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, my friend
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.
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.