Sunday, 3 August 2008

Is this song about rape?

Joan Armatrading is one of my favourite and only recently-discovered-by-me artists. She is a black, female singer of incredible vocal prowess who writes beautiful, moving and articulate songs, displaying an economy with words found among the very best songwriters.

The lyrics below are for Water With the Wine, which you can listen to here. The music for this song sounds happy, cheerful and celebratory. It was only today when, for whatever reason, I really listened to the words that I picked out "got no strength to make him stop" that I was thrown.

Met him on a Monday
And he said he loved me so
Walked me to my door
Before I knew it to my living room

I thought there was no need for worry
When he took me in his arms
Drank some whisky
Hung his coat upon the stand

That's when the music started
I heard the light switch click
I stumbled on a lost shoe
The fever's starting

This man was getting hot
I got no strength to make him stop
I guess it's too late
But I'll know next time
To mix some water with the wine

The sun came pouring in at five
Upon my face
I felt the taste of last night's love
Upon my lips
I wasn't sure if I had dreamt it
Or had not
But there across the pillow was the face
I had forgot

That's when he said he loved me
Could be the truth this time
He put his arms about me
Fever's starting

This man was getting hot
I got no strength to make him stop
I guess it's too late
But I'll know next time
To mix some water with the wine

So my question is, is this song about rape? Or at least, about sex someone doesn't really want but feels unable to prevent, which many feminists would class as rape? Or is it deliberately ambiguous? Is she just messing with my mind, writing a song with a chorus in a major key so that it sounds feelgood but actually isn't?

Ok, so this isn't one of life's Big QuestionsTM, but still, I wondered.

4 comments:

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

I don't think this is about rape in the traditional sense of the word.

Mainly because the guys still there in the morning and she hadn't cut his balls off.

But also she said "I guess I'll know next time" which suggests that there will be a next time, maybe not necessarily with this same guy, but it doesn't state either way.

It's probably more the not wanting to have sex with a guy you don't really know very well (but want to get to know him better), but that she actually kinda does, but wants to stand on her principles, or at least try. The old guy going, "come on, it'll be fun" and the girl "I dunno, what if my dad comes back?" "you said he was in Tulsa till tuesday." "yeah but, I dunno Jimmy." etc. etc. teen angst until they have sex, but with a black woman and some randy bloke not teenagers.

Anyway I made an observation, and from what I've heard, but not read, this could spark something I can't finish, but I'll go ahead anyway. By the way this is not from personal experience but TV, so could all be very untrue, but I'm sure it's based on fact.

When a guy is trying to convince a girl to have sex with him he's a creep who's just after sex/rapist. Where as if the girls doing the convincing the guys a wuss/got something wrong down there. What's with that? You can't win, unless you both consent... boring! Jokes.

Also are there Masculists or whatever the opposite of Feminist is?

TheTelf said...

I guess it depends whether "I got no strength to make him stop" refers to physical strength or willpower. Whether she wishes she could push him away, or wishes she could bring herself to say no.

Because presumably she could have consented to having sex, despite not wanting to, possibly due to the effects of alcohol.

Whether having sex with a drunk person is rape or not, is a whole other discussion, though.

Hanspan said...

Firstly, let me say, I'm not saying this song IS about rape, I'm just interested in what anyone else thought.

@Andy, how many recorded instances are there of women claiming to have been raped who have then gone on to cut the supposed rapist's balls off the next morning? I think what I'm trying to say that even if a woman believes she has been raped, she won't necessarily respond, least of all physically, that's part of the problem.

"Anyway I made an observation, and from what I've heard, but not read, this could spark something I can't finish" - What's that supposed to mean? Has Patrick been briefing you on my proclivity to engage in long, involved conversations about rape and feminism or something?

And in terms of outlining an argument, the proviso "this could all be very untrue, but I'm sure it's based on fact" pretty much kills whatever you're going to say stone dead before you've even said it ;P

But I will say: "You can't win unless you both consent." Duh. As for the portrayal of different genders not wanting sex, girls are equally portrayed as frigid for not wanting it, rather than all boys simply being portrayed as perverts for wanting it.

That all depends on how you define "feminist". When defining myself as one, I define feminism as a belief in equality between men and women. There may well be people out there who refer to themselves as masculinists, but what they think that means I don't know. Is the opposite of feminism a belief in the inferiority of women? Or the necessity of equal treatment of both genders. In which case it's basically the same thing.

@Patrick, I would say having sex with a drunk person, certainly a drunk person you are not in a relationship with, could very easily be classed as rape and is therefore something you should avoid at all costs. I'm not saying it definitely is, but it's such a grey area you should avoid it at all costs. And I don't believe that alcohol is an excuse. But this is because I personally believe that alcohol only has an effect on your decision making process if you let it. Ask if you want me to elaborate, but I'm not going into detail here because this comment is long enough as it is :)

And the way I interpreted the song was that she should mix water with the wine the other person was drinking. But hey, nothing saying I'm right about that.

TheTelf said...

"I personally believe that alcohol only has an effect on your decision making process if you let it" - so people who drink too much and lose control of what they are doing/saying are letting the alcohol doing that to them? And if they didn't want to lose control they wouldn't?


"And the way I interpreted the song was that she should mix water with the wine the other person was drinking". Clearly it could be either way round, though it seems more likely to me that she'd be able to control what she was drinking rather than what he was. If he's going to get drunk, there's not a lot she can do, but if she can ensure that she's thinking straight herself, she maybe could get out of the situation she finds herself in in the song.

Out of interest, what did you think the song was about, before you picked up on the rape possibility?