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).

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