context of rape.
This is what I find interesting: we don’t blink an eye when a song invokes murder, but if it places the murder in the context of rape or domestic violence we get in a tizzy over whether or not the song is appropriate. I’ll never forget the furor of the Dixie Chicks’ Goodbye Earl, in which both the video and the song had a domestic violence context. No one ever got into such a tizzy when Cash “shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” Indeed, Folsom Prison Blues is considered one of the greatest songs of all time and has inspired artists from multiple genres.
Why do we turn a blind eye to songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and get our panties in a bunch over Rihanna and The Dixie Chicks? Perhaps because it stirs up images of Electra, Medea, Cerridwen and Boudica? Perhaps because it reminds us that, as Kipling aptly put it: the female of the species is more deadly than the male?
Women have traditionally been the givers of life, but also those who bring death. True apothecaries, women often knew and grew the herbs to heal as well as the herbs to kill, sometimes their being the selfsame herb in different doses and concoctions.
I wish I could wrap this up tidily into a moral about Pagan values, but I can’t. The Furies themselves believed Electra was justified, and Medea was a murderess, but the filicide may have been Euripides invention. Neither The Dixie Chicks nor Rihanna apologize for their sexuality, for their feminine strength in these videos. While The Dixie Chicks are triumphant, Rihanna is racked with guilt and grief and their listeners are just as conflicted.
As a Pagan woman I admire their refusal to accept victimhood, but I cannot classify or quantify their actions by any proverb or parable. This is too complex to boil down to a single vice or virtue, but in my heart I do feel that there is some painful Justice here.