Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Open Up the Dog House, My Favorite Radio Station Is Coming In

I sent the following email to my local, community radio station last week. I should first explain that this radio station is almost entirely listener-supported. They play Democracy Now! every day and they advertise themselves as one of the only progressive voices we have in this repressive state. Most of their programs are absolutely fantastic, a few of them even having a major feminist bent to them, but one of them has really started to piss me off.

Dear KRCL,

You are by far my favorite radio station. One of the major highlights of every day for me is listening to your programming on my way to and from work and often on the weekends also. I absolutely adore most of your Drive Time programs, but I have decided to stop listening to KRCL during Monday Drive Time because the DJ, Dr. Gianni Fever, repeatedly plays a certain song which he refers to yesterday as his "theme song." The song, "Open Up the Dog House (Two Cats Are Coming In)" by Dean Martin and Nat King Cole features these ever-so-charming lyrics (done call and response style):

"There's just one way to handle a woman
Dean we just got to treat 'em rough
Got to slap 'em
That's right
We got to show 'em who wears the pants
Cut out that sissy, sissy stuff
Now it ain't no use to take abuse
Whenever they are cranky or cross
Let's put the women in their place and we'll show them who's the boss."

Over the years I've come to see KRCL as one of our most important community resources. It is a gloriously progressive voice that is about being inclusive and supportive of all your listeners from a huge, diverse array of backgrounds. I cannot tell you how beautiful and important it is for us to have that here. The lyrics to this song are the most blatantly misogynistic nonsense I've heard in a long time though. They explicitly encourage men to engage in violence against the women in their lives to keep them in their place and "show them who's the boss." When I hear this song being played on a radio station that does such an amazing job the rest of the time at representing the disempowered minority voice in this state, I feel incredibly disappointed, not to mention pretty angry. These lyrics preach hatred, they reinforce the sexist status quo here, and they make me and other women in this community feel isolated, ignored, threatened, and ridiculed. At the very least I would like this song to be stricken from the KRCL airwaves and I would appreciate an on-air apology from Gianni Fever for the thousands of women in this state who know firsthand what it's like to experience violence and to be "put in your place" by a man who's supposed to love you.

Vicky Vengeance

Here is the response I just got from KRCL:

First I'd like to apologize for the length of time it has taken for my response to your issue. Thank you for sharing your concerns. Feedback is important to both KRCL as well as individual programmers.

The song at the center of this exchange, Dean Martin's Open Up the Dog House, is mysognistic. I agree with you. However, one of the things that is important for me as Program Director is ensuring a broadcaster's First Amendment Rights. Concepts like free speech, community and democracy are more than words, they are concepts as well as practices. These practices are often ugly and messy, but none-the-less essential to the premise of a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas. KRCL and the community radio movement need to provide for this concept.

I have spoken to Gianni about this matter and he has expressed his regret, but we both agree that illegal language was not used and banning this song would be censorship. It is a jump to assert Open Up the Dog House is the cause of domestic violence, patriarchy and hatred against women. I think the song illustrates attitudes and norms present when the song was published. A time in our history when it was appropriate to hold these values. KRCL certainly does not promote violence against women, nor do we value violence against women. I think our track record is clear on this. Gianni, KRCL, and myself have no intention of offending our community.

You have my sincerest apologies for any duress caused by the airing of any material. I only ask that you consider not letting Gianni's program sully your KRCL experience. I am sure that you will find programmers and shows that provide music and news that you will connect with. Thanks for being out there.

Ryan Tronier
Program Director
(801) 363-1818

Indeed. The song certainly "illustrates" something and it's not just "attitudes and norms present when the song was published" or "a time in our history when it was appropriate to hold these values." If you'll notice, thousands of women experience sexual assault and domestic violence every single day. Thousands! If you'll notice, women continue to be completely disadvantaged and oppressed. If you'll notice, this song CONTINUES to be played on the radio as though, GASP! it IS totally appropriate now! I don't care how "appropriate" roughing up your woman was when the song was published. The point is it's NOT appropriate NOW being played on a public, community radio station unless DJ Fever is explicitly critiquing these attitudes when he plays this song. Which I presume he's not when calling it his "theme song" immediately after playing it. Just guessing.

Further, if you'll look at my original letter to KRCL, I never said this song causes domestic violence. I said it encourages it. WHICH IT DOES. I said it reinforces sexist attitudes. WHICH IT DOES. I said it makes me and other women feel like we don't matter, we don't count as an important part of this community. WHICH IT DOES. I'm not just extrapolating, it literally does these things and that is NOT OK. I understand that it is not the Program Director's job to censor what his DJs play. I've worked as a DJ, I've worked as a Music Director, I know how these things work. I'm not trying to take somebody's First Amendment rights away. What I was hoping in sending my original email is that they wouldn't WANT to play a song that causes their female listeners to feel alienated, angry, and afraid. I was hoping they would have more respect for women, for the diversity of their audience, and for how the blatant misogyny demonstrated in the song hurts our entire community. Guess I was wrong.

The most depressing thing about this is that it really does make me feel isolated and unimportant. I can feel a giant ball of fear rise up in me that I am being petty, bitchy, uppity, unreasonable. I'm haunted by the all too familiar refrain, "Oh you feminists just have no sense of humor." But it IS a betrayal for a radio station that calls itself progressive, that claims it is all about the community, to play a song like this. My anger is justified. I have a right to feel upset about this. I wonder how long it will take for me to be able to really believe that without having to wrestle with what the patriarchy tells me.


Blogger Katie said...

I would send exactly what you blogged, word for word, up to "Guess I was wrong," back to that program director.

It's well-written feedback that is deservedly cutting but not outside the rules of good argument.

The last paragraph delves into another subject (it goes from how people at the station's attitudes about songs encourage people to have bad attitudes towards "their women" towards how people at the station's attitudes about your reactions encourage you to question your reactions) so I'd scratch it. No point getting off the subject. It just dilutes your message.

Just change "they" to the name of the station in that 2nd paragraph and it'd be a perfect followup listener letter.

Please, please, pretty please send it w/o any further editing! Don't preach to the choir with these words when your words are already perfect for sending to the congregation!

Crossing my fingers and wishing you the best,

5:44 PM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

i agree with katie. i think you should send a follow-up email.

the thing i don't understand is how hate speech can be limited, but speech joking about or even encouraging violence against women isn't considered hate speech. even though we're overwhelmingly the vitims of hate crimes (which i consider DV and rape etc. to be).

it is so frustrating and so discouraging and so disappointing that so few people see it that way.

i appreciate your standing up to 'em, vicky!

xoxo, jared

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Amananta said...

Oh, let me shorten their too-wordy response to you:
"We think its funny when you uppity bitches get slapped around. We don't want to get called on it, so we will set it up falsely as a First Amendment issue to try to make you feel guilty about stepping out of line."
I'm so sick of misogynists misusing "free speech" to belittle women's very real concerns. The first amendment says the government is not allowed to pass a law telling you it is illegal to publish things in any form of media or to petition the government for a redress of grievances. But businesses and newspapers and radios all have standards about what they will allow their particular form of media to be used for that go above and beyond the relatively few restrictions the government puts on free speech. They are deliberately allowing him to get away with this misogynistic drivel. He wouldn't play it if he didn't mean it.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

Vicky, you inspired me! I wrote a letter to an online comic writer because I thought that he seemed open-minded enough to look critically at the last few culturally indoctrinated "truths" he takes for granted and puts in his artwork. I hope my letter sounds good.

I really enjoyed the kinds of ironic situations he thinks of, especially since he almost never rests the actual irony on stereotypical "category" roles for people. It's only the interchangeable people/animals that the irony is laid upon that get too stereotypical for my taste. I have high hopes that he might think about this issue the way, say, Luke over at http://realmenarenot.com/ does.

Thanks for the reminder that letter-writing isn't all that bad.

(Now, if only I could finish this darned cover letter for a job...how is it I can churn out a letter to a comic strip writer in 30 minutes and take 3 days to write a cover letter?)

9:41 AM  
Blogger Edith said...

Free speech is groovy when it applies to battering women, of course. But hating on people of color? Whoa, man. That is just uncool.

Kill the man.

10:59 AM  
Blogger simply wondered said...

it's bollocks that you should feel petty or any of the other negative feelings you had by 'daring' to complain about something that has really got to you. It's clearly not a lack of sense of humour or stupidity or your burning desire to kill off free speech the world over. But I'm sure you knew that and it's only in those 3am moments you start thinking 'no maybe I am wrong and the world is right and fair and nice and I haven't actually noticed'.
I want to have a think about those lyrics because the first thougty on seeing them is 'whoa fuck that's not serious'. I'm automatically assuming they are indeed a take on the woman-beaters (maybe not quite a proto feminist song from Dean) - maybe I shouldn't, maybe it's because I can't believe people can get away with playing things like that - it's not funny - (maybe like Wagner they reckon a good tune overwhelms the nasty anti-semitic attitudes, but that's not a justification); maybe it's because I'm a man and I will never have to fear male on female violence personally. And while I totally agree your anger is justified and it is a bent society that tries very hard to make you think you are wrong whenever you disagree with it and that is just one of the things that women (et al) nhave to put up with every time they get up in the bloody morning and thank whatever you believe in that feminism and feminists are fighting to turn it around...
but I wonder if one this one you might be wrong? I'd love to get chapter and verse on who wrote that song and what led Dean Martin to record it.
Or I'm wrong and I'm simply blind to the painful possibility that people 'out there' think that a song like that for any other reason than a bitter attack on violence against women can be acceptable.
What a fuckin liberal! Can't even make up my mind on that one...but I know you're right to be screaming in blind fury about it if you're right. Or maybe even if you're wrong, just in case.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Edith said...

simply wondered, personally, I don't give a shit whether or not this song was meant joking or not. Why should the artist's intentions be more important than the listener's horror at being blasted with such misogyny? (For the record, check out how many times "ironic" racism and "ironic" sexism is really still, you know, racism or sexism.) Besides which, the radio station doesn't even deny the fact that its misogynist -- they are not trying to find excuses for these lyrics. I kind of have to wonder, why are you?

3:29 PM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Amananta and Ms. Jared: Thank you so much for your support. I really appreciate having you two around, reading and writing and kicking ass.

Katie: Oh my God! Thanks to you too and congratulations on writing your own awesome letter. Knowing that I could inspire you to do that makes me feel like my own action was worthwhile regardless of if I make headway with KRCL. Let us know how it turns out ok? Oh and good luck on your job hunting!

Simply Wondered: Well, the entire song features Dean Martin and Nat King Cole bragging about what cads they are basically. Nat loses the family money gambling, Dean gives his wife a fake fur coat, and then it all leads into the third verse which I quoted where, after being "put in the dog house" by their angry wives, the two triumph over womankind by slappin' them around and showin' them who's boss. It's definitely a very good ol' boy type of humor with a sweet little undercurrent of "oh boys will be boys."

Personally, considering the jaw-dropping scope of domestic violence and how much pressure men are already under to handle conflict with inappropriate force, it's not so much funny ha ha as funny somebody please shoot me in the face. Also, I don't know if I would have written a letter to the station if the DJ played it just once. But the deal is, he's played it four times in about as many weeks. It's hard to ignore it or laugh it off as ironic when it happens over and over like this and he openly calls it his "theme song."

9:18 PM  
Blogger simply wondered said...

edith and vicky - just to be clear I said it's not funny (well I don't find it funny anyway) and an attempt to be funny would not (not not not) be a justification for the lyric either. I said I couldn't believe those words should be said 'for any other reason than a bitter attack on violence against women'(and yes call it a liberal cop out that the spurious call of 'irony' excuses all manner of wrongs and ediths's question 'why am I trying to find excuses for the lyrics?' is fair enough. I shall have to try and work it out. Maybe I don't want to accept that nice people would say or promulgate such stuff - maybe I should just wake up and smell the coffee - and maybe by reading what you write I'll be a little more awake. Maybe I'm denying the reality of violence against women - hope and believe not - but the context is all. Could the song be a statement if sung by two women? Could it be a statement if sung by two women with words reversed to turn the violence around on men? Because the context remains a society where male violence against women happens and (largely) the opposite doesn't.

Don't know and you're probably right - you're certainly right that your personal anger caused by hearing it is undeniable and that may be reason enough. What's the take on the racist shit that Lennie Bruce came out with? I'm prepared to believe he was confronting an evil rather than promulgating it and I'd be on even shakier ground (I imagine) trying to recast Dean Martin as a born again campaigner for women's rights. It's just that in the two cases we make a different judgement call. Anyway - I've probably annoyed you enough and flogged a rather thin point to death (an unfortunate analogy). so I'll shut up.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

Vicky, do you have an e-mail address where I can send you a copy of the letter? I'm curious to hear what you think about my take on what would be an improvement in his comic.

I suspect you might not agree with me that portraying women as capable of objectifying, using, and lusting after male bodies is a good first step to shaking things up and getting more men on board (even if by subconscious influence on them).

I think it should be used concurrently with all the theory & activism that radfems are doing, but somehow I just have this feeling that if "sexist messages" became "icky messages in general," more people would come on board to support the theory & activism. In particular, if people (especially men) thought they were working with (female) individuals naturally capable of anything--"good" and "bad"--they might be more willing to work with them as agents of change working side-by-side, rather than as heroes working side-by-side to make victims' work effective. It gets tiring to be the hero! It's more inspiring to work with people that you know can take up the slack when you get tired. People keep on truckin' better that way!

Anyway, now that I've preemptively defended my ideas in general, I'd love to send you my letter in specific (rather than post it on the internet and leave the author feeling attacked before he's had a chance to digest what I said) and see how you feel about my proposition to him.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Oh yes, yes Katie. Please send it to me! My email address is v.flames@gmail.com. I want to respond to your comments, but I'd like to read the letter first.

Simply Wondered: You sound very well-intentioned and your concerns about the need to look at context to understand the meaning of things are not bad ones by default. Of course context is important. But I've gotta admit I HATE HATE HATE the whole, well if this was sung/said by two women would it be sexist? Would it then be ok? argument. Because, as I think you realize, we do have a larger context to deal with and within that context women are not the oppressor. Men are. And when men make a statement reinforcing their dominance over women, advocating violence against women, it really isn't the same as when a woman does it, REGARDLESS of whether they intend their statement as an ironic critique. And the tricky thing about irony is regardless of an artist's intentions, I think what often becomes more important is how that message is heard. For example, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was extremely against violence against women. However, at one infamous concert when they played the song "Rape Me" a crowd of men tore a woman's clothes off and raped her. What's more important in this situation, what a nice guy Kurt Cobain is or what happened to that woman?

One of the more interesting things about this experience has also been how, in a certain respect, I'm glad to have heard the song because it reminds me that as much as I often want to do exactly what you're doing and try to believe that people can't actually THINK much less SAY such blatantly misogynistic or racist things, the fact is YES. People think them and act on them all the time. The most dangerous quality of the time we live in now as opposed to Dean Martin's day is how insulated we've become from the full sting of sexism and racism. It's natural to want to believe the best about people, to want to believe that when someone says something completely fucked up to you, well they don't actually MEAN that right? They just don't know enough . . . they just haven't thought it through . . . they're being ironic. But as Edith noted, when we get into this thought pattern we end up bending over backwards to excuse behaviors and ideas that are plain unacceptable.

One of the credos here at Mean Feminism is a fervent attempt to stop all that accomodation and look these things in the face. No benefit of the doubt, no twisting ourselves into knots, just accepting that we live in a really patriarchal, racist, fucked up world that will continue to hurt us over and over unless we can recognize these things for what they are. I refuse to make excuses for the people who oppress me. So there you have it.

9:59 AM  
Blogger simply wondered said...

yeah - you're probably right...the more I look at what I wrote, the wronger and limper (gosh elegant prose)it looks. And of course in classic 'type first read next think later' fashion I read but failed to register the bit about the station boss saying 'yes it's misogynist'. then why the fuck let anyone play it? freedom of speech just isn't justification for me.
right - finished now (promise); thank you for your forbearance.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Lara said...

I confronted these same obstacles when I exposed the misogyny of certain photos posted up on TrekLens website. I was basically told that my critique of some guy's photo of a girl's boobs in a bikini top was unsuitable. His picture of a girls' boobs was okay but my exposure of the sexism in it was not ok. And why? Because I was a female "daring" to impinge on men's "free speech" to further sexually objectify women. Ugh, it's very late, but I had to comment since my situation and Vicky's are very similar.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reaction to the radio station's response makes no sense. You informed the station in your initial letter that you would no longer listen during the time when the "offending" song was played. So they have no incentive to stop playing the song. And, of course, that is just what they decided to do. So they're happy and you should be too since you're no longer exposed to the song.

But yet you're still not satisfied. In fact, the only way it seems that you would ever be appeased is if the radio station allowed you to dictate their entire playlist so that it conformed to your personal criteria of what is acceptable. In short, your response is childish, intolerant and immature. I've seen my five-year-old niece come up with more rational arguments.

The radio station has the freedom to choose what they want to play, just as you have the freedom to decide whether you want to listen and to support the station. But that is not enough for you. You want to not only exercise your right not to listen, you also want to take away the rights of the radio station. I find your intolerant views more disconcerting than the lyrics in the song and I think you do not understand the importance of free speech, which really becomes paramount when the speech in question is something we find objectionable. It's easy to defend free speech for benign thoughts and words, but the real value of the right to free speech is that it protects those of us who have views that might be deemed by some to be ugly and offensive.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous twiss said...

It might be well to bear in mind that that pious line about "I may not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it," is commonly intoned by those whose status is protected - as men's is by the 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the law that they receive as a constitutional birthright - to silence protest from those whose dignity, status, and security they are attacking. From the beginning of this country to the present day, the only class of citizens denied the guarantee of equal protection of the law is the class defined as women. All other classes, including race and sexual orientation, include men and are thus accorded some measure of respect. Only women are told, "In the name of the First Amendment, SHUT UP!!" by those who justify their own sacred right to censor with such disingenuous euphemisms as "editorial/broadcast standards do not permit," "responsible journalism," "not in this family newspaper," while paying columnists, dj's, and reporters to publish the most invidious hate speech against women. I'm not genuflecting to the First Amendment until I have one.


4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, by your breathtaking logic, we should stop listening to blind lemon jefferson & robert johnson too? who were, by all, means quite despicable human beings, the latter being poisoned by a jealous husband or lover. The world's gone wrong with all this PC crap,quite possibly America's greatest contribution to humanity. keep it up (sic)...

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I think most people who know Mr. Tronier know that he is probably insisting that the song be played over and over now because he is a misogynist himself. He probably thinks its really funny he is pissing you off. He has been very disrespectful to many women in the community. The only reason he has been able to keep his job (if he still has it) is because he fulfills a diversity requirement (being a man and polynesian). I think it's so funny I just ran across your post.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Gee said...

Hahaha, yeah, Dean Martin sure makes men all over the world believe that it's ok to abuse women. And video games and violent movies 'causes violent behaviour, murder and rape in otherwise completely sane people.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man you're stupid, it's just a song. It reflects stupid things from a long time ago and that's it. Music exists outside of morality, even if you try to view it within reference of your morality. I'm sure you could be spending your time doing better things. Like real, productive things toward equal treatment of all people.
It's a song from a long time ago. And a catchy one at that.

hm...i think i'll go slap a woman...

7:21 PM  
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6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:05 PM  

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