Gendered Violence

Ibeyi: Deathless

With this anthem for life, the french twins of cuban origins deliver a powerful chant of strength, unity and hope against state violence.

The opening verse tells the story of a stop-and-search by a police officer. This is a true story about an event that Lisa-Kaindé, who sings the song, lived in the Paris metro when she was younger. (Sound Exploder, 2017) The traumatic encounter echoes the writings of Françoise Verges who writes about “those children who the police […] apprehends as adults”  (Vergès, 2020) in the same context of current day France. These brutal forms of state violence are plagued with racial bias. (HRW, 2021) While often promoted as means of security and protection, the artist suggests otherwise as she was personally left “shaken” and “frozen with fear” (Sound Exploder, 2017) while many were left “for dead in the streets” (Ibeyi, 2017).

Another song of the album, “No man is big enough for my arms”, samples a speech by Michelle Obama stating that “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls”. For Ibeyi, this speech was both poetic and empowering (Samway, 2017). It is only fair to say that their sound has similar properties.

The powerful hook then follows:

Whatever happens, Whatever happened,
We are deathless! We are deathless!

Sang by many voices, it rings like a war chant and fills the listener with power. The message was inspired by “the dark times for the world” when the album was written as Lisa discussed in an interview with Fader, referencing the election of Donald Trump (Mistry, 2017). She goes on to explain her desire for “humans being together and loving each other no matter what.” a desire for sorority and general unity. The word ‘deathless’ takes a deeper meaning beyond everlasting and immortal when looking at the video clip for the song which pictures the two twins dying and giving birth to each other again and again. Life itself coming from the womb, through fertility, the twins are able to transcend death. It is fertility that gives them power to continue the struggle, their body becoming a war machine. This can be linked to Gago’s idea of a war on women’s bodies who states that both feminised bodies and land or territories are seen as “surfaces of colonisation, conquest, and domination”. (Gago, 2020) The twins are through this imagery reclaiming the right to their bodies and also actively taking part in the feminist struggle against such domination.

The second verse tells the rest of the stop and search, with the policeman’s racist comment. This highlights how women of colour can be discriminated against in specific ways, at the intersection of patriarchy and racism. She sings about her “funny look, with her books”, which she suggests in the interview might be the reason for the officer leaving her alone: He saw she had a big book, a partition, he froze and “thought She might have a little bit of intelligence” stopped and left. (Song Exploder, 2017). She concludes the verse by stating how she was “Left for dead in the streets”

The hook comes around like a resurrection, opposing that last statement: “We are deathless!”

Kamasi Washington then takes us away with a beautiful saxophone solo, infusing sorrowful tones into the melody carried by rhythmic traditional drums, a massive part of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Ibeyi. Drums of war, drums of life, the Cuban percussions give a thrilling tempo that only amplifies the empowering capacity of the song.

 Julien Djenidi


B. Jeannerod & J. Sunderland, 2021, Time to Stop Ethnic Profiling in France: Organizations Initiate Procedure to Push for Reforms to End Widespread Abuses, Human Rights Watch.
Sound Exploder, 2017, Episode 116: Ibeyi-Deathless.
A. Mistry, 2017, Ibeyi’s Home, Fader.
F. Vergès, 2020, A Feminist Theory of Violence; A Decolonial Perspective, Pluto Press.
V. Gago, 2020. Feminist International: How to Change Everything. Translated by Liz
G. Samways, 2017, Ibeyi // Interview, London in Stereo.

Gendered Violence

Throbbing Gristle: Convincing People

Over a steadily plodding synth bassline and kick drum punctuated by intermittent guitar fuzz, a chant begins:

There’s never a way
And there’s never a day
To convince people
You can play their game
You can say their name
But won’t convince people

The vocals are delayed, creating a hypnotic call and response over the electronics in the background. The chanted message contradicts itself:

There’s several ways
And there’s several days
To convince people

This is the initial tension of Throbbing Gristle’s Convincing People. At first, there was no way, no time, to convince people—now suddenly there is. I want to use the convoluted concept of convincing found in Convincing People as a starting place to consider the origins and mystification of structural violences found in neoliberalism.

Now you’re people
And we’re people
We’ve gotta be
To convince people
It’s the name of the game
It’s the game of the name
Convincing people

In the song, the act of convincing people is explicitly described in three ways: as an impossibility (“there’s never a way”), as something attainable through multiple possibilities (“there’s several ways”), and as a larger phenomenon (“the name of the game”). By the end of the song, we never learn about any of the “several” ways to convince people; we actually hear about a way that you’ll never convince people (by telling people what to be convinced of), but for the most part, the means of convincing are fundamentally ambiguous: it’s not what is seems, or is it? So maybe the song is nonsense, and it doesn’t have a properly argumentative claim regarding convincing people—but still, the song’s hypnotic instrumental and its droning vocals work to convince the listener of something, producing a mood which vacillates between the trivial and sinister.

As Francoise Vergès observes, neoliberal capitalism arrives enters into communion with popular feminisms by “coopting” universalist forms of the latter, and ignoring “combat based” feminisms.[1] She writes, “[d]riven by market logics, the structural adjustment programs imposed by international institutions on the Global South had devastating consequences, particularly for working-class racialized women and for Indigenous peoples.”[2] This is essentially a description of structural violence, which aptly exemplifies the aforementioned “vacillation” of convincing people: here the banal intricacies of financial and political policy generate the sinister in the form of immediate and long term consequences for racialized people. At perhaps the smallest level, “market logics”—inherently ones of persuasion—have convinced state and corporate actors to compile, revise, and enact policy. The same market logics lead to the economically-touted notion of consumers as rational actors, while knowing that rationality is subject to persuasion. Policy legitimizes and abstracts violence, it convinces while simultaneously condemning the act of convincing. Outwardly, there’s never a way to convince people, but in fact there are several ways: for neoliberalism, convincing people is the name of the game.

Likewise, neoliberalism is the game of the name. Practices of nomenclature, identification, and subjectivation work to legitimize its regime, while discrediting anything that is not named. Do you believe in a better alternative? Name it—how else could anyone be convinced to take you seriously? No one wants to buy an unnamed product. Against convincing, perhaps we can thwart its regime by denying subjectification, desubjectivizing ourselves, always refusing to be convinced.

Like the song convincing people, the neoliberal machine covers its own tracks, mystifying the banality of policymaking as a completely rational one, in spite of its violence. As Vergès identifies, it sacrifices blameable “violent men” as bad apples to remain structurally intact, to “generate abominable violence.”[3] We don’t want to convince people…

Pat LeGates


[1]     Françoise Vergès, A Feminist Theory of Violence: A Decolonial Perspective, trans. Melissa Thackway (London: Pluto Press, 2022), 5.
[2]     Vergès, 6
[3]     Vergès, 8

Gendered Violence

2Pac: Brenda’s Got a Baby

Violence against women is not an isolated, nor a universally homogenous phenomenon. It should be seen as a pluralistic and complex form of violence that is inextricably linked to other forms of violence, as Vergès and Gago convincingly show in recent texts. This means that it is incorrect to depict gender-based marginalization, assault, and even murder as caused by the inhumane actions of some deplorable bad men (Gago 2020, 63). Instead, underlying economic and racist structures, among others, should be given due attention (Vergès 2022, 13-14; Gago 2020, 74). Vergès for instance points out that sexual harassment in the workplace is linked to racially motivated underpayment (Vergès 2022, 23), and Gago claims the increase in domestic violence is partly causes by deteriorating conditions of the traditional male breadwinner (Gago 2020, 59). As a result, it is also incorrect to talk about ‘the’ oppression and mistreatment of women. Indeed, the complex intersectionality ensures that oppression takes specific forms, whereby simplistic universalistic claims should be rejected and replaced by an approach that starts from particular situations (Gago 2020, 57).

Although both Vergès and Gago use concrete examples to support their more general theoretical claims, neither zooms in on an individual life to explore how gender-based violence can manifest itself  over time. Focussing on a personal story allows the requested specificity to be met, and gives the opportunity to examine how different forms of violence interact. Music is evidently a powerful medium for telling such a personal story. Hence, a song that focuses on the story of a woman’s life ravaged by violence can plausibly contribute to Vergès’s and Gago’s texts.

‘Brenda’s got a baby’ by 2Pac (1991) is suitable for offering such a view on the overarching problem of violence against women through a personal lens. In this song, the listener is told about the story of a 12-year-old girl from an American ghetto. Central to this story is the event from which the song takes its name: a teenage pregnancy. 2Pac doesn’t present this as an isolated drama, but places it in broader contexts. He tells about the way various forms of violence have followed each other in the life of the girl. This includes her wretched home situation. Her father is a ‘junkie’, her mother is almost like a stranger to her, and both of the parents don’t care about their daughter beyond her capability to bring in money. The video accompanying the song shows that this mistreatment should not be seen as separated from the relationship she enters into with her cousin. While the parents argue, Brenda looks lovingly at her boyfriend; supposedly her refuge for safety and affection. However, this seemingly (much) older lover turns out to be a molester, who furthermore abandons her during her pregnancy. To make things worse, Brenda is barred from her parents’ house after giving birth, as she is no longer economically profitable to the family. Left alone with the baby, she decides to sell drugs, but soon turns to prostitution after being robbed. In the following confrontational words, 2Pac ends the song, the prostitution, and Brenda’s horrible life: ‘Prostitute found slain, and Brenda’s her name. She’s got a baby.’

2Pac not only cogently connects the successive forms of violence Brenda faces, but is furthermore not blind to the economic and racist structures that underpin this cycle of violence. As shown, economic precarity is assigned a major role: not only does it lead Brenda’s parents to neglect their child, but it also causes Brenda to feel compelled to sell drugs and to prostitute herself. In addition, it is clear that this is all linked to racist structures. Indeed, as shown in the music video, the ghetto in which Brenda grows up contains only black people. Significantly, white people only enter the video when Brenda’s life has already come to an end, as police officers come to autopsy the corpse. Finally, 2Pac is not only concerned with the economical marginalization of the racialized inhabitants of the segregated ghetto, as the song’s opening words demonstrate: ‘I hear Brenda’s got a baby, but Brenda’s barely got a brain. A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name.’ Educational means seem to be severely lacking as well.

Thus, with this personal story, 2Pac provides a powerful realization of the emphasis on specificity and intersectionality of violence against women that Vergès and Gago would call for some 30 years later. Nevertheless, it would be unwarranted to blindly follow 2Pac’s depiction of the situation. For example, the question could be asked if a severe lack of educational means is the proper interpretation, or that 2Pac is merely dismissing Brenda’s intelligence. Or both? Brenda’s own side of the story would be helpful, or even required. In general, this points to the fact that not only the particularity and the structural background of violence on women should be taken in account, but also that multiple perspectives are needed.

With this particularistic, structuralistic, and multi-perspectivalistic view in mind, there’s also a chance to think about appropriate kinds of action to be taken. For example, it would be would be insufficient to blame and prosecute Brenda’s parents and boyfriend. Instead, for the particular forms of violence women face, the structures that give rise to it should be laid out in a joint effort, and should subsequently be attacked. Obviously, exactly what structures are to be attacked depends on the case. For Brenda’s case, this undoubtedly means that a war should be started against the racist US ghettos as a manifestation of structural marginalization.

Mees Wolffs


Gago, Veronica. 2020. Feminist International: How to Change Everything, translated by Liz Mason-Deese. London: Verso Books.

Vergès, Francoise. 2020. A Feminist Theory of Violence; A Decolonial Perspective, translated by Melissa Thackway. London: Pluto Press.

Gendered Violence

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Clutters

Is there a war on women’s bodies? It is this question that drives Verónica Gago’s (2020) analysis on sexist violence. Gago poses that we should see the endless escalation of violence against women not as a private conflict that happens only in the household, but rather as a total war on the female body that pervades every layer of society. Doing so allows us to see gendered violence as a systemic and structural problem, intentionally (re)produced by the patriarchal hegemony, while also showcasing the localised form violence takes on each particular body (Gago 2020, 59-61). As such, this leads Gago to the conclusion that the battle of violence against women starts and ends by breaking free from the heteronormative hegemony of today’s society. How, then, is this process initiated? Where does it start? In what follows, I will explore the answers to these questions as found in the works of Gago and singer-songwriter Fiona Apple.

Adopting Simone de Beauvoir’s famous statement that one is not born but rather becomes a woman, Verónica Gago argues that “becoming-woman alerts us to a theft” (2020, 79). Becoming-woman essentially entails to conform to the heteronormative meaning of the word. As such, society takes possession of the female body “in order to produce a two-part, binary organism, thus making us into a body that is not our own” (Ibid.). However, she claims, becoming contains revolutionary potential. Instead, the Nietzschean notion of ‘becoming who you are’ is the first step to freeing oneself from the dominant – and indeed, violent – hegemony (Gago 2020, 80). It is this sentiment in particular that is taken up in Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020).

Reminiscing about several different situations, Apple tells the story of breaking free from one’s metaphorical prison. One of these is an unhealthy, abusive, and asymmetrical relationship that Apple is afraid to end – “I know what you can do, and I don’t want a war with you” (Ibid.). Throughout the song, Apple realises that this relationship holds her back emotionally and personally and proclaims – ushered in by the clashing of a cymbal, while the melody intensifies – to “fetch the bolt cutters, whatever happens, whatever happens” (Ibid.).

While the music dwindles again, Apple tells us about her experience with sexism in the music industry: “While I’d not yet found my bearings, those it-girls hit the ground. Comparing the way I was, to the way she was. Saying I’m not stylish enough and I cry too much.” (Apple, 2020). While writing from and about an entirely different context, Apple echoes an important point made by Gago: the system will make use of whichever (violent) means necessary to discipline women in conforming to the heteronormative mould, to “becoming-woman” (Gago 2020, 79). This point is emphasised when Apple tells us that she “grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill”, but that these were “shoes that were not made for running up that hill.” (Apple, 2020). Yet, she declares: “I need to run up that hill.” (Ibid.). Powerfully expressed through a sudden polyphonic explosion, Apple affirms her mission of self-realisation. She tells us: “I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.” (Ibid.). Consequently, with a final clang of the cymbals, she professes to ‘become who she is’ and “Fetch the bolt cutters, whatever happens, whatever happens” (Ibid.).

An important remark must be made here. The Nietzschean ‘becoming who you are’ is accomplished individually. It is a process in which the ‘I’ simultaneously realises and creates itself by taking ultimate responsibility for who one is (Look 2001, 9). This self, having been shrouded and corrupted by outside influence, is uncovered. For Apple, however, this self-realisation must always work in tandem with the ‘other’. Throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters she emphasises the role of ‘them’ in her finding of the ‘I’. Particularly the line “I thought being blacklisted would be grist for the mill. Until I realized I’m still here” showcases the paradoxical nature of being outside of discourse. Becoming who you are cannot be about isolating oneself. For Apple, self-realisation must always happen in relation to, as well as in conjunction with the other.

There is a war on women’s bodies. How do we fight it? Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters and Verónica Gago’s Feminist International offer similar answers to this question. In particular, both argue that self-realisation is the first step in the battle against systemic sexism. Rather than becoming-women conform the heteronormative system, women must become who they are. They must fetch the bolt cutters and cut themselves loose. Of course, this is not an easy process. The war on women and their bodies is not easily ended, and the way to peace is far from close. Yet, these analyses offer two relatively hopeful accounts of the cessation of this war, in which disruption and subversion through self-realisation are key for the transformation of the system.

Giovanni Prins


Apple, Fiona. 2020. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” Track 3 on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Epic Records.

Gago, Verónica. 2020. Feminist International: How to Change Everything. Translated by Liz Mason-Deese. London: Verso.

Look, Brandon. 2001. “Becoming Who One Is” in Spinoza and Nietzsche.” Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 50: 327-338.

Gendered Violence

Nirvana: Rape Me

The members of Nirvana, from their humble beginnings to their rise to stardom, always fought for the rights of marginalized and underprivileged groups. And the song Rape Me is no exception. While the song has a catchy “rock” structure, with a buildup in the verse and an explosive chorus, this only adds to the very uncomfortable message conveyed in the lyrics, reeling us in with the music, but then making us listen to some quite unpleasant lines.

The first lines of the song are:

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me, again

These lyrics, while being pretty straightforward, still manage to convey what could be going on inside the mind of a rape victim. The already uncomfortable request of being raped assumes even darker tones when it’s directed towards a so called “friend”, someone whom the narrator should be able to trust. Furthermore, such a request elicits various questions in the listeners: Why would anyone ask for this? Is the singer mocking me and comparing me to a rapist?  To make it even worse, the narrator then states <<Rape me, again>>, implying that the sexual violence perpetrated has happened multiple times. Like in a gruesome car accident, we almost can’t look away from this bleak depiction; we are forced to come to terms with the violent and unsightly reality of rape. Then, to drive the point home, the chorus comes in with a single, repeated line:

I’m not the only one

The statement here is that rape is not a rare and isolated phenomenon, but is instead widespread and many people suffer from it. The singer also includes some variation in the following verses, with lines such as <<Hate me>> and <<Waste me>>, hinting at the problematic behaviours that usually surround sexual violence. While the song does a good job at describing the victim’s side in a case of sexual violence, it’s not clear whether the band considers rape as just the act of an individual or a symptom of a larger, systemic problem.

The latter option is instead exactly what Francoise Vergès, in A Feminist Theory of Violence; A Decolonial Perspective, and Veronica Gago, in Feminist International: How to Change Everything, propose. Both of these authors believe that violence against women (and other groups) is not simply the result of the independent action of violent individuals, but is instead systemic, denoting a relationship between economic exploitation, racism, and sexual violence.

Vergès showcases how these different forms of violence and inequality go hand in hand with the example of a strike from McDonalds workers in 2018, which was started by Black women, advocating for better salaries and a safer, harassment free, work environment. Gago, instead, tries to go directly to the common roots of capitalism and patriarchy, for example, proposing the idea of <<The implosion of violence in homes as an effect of the crisis of the figure of the male breadwinner>>, postulating that <<The collapse of the wage as an objective measure of male authority>> led to an increase in domestic violence.

The relationships that connect racism, capitalism, and patriarchal structures are still object of debate today. The bounds of each one of them tends to blend in with the others in a kind of blur, so that giving a clear definition results tricky, to say the least. So, the least we can do, is try to empathize with the victims of violence, by putting ourselves in their shoes.

Edoardo Chen


Vergès, Francoise. 2020. A Feminist Theory of Violence; A Decolonial Perspective, translated by Melissa Thackway. Pluto Press.
Gago, Veronica. 2020. Feminist International: How to Change Everything, translated by Liz Mason-Deese. Verso.
Nirvana. 1993. “Rape Me”, track 4 on “In Utero”. Geffen Records.

Gendered Violence

Angèle: Balance ton Quoi

In francophone countries, the #MeToo-movement expressed itself using the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc, which can loosely be translated as “denounce your pig”, where pig stands for the perpetrators of sexual abuse and aggression against women. With Balance ton Quoi, Angèle places herself at the centre of this discussion.

Balance ton quoi both captures and exposes double standards within the #MeToo-debate. Firstly, the song starts with the observation that “they all speak like animals, pottymouthing all the pussies”1. By maintaining that men speak like animals about pussies, Angèle shows how the objectified percep- tion of women (i.e. the reduction of women to chattes, i.e. pussies) differs from the perception of men (who merely act like animals). This difference in perception is an example of a broader class of divisive structures that Vergès identifies in our social world, a class of structures that produce a “division between a humanity considered entitled to protection and those (almost by nature) excluded from it.” (Vergès 2022).

That men are the ones deemed worthy of protection produces an issue that can be retraced in Balance ton Quoi, namely, the excessive emphasis on and concern about the aesthetics of the political debate that often absolves men from the obligation of engaging with the actual content of the debate. From a theoretical standpoint, this can be understood in terms of Rancière’s notion of the distribution of the sensible, the political constellation of what is sayable and unsayable, of who is worthy of speaking and of being heard, seen, and being taken seriously. (Rancière 2004). Indeed, Angèle explicitly states that she will not be invited to speak on radio stations, because her words are not very nice, and, moreover, states that she will remain polite on television, implying that the opportunity to speak on the issue hinges on the very choice of her words.2. Evidently, however, the real problem at hand is not the way in which the issue is raised, but the issue itself. The emphasis on form over content which derives from the differential perception of men as subjects to be protected, however, reinforces their position within the already existing patriarchal structure.

There are also other, more implicit manners in which this double standard, this skewed distribution of the sensible, is brought to light in Balance ton Quoi. Firstly, the song has myriad instances of deliberate self-censorship: the replacement of the word “porc” for the word “quoi” (i.e. what) throughout the song, and the decision to never finish the sentence “to go fuck oneself ”3. Additionally, this can also be seen in the stylistic choices in the song: melodically, the song sounds girly, light-hearted, and at times even happy. Angèle sings with a highly pitched voice presenting herself in a non-threatening, innocent, almost infantile, “traditional” feminine manner. The intention seems clear, however: by embracing the role relegated to women within the distribution of the sensible, as being worthy of speaking and of being heard only when presenting themselves in such a non-threatening manner, Angèle (re)aestheticises the demands of the #BalanceTonPorc-protesters by establishing herself as an interlocutor worthy of being heard.

While this recentring of the political debate on the content instead of the form is certainly useful, there is, however, room for criticism. Angèle’s method of transposing a “traditional” notion of feminity onto the #BalanceTonPorc-discussion excludes victims of sexual violence that do not and/or cannot be embedded within this prescribed notion of feminity, like black, working class women, who are not traditionally seen as non-threatening or girly, but rather as e.g. aggressive. We argue with Vèrges that any “conversation about women’s protection from systemic violence cannot adopt a binary female victim/male perpetrator approach”(Vergès 2022), because such an approach is blind to the axes of race and class. In excluding these axes from consideration, one remains within the logic of racial and class domination, and therefore, ultimately, preserves a system of dominance centred around them.

Stephan Loor


1 In French: Ils parlent tous comme des animaux, de toutes les chattes ça parle mal
2 In French: Ouais je passerai pas à la radio, parce que mes mots sont pas très beaux. (…) Ouais je serai polie pour la télé.
3 In French: aller te faire en-hmmmm.

Gendered Violence

Nirvana: Rape Me

I’m not the only one
– Kurt Cobain (Nirvana 1993)

When you first listen to the song Rape Me of the Grunge band Nirvana, it may sound like a song that normalizes rape, rather than a weapon to fight the war on women. The first lyrics of the song exemplify this:

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me again

But as the frontman of the band Kurt Cobain pointed out many times: it is actually an anti-rape song. Cobain was frustrated that their listeners did not understand that their previous song Polly was also an anti-rape song. It was about the actual event of a 14-year-old girl being kidnapped, tortured, and raped. Combined with Cobain’s aversion to the media and his dissatisfaction of his listeners, he wrote Rape Me. For me, this song not only stresses the epidemic and systematic nature of violence against women, but also the ambiguous power of the victim to be submitting and mocking to the rapist.

At the beginning of the song we hear the catchy four-chord guitar riffs that reminds us of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Then we hear Cobain singing quite casually ‘rape me’, with variations like hate me’ and ‘waste me’. Combined with the link between rape and violent behaviour, the song creates a beautiful yet haunting aesthetic. With the repeated sentence ‘I’m not the only one’, Cobain reminds us that rape is not a rare phenomenon, it is widespread problem which many people in our society suffer from, or as the sociologist Verónica Gago would put it: there is a war on women’s bodies (2020). In the chapter ‘Violence: Is there a War on and against Women’s Bodies?’ Gago argues that there is an ongoing conflict against women, because of the escalation of deaths and rapes of women, lesbians, and feminized bodies (2020, 56). Why does Gago speak of a ‘war’, instead of a problem? Describing it as a problem would make the issue more neutral and dismissive, rather than admitting the nature of the conflict. Sexual violence is not just the result of individual actions, but the complex relationship between the patriarchy, capitalism, and male dominion. Therefore, sexual violence is not a problem of the private sphere, but rather a war that is an attack on the female body (Gago 2022, 59). Moreover, the political scientist Françoise Vergès indicates rape as a weapon of the state (2022). In the chapter ‘Neoliberal violence’ Vergès states that rape ‘has always been a weapon of war (and of colonial war in particular); there is no colonization, no imperialist occupation without rape.’ (Vergès 2022, 23). Gender-based and sexual violence is used to destroy communities; rape-victims often feel excessive shame and rejection (Vergès 2022, 26).

But where Gago and Vergès argue that sexual violence against women and feminized bodies is a larger war-like conflict reproduced by the patriarchal hegemony, Nirvana’s Rape Me points out the paradoxical position of the victim. In an interview Cobain states: ‘’It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.’’’ In other words, Cobain tries to give the narrator a defiant yet powerful position. The rape-victim paradoxically enough gives consent to being raped. On the one hand, this can be understood as taunting and deceiving. This is true for the story behind Polly, where the victim managed to escape by acting defeated in order to led the rapist’s guard down. On the other hand, it could also be a cry of helplessness. This tension reaches its climax at the end when Cobain painfully screeches ‘rape me’ over and over again to create and ambiance of eruption. These abrasive vocals express the power of the victim to mock the rapist, but at the same time the realization of capitulation.

Thus, while Gago and Vergès provide us with a theoretical framework to see rape as a weapon used in a war fought against women, Nirvana’s Rape Me expresses through the art of music the ambiguity of the victim’s power and helplessness.

Brenno Mulder


Gago, Verónica. ‘Violence: Is there a War on and against Women’s Bodies?’ In Feminist International: How to Change Everything. Translated by Liz Mason-Deese, 56-83. London/New Tork: Verso.

Nirvana. ‘Rape Me.’ Track 2 on In Utero. Geffen Records, 1993.

Vergès, Francoise. 2022. ‘Neoliberal Violence.’ In A Feminist Theory of Violence, 10-34. London: Pluto.

Gendered Violence

Charlotte Adigéry, Bolis Pupul: It Hit Me

For the theme of gender violence, I intend to analyse and explore Veronica Gago’s “Violence: Is There a War on and against Women’s Bodies?” (2020) through a live performance by Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul. I will be speculating about the musicians’ experiences, but I neither have the lived experience of their pasts, nor the lived experience of making and performing their songs. Hence, the following will be speculative and explorative. It is not about them but about an interpretation of their performance that makes possible an engagement with Gago, specifically her reflections on war and traversing fear.

The song I have chosen is Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s ’It Hit Me’ (2022) played live. Hence, this contribution constitutes part of a mixtape, but at the same time I ask the reader to use their imagination and hear the song as a live performance. To aid the reader in this, I will provide some context. The themes of the song, roughly, revolve around (trans)gendered violence. The live setting of the specific performance I am referring to is the OFF Festival (2022) in Katowice, Poland. Poland is currently a place of regressive politics, with anti-women’s and anti-LGBTQ legislation being rolled in many parts of the country. This to the extent that some have even created an Atlas of Hate to map out the policies of hate that are being enacted throughout Poland (“Atlas Nienawiści (Atlas of Hate)” n.d.). It is not hard to imagine one feeling fear, when going on stage in Poland to perform a live set about the themes mentioned earlier. Fortunately, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul were met with an attentive, listening audience, full of movement and responsiveness.

The song has two verses that each tell stories of intimately detailed pasts. These pasts are made manifest to the audience in the chorus with a pounding kick drum and them singing ‘It hit me’, a powerful, performative version of realizing that they have been violated. In the moment of the chorus, Gago’s notion of war is declared, understood as a move that makes violence visible (Gago 2020, 80). Furthermore, Gago states that this way of declaring war means ”taking on an array of forces […] finding another way of living in our bodies.” (Gago 2020, 80). Their performance could be seen as a vital instantiation of this ‘taking on’. To name a few examples, ‘forces’ could here be both the audience, the context that the audience experiences the performance in, the performers’ own lived experience and various recombinations of these. Hence, the declaration of war is clearly not only something that happens on the personal, but in this case also on the community level. In that sense, the audience could be seen as embodying the role of compañeras (Gago 2020, 67), as those who actually help you out, as opposed to the transphobic and misogynist Polish authorities. The process of naming ‘war’ thus happens along an axis of performer-audience, situated between the stories of the verses and the intensity of the choruses. The performance calls attention to and makes violence visible through the ‘it hit me’ of the chorus, while founding itself on the familiarity of lived experience.

This emancipatory act of familiarization could help disarm the fear, as Gago might put it (Gago 2020, 83), of playing and listening to music that centres on themes being violated by the country they play out in. To Gago, one way forward is to “traverse” and “coexist with” fear (Gago 2020, 83). A live performance of a song is a traversal in a very physical (through sound waves extending themselves across distance, enveloping the ear membranes they touch) and historical way (through the multiple becomings told by the embodied lyrics). At the same time, “It Hit Me” never claims that ‘everything will be alright’. It ends with a distorted, intense beat, and a sampled catcall. It does not eliminate but rather co-exists with fear.

By shouting ‘It Hit Me’, Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul carve out a space in an Atlas of Hate. They enable multiple ways of co-existing with, moving bodies along to and traversing ‘fear’, potentially taking away the fear’s pacifying power. The live performance of ‘It Hit Me’ also asks us as listeners how we might approach and engage with live concerts as a type of social practice that makes violence visible.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler

Gendered Violence

Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra: Still Got A Way To Fall

The song “Still Got a Way to Fall” by Nicole Willis and the UMO Jazz Orchestra contains some striking parallels with the chapter “Neoliberal Violence” in Françoise Vergès’ book A Feminist Theory of Violence. Especially Vergès extensiveness in addressing and describing problems brought about by neoliberal societies reminded me of Willis’ song. Both works address implications and consequences of living in a neoliberal or neocapitalist society, and both Willis and Vergès formulate a critique on the neoliberal society, but in different ways.

In the first paragraph of the chapter, Vergès addresses the rise of neoliberalism and some of its implications, such as the privatisation of public goods and services, the deregulation of finance, high short-term profit margins for shareholders, and applications of technical solutions to social problems.[1] This corresponds with Willis singing “Who’s to gain, Nobody gonna save you” in the first verse of her song. “Who’s to gain” then, would be owners and investors of these privatised services and the shareholders who generally benefit from high short-term profit margins. The ones who are not gaining are the “Avalanche of the men and women; Buried beneath the frozen sea of pain”, since this line is more likely a reference to the ones who are, for example, suffering the technical solutions to social problems.[2]

Also, Willis’ line, “And indulging in the popular dreams that the supersized lives will make us believe” has a striking parallel with Vergès paragraph on the violence of the market and precarity.[3] In this paragraph Vergès describes how neocapitalism and neoliberalism sustain themselves. The supposed freedom that neoliberalism gives to the individual implies that many things in life can be made, because there are many possibilities for the individual to shape their life the way they want. However, this also means that if the individual fails, it’s their own fault or they did not have the sincere will to achieve their goal.[4] This is also what makes neoliberalism profitable: many people hope they can ‘make it’, many people work hard, and in the end only a few people have to be paid for this in large numbers. Neoliberalism makes us ‘indulge in the popular dreams’, because there are a few people who do thrive in the neoliberalist system, and they are who Willis’ refers to as ‘supersized lives’.  

Both Vergès and Willis address major problems put forward by neoliberal societies, and both try to appeal and include all people or groups of people. However, Willis does not name people or point out groups in society people identify with. Vergès, on the other hand, addresses many groups of people in society and the wide variety of problems they experience in a neoliberal society. So, both texts are very inclusive to suppressed groups in society, but Willis seems to appeal more to any individual listener by not being as explicit as Vergès. Vergès explains how neoliberalism sustains especially sexism and racism, whereas Willis does not highlight any specific form of suppression. Willis does, however, make a brief reference to how black people often get the worst of it in these struggles. This is made clear in the lines “Defencelessness; We figh’, you figh’; you die brother”, and “it’s really enough brother, believe me”.[5] The word ‘brother’ in these lines is probably a reference to black people, as it is fairly common for black people in the United States to address another black person with ‘brother’, especially with men.[6]  Also, the line “Defencelessness; We figh’, you figh’; you die brother” can be regarded as a reference to black people, because the number of black people that get shot and killed every year in the US exceeds that of any other group of people.  

Throughout the song Willis describes dynamics and implications caused by our neoliberalist system that resonate with the article, but the refrain of her song moves beyond Vergès’ article by making a prediction for the future. The lines “We still got a way to fall, Before we are forgiven” can be interpreted as Willis predicting that the implications and consequences of our neoliberalist system are going to cause more inequity before a more equitable way of living together becomes possible. Vergès describes how the neoliberal system sustains itself, but what Willis adds is how this is going to affect our future: if we do not regulate our neoliberal way of living, the climate crisis will put an end to it. Vergès does shortly address the climate crisis, but only what it has caused up until now.

Doortje Kok


[1] Françoise Vergès, “Neoliberal Violence”, A Feminist Theory of Violence (London, 2022; Pluto), pp. 10-34, pp. 10-13.
[2]  Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra, “Still Got a Way to Fall”, album: My Name is Nicole Willis (Ronet Records, 2017), first verse/chorus.
[3] Willis, “Still Got a Way to Fall”, second verse/chorus.
[4] Vergès, “Neoliberal Violence”, pp. 19-20.
[5] Willis, “Still Got a Way to Fall”, second verse/chorus.
[6] For example, The Urban Dictionary assigns, among others, the following meanings to the word “brother”: “Comrade. Companion. Friend. Typically used by and to individuals of African American heritage.”; “black guy”; “black male, does not matter if he is related, as long as he is black”. Westley Morris, “’Bro’-liferation”, The New York Times Magazine (March 15th, 2016).

Gendered Violence

No Doubt: Just a Girl

For this week’s entry, I’ve chosen I’m Just a Girl by No Doubt. This song centers an aspect of patriarchal violence frequently levied against woman, their infantilization. This portrayal of women as weak and in need of protection and guidance not only denies them their agency but makes them a target of the greater neoliberal project that generally detests weakness.

Both Verónica Gago and Françoise Vergès directly attribute a primary aspect of the war on women’s bodies on said greater neoliberal project, but Vergès directly implicates Ayn Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy as the bedrock of neoliberal ideology and its relationship with perceived weakness.[1] [2] He says:

“The psychic life of neoliberalism is based on the notion that success is strictly one’s own making, that egotism is the motor of excellence and wealth. Ayn Rand provided this ideology its philosophy: any vulnerability or sign of weakness is to be eradicated as an obstacle on the path of talented and motivated people—exclusively white men”[3]

In Just a Girl, front woman Gwen Stefani sings about this infantilization of women and the consequential repression that entails.

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I’m exposed, and it’s no big surprise
Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?
This world is forcing me to hold your hand

Cause I’m just a girl, oh, little old me
Well, don’t let me out of your sight
Oh, I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights

The lyrics are clearly describing the correlation between the infantilization of woman and their systematized violence through the repression of their agency. This can be correlated with the neoliberal eradication of weakness and the subsequent paternal management of women’s bodies. Vergès states:

“The weak hereby (unsurprisingly) become part of the new civilizing mission, the target of a paternalistic philanthropy determined to prevent any emergence of a new conception of inhabiting, of being human in the world.” [4]

Women are hence relegated to a form of sub-class paternal oversight, removing agency over their own bodies. It is a simultaneous presupposition of their weakness and an accusatory imposition of women’s necessity to take charge of their own weakness.[5]

Daniel Lazcano


[1] Verónica Gago, Feminist International: How to Change Everything, p. 23

[2] Françoise Vergès, A Feminist Theory of Violence: A Decolonial Perspective, p. 13

[3] Ibid, p. 13

[4] Ibid, p. 13

[5] Ibid, p. 13