Violence against women has been promoted in the Balkans through popular music for 40 years


Ana Ninković, a student at the Faculty of Drama Arts in Belgrade caused numerous reactions on the social networks with her documentary film “Violence against women in the domestic songs” that she produced for her exam in “Pop Culture: From digital to trans-media”, and through which she is examining the violence against women through music, turbo-folk, pop, rap and hip-hop songs.

She produced her exam project as a sequence of Serbian and regional songs that have motives of physical, sexual, and/or psychological violence against women in the partnerships. Her film is divided into two logical halves: women’s and men’s perspectives.

Ninković selected 36 songs by various Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Slovenian performers, out of which the oldest song was from 1981 and the latest dates from 2020. In these songs, the romanticization of woman’s humiliation is the ultimate proof of her love towards the man, and the relativization and the promotion of men violence, in the context of the family-the partner relationship, is the central motif.

Explaining her research, Ninković says that the initial idea behind the project was to collect, systematize and overview all popular music songs from the region in which motives of violence dominate i.e. calls for violence against women, whether physical, sexual, psychological or verbal violence, but also motives of idealizing the humiliation and the blind obedience of women.

Working with the members of the Facebook group named “Women’s Affairs,” Ninković managed to gather over 100 songs. Out of these, she selected only those songs that include any kind of violence against women and their humiliation, as well as songs where the violence is put into the context of family-partnership relationships and the self-humiliation is the final proof of women’s love.

In her work, which is publicly available, Ana Ninković explains that after she divided the selected songs into 4 thematic subgroups i.e.: sexual violence, physical violence, women humiliation, a combination of women humiliation and physical and/or sexual violence, she decided to divide the film into 2 blocks – female and male perspectives.

“The conclusion is that in the so-called “women songs” i.e. the songs where the lyrical subject is female, the motif of unconditional love toward the partner is dominating, even at the cost of suffering, humiliation, abuse and violence. Also, it is interesting to note that most “women” songs belong to the turbo-folk genre (14) while the only other genre is pop (3 songs). The songs where the lyrical subject is a man are characterized by the “re-education” of a disobedient woman by use of force, sexual (or physical) violence which is caused by the rejection, then revenge with a physical molesting of the “unfaithful” woman. The male songs can be divided into much more genres: hard rock (8), pop (4), rap (4), country (1), folk-rock (1), and it is interesting that, unlike the first group, this one includes only one turbo-folk song,” Ninković explains.

The student stresses that the contrast as a musical background should also be mentioned.

“The songs where the female lyrical subject is bearing humiliation is mostly accompanied by ballad tones, music and a lamenting voice, while in the songs from male perspective we often come across jolly musical background that makes you dance,” says Ninković.

Her research has shown that such narrative has been dominating for almost 40 years in the regional popular music, regardless of the genres and the cultural background that is addressed by the performer.

The conclusion is that the first, “female” group of songs is relativizing and romanticizing the woman’s subordination that refers to levels of humiliation and even voluntary acceptance of physical and sexual violence. This is glorifying the unconditionality of love as stronger than the personal physical, psychological and emotional integrity.

The second group is relativizing and often glorifying the physical revenge against the woman which isn’t completely subordinate, regardless if she is unfaithful, disobedient, boring or languid.

At the end of her documentary film, the student gives information from the Autonomous Women Center and FemPlatz that are providing statistics about femicides in Serbia during 2021 and in general. According to them, in the period between 1st of January until 31st of December 2021, on basis of media coverage, there was a total of 20 homicides of adult women in a family-partnership context, out of which two cases are considered as the so-called continuous femicide.

Also, apart from the victim, the perpetrators have killed other people close to them. In the context of family-partnership relations, 16 attempted murders of women were evidenced.

The author of the documentary also states that this number may be even bigger, since not all cases can are reported by the media, so it cannot be determined how many women are dying as a result of years of suffering.

She calls upon numerous studies and analyses which indicate that the children who are witnesses of violence against their mothers are always indirect victims, and very often the violence happens to the children as well.

“Growing up in violent family surroundings has very negative implications on the child, on the emotional and social development and later, his/her behavior in adulthood. The exposure to violence during childhood is a risk for vulnerability and victimization, for conducting violence in adulthood or problems with behavior, physical or mental health problems,” Ninković points out.

According to her, it is worrisome that women are often convinced that they have deserved what they got and that they have provoked every physical and psychological violence. The author also refers to numerous psychological studies dedicated to the influence of various formats of popular culture on consumers of certain types of content. These indicate that even after short-term exposure to songs whose lyrics are abounded with violence is increasing the tendency toward aggressive thinking and loss of control, while long-term exposure is bolstering the development of an aggressive personality.

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