Girls’ Studies: Violence

This week’s girls’ studies blog post is about the song “He Hit Me,” originally performed by The Crystals in 1962.  I also listened to versions by Hole and Grizzly Bear.  It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King when a popular singer of the time explained why she stayed with her boyfriend despite his abuse.  When the song was released, people protested and it was consequently rarely played on the radio.  Phil Spector arranged the song, and Carole King expressed remorse for ever having written it.

Here are the lyrics.

He hit me
And it felt like a kiss.
He hit me
But it didn’t hurt me.

He couldn’t stand to hear me say
That I’d been with someone new,
And when I told him I had been untrue

He hit me
And it felt like a kiss.
He hit me
And I knew he loved me.

If he didn’t care for me
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me,
And I was glad.

(instrumental break)

Yes, he hit me
And it felt like a kiss.
He hit me
And I knew I loved him.

And then he took me in his arms
With all the tenderness there is,
And when he kissed me,
He made me his.

The Crystals version seems earnest, as if it is promoting a truth of its time, that boys could hit girls if they made them mad. It reminded me of an old newspaper article I found from May 1914. It argued against feminism because of the “brute in man.” I wish I could post it here to show you, but copyright law prohibits that. In it, an MIT professor argues that if feminists continue to ask for the vote and other privileges then a “rough male power” will rise up and have no choice but to be violent with women. The caption under his picture says, “He tells feminists they’d better be careful.” It is a silly argument to me, but one that is real. Apparently, women should know that men will be violent with them if they don’t stay in their proper places.


This song does the same thing, claiming that violence is love and that women deserve to be hit if they make a mistake. The irony of it is that the woman in this song is glad for the violence, for it tells her that her man truly loves her because of his anger. I’m just not sure that I can agree. The Crystals version is slow, but upbeat and seemingly happy.

The Hole version of this song is pretty awful. Courtney Love is the lead singer, who can’t sing, but she does a good job of acting sensually while performing. Her actions make the words seem true, that a hit can feel like a kiss and that violence is desirable or sexy. However, toward the middle of her version, the music gets louder and sounds angrier, perhaps showing some resistance.

The Grizzly Bear version of this song is slow and sad. It seems more ironic, especially since men are singing it instead of women. The song is beautiful and has great percussion, but I think the message has evolved somewhat, given the wailing. Two parts of the song are instrumental, with wailing in the background. It ends with this wailing. Does that tell us that this sort of relationship is sad instead of happy? I’m not sure, but I do see some sort of resistance to the idea that violence is okay, even in a fit of jealousy.

The problem with jealous violence is that it comes from ownership. The girl in this song seems to want to be owned, but the song tells us that it’s okay for a boy to own a girl, and in order to control her and express his ownership of her, he is justified in using violence. I disagree.

This song also shows how girls might justify the unacceptable behavior of their boyfriends. The lyrics say, “If he didn’t care for me / I could have never made him mad.” This puts the blame on her, that she made him mad and that his reaction was “caring” and “natural.” This conflates love with violence, and the two are not the same thing. My religion teaches that love is kind, envies not, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, and rejoices not in iniquity. Violence isn’t love.

I had a violent boyfriend once.  We were fifteen and only hung out at school; we never went on dates.   He was my first kiss (an unpleasant one, as I’ll explain below), and he was constantly doing things to make me look stupid or to hurt me.  I’ve often downplayed his behavior as “normal” or just immature, but after doing this assignment, I realize that he was violent.  Once he took a peeled orange during lunch and smashed it into my face in front of all of our friends.  He did this without warning, and I’m still not sure why.  Another time, he pushed me into a side hallway and against a wall, and then kissed me roughly.  I wasn’t expecting it, and this was my first kiss.  This was out of character and out of line for our relationship.  A few weeks later, he did this same thing, only he pushed his tongue into my mouth and it tasted like Dr. Pepper.  I immediately pushed him away, and we eventually broke up.  (Things obviously weren’t going very well.)  I still hate Dr. Pepper to this day.  And I’m not against kissing, but I am against using force to get it and acting as if affection must be a power play.  I guess I could say, “He kissed me, and it felt like a hit.”

I’ve never heard this song until doing this assignment. I’m appalled by it. What’s your take?

71 thoughts on “Girls’ Studies: Violence

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  1. I believe that in today’s society violence is never an acceptable way to show love; although (and I know this is completely different) if I heard about a man who had performed violence on another man in response to him harassing his sister, mother, or even friend I don’t know that I would disapprove.

    In my past I had serious anger problems, so bad that eventually I had to get help, I’m quite certain I ruined a lot of relationships with the usage of angry words and belittling others let alone violent outbreaks. We are all human and we will get angry from time to time, but there are much better ways of handling the situation.

    As far as the violent kissing; I’m sorry it happened that way for you, but every now and then I feel its alright sometimes my girlfriend will even ask for me to be more violent with her. Of course, there are always limitations that are previously set and respected so that we maintain a healthy relationship

    1. I agree that it isn’t ever acceptable, and it isn’t love. I’m glad to hear that you have gotten help and been able to change. We all definitely struggle with something, and that’s okay. What makes us stronger is overcoming those weaknesses. Way to go!

  2. Songs and thoughts like this make me feel ill. I struggle to imagine any mother who still raises her daughters with the idea that violence from partners is acceptable. I hope this idea is nearly over. I’m not surprised you don’t care for dr pepper. It’s sad that you’re first kiss was stolen from you in such a way. I hope the ones since have made up for it.

    1. I suppose there are mothers who do raise daughters this way, but I would also bring fathers into it. If the role models girls have are mothers and fathers who are violent or who accept violence, it would be hard to get away from. I can see how this is cyclical. And yes, kisses since have made up for that horrible one!

  3. Emily, thanks for sharing. 30% of the homeless families we help are single women head of household who have been domestic violence abuse victims. A man who hits will hit again and control you, so these lyrics are disappointing as young girls will hear them and think it is OK if they are struck. It is not. I want to get a book that former President Jimmy Carter just released about maltreatment towards women here and abroad. He said this may be the greatest tragedy he has ever witnessed and he said the US culpable as well as other places with violence, sexual trafficking, rape (especially on college campuses and in the military), etc. Thanks for posting this, BTG

    1. Yes, I want to read that book too! I’ve been hearing a lot about it and Carter’s comments. These lyrics are disappointing, and even more so that they’ve survived through the generations. Some of today’s current music still perpetuates these views. That is why media literacy is so important.

  4. I worry that culture perpetuates this viewpoint in music which is such a powerful and influential medium for teens and young adults. Also wonder about the new wave of fictional writing that fantasizes about male control in sexual relationships. While fantasy is often healthy, my private hope is that these writings are not taken as permission for abuse.

    1. Media is a powerful influence. We’ve been reading about the importance of media literacy in this class, and it has helped me to have open and serious conversations with my daughter about what is and isn’t acceptable and how to navigate what she sees and hears. It is a balancing act between protecting and sheltering and allowing them to make choices and learn from them. And yeah, those books don’t sound great. Do you have specific ones in mind? I haven’t heard of them.

      1. I had in mind the 50 Shades of Gray series and the others that have piggybacked onto its popularity. I read the first one and the thought of a woman giving over responsibility for her life (what to waer, what to drive, career and social choices) over to a man who demands the right to make those decisions on her behalf (including sexual decisions)is demeaning. I realize these books are meant to be fantasy but their popularity is worrisome.

    2. It sounds like you’re referring to paranormal romance. If so, then yeah, most of those relationships are not healthy in the slightest. I’m reading one of the better series in that genre and it was really great until the hero (who was fantastic in so many other ways) told the heroine that he would never let her go, *even if she left him*. It was beyond creepy, but pretty tame compared to some other aspects of PNR. It’s taken a bit for me to keep going with the series, all because of that one thing.

      Don’t even get me started on Twilight.

  5. Violence against anybody is wrong. Women don’t have take violence from any man regardless if he is her husband, boyfriend or any other worthless male. Life is too precious to be abused by anybody.

  6. Appalling, sickening. Respect is an essential element in a genuine loving relationship. Without respect, you have only a husk of ‘love’ that really consists only of the whims of the changing emotions – NOT a foundation for a enduring, enriching relationship.
    I can’t even conceive of a man hitting the woman he ‘loves.’ It was, fortunately, a depraved model of manhood I’ve never witnessed anywhere in my entire life – only in movies.
    There is no good whatsoever in even remotely condoning this type of behavior. No. No. No!

    1. This is an older song, so I think it says more about the time when it was written than it does now (hopefully), but the fact that it continues to be covered might mean we still agree with some of this. Rape culture?

  7. Violence is so UNCOOL in my book & So NOT OKAY!!! I have had two physical encounters with boyfriends and really thought I learned my lesson until I met the verbal and emotional and mental encounter with a boyfriend – WOW WEE!!! After the last one I learned to love myself and found a great man that I am now married too:) Great Post – Great Topic – thanks for sharing. Happy Thursday!

    1. I am so happy that things have worked out for you. And thank you for bringing up verbal and emotional abuse as well. It is just as serious and damaging.

  8. Hi Emily
    I think the lyrics are appalling, and the fact that they are written as if from a female viewpoint is horrendous. Not only does it seem to normalise violence against women but makes it look like women condone it happening and that they think it is a sign of affection or love. It’s very disturbing. The end line: ‘He made me his’ sums up what the song is about – enforcement, possession, violence. I would hate my daughter hearing these words.

    1. Exactly! You’ve hit the nail on the head. I really hope we’ve moved away from this generally, but I guess domestic violence rates say otherwise.

  9. These lyrics remind me too much of all the things I hate about the musical Carousel. I mean, the pivotal scene is where the daughter is describing how being hit by her father didn’t really hurt, and the mother just staring off into space, lovestruck, telling her daughter that she knows exactly what she’s trying to say, turns my stomach every time.

    And yet, that musical isn’t hard to find. Why? Given what you’ve described, it’s because a number of women still feel the same. He loves me if he hits me. *headdesk over and over*

    1. Oh my gosh! You’re right. We still believe this as women. We are socialized to be weaker and therefore take this sort of treatment in order to “succeed.” I haven’t seen Carousel lately, but it sounds like I don’t need to revisit it!

  10. I’ll join the chorus — those lyrics are sickening. I’m glad, though, that I haven’t heard them before this, even after years of listening to oldies as a kid.

    And I’m so sorry for what you went through with that awful high school boy. I hope you got the help you needed and that someone intervened to get him treatment for his anger issues and abusive behavior.

    1. We all seem to agree on that, don’t we? Sickening for sure! And yeah, this song needs to die a death and be forgotten, not rerecorded. Now I can’t get it out of my head! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any sort of help for this situation. I just moved on. I don’t know what happened to him. And I won’t be looking him up on Facebook to find out!

  11. I’d never heard of this song until now and I think it’s easy to think that domestic violence isn’t as big an issue as it once was. However, in a recent past job as a background and fingerprint analyst, it was appalling the prevalence of the domestic violence charges (and then dropped charges) in I’d estimate 85% of the backgrounds I checked. It’s sickening to know that these charges were brought and double sickening that these charges were dropped, often repeatedly dropped. The victims presumably also took the blame, and stayed in that situation. (not to mention the horrifying truth that these guys were my coworkers, and everyone’s coworkers – men we all know!) I can’t imagine why someone would sing about it. Good post, Emily. I love taking your Girls’ Studies class along with you. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Denise. I love having you here to take it with me! My professor loves that everybody comments on these because she feels like she has a bigger class with all of you participating! Thanks for giving more information about domestic violence rates now. I think suggesting that this sort of violence is okay in song lyrics is a thing of the past (maybe), but it definitely still happens. Good reminder! And how hard for you to work with these guys when you knew what was really going on at home. That must’ve been so hard.

  12. Thanks so much for sending this message. It should be in the newspaper or even written in a book.I am 76 years old and a long time feminist. My brother tried to hit me once and I have never forgotten it and I would never be in a room alone with him after that. The message of the lyrics is just horrible.

  13. THIS is stuff we should be teaching our young girls. I had a parent meeting just a few days ago and the girl reported an incident to our principal that a boy she’s friends with called her some very ugly names, yet she still sits by him in the halls and at lunch! When we asked, she got all quiet and said he explained and she was OK with it, but admitted she wasn’t comfortable initially. We (parent, teachers, principal) all had some input, and I had the final word. I told her that she is giving him the OK to say those things to her and treat her that way, maybe without even realizing it, and that the boy (who I also teach) would continue to do treat her that way. Both of them are troubled, but they’re only 10 and 11 and it’s already starting! Children today are so in tune with the media and bandwagon appeal of everything. It’s really quite sad.

    1. Oh wow. This is such a hard situation. I’ve been reading from a book called Odd Girl Out about how girls put up with bullying (from boys and other girls) because we value relationships more than voicing our anger. We are taught to be “nice” and “good” and that means stifling our emotions for the sake of keeping a relationship even if it is a bad one. You should check out that book if you haven’t already. The author addresses how parents and teachers can help with these situations. It is so engrained in girls to not show anger, that they instead act out relationally and also put up with a lot. It is almost like some of them have the mentality of domestic abuse victims.

    1. I didn’t like her version at all! The Grizzly Bear version is stuck in my head now, though. And yeah, why did she cover it if she knows it is sick?

  14. I too have been in violent relationships. As a mother, I think it is so important to raise my daughters to be self confident, strong women who can easily and quickly recognize a bad situation before they get too involved. Songs like are disgusting to me. However, there is freedom of speech so we need to educate ourselves and not let popular culture run our lives.

    1. Absolutely. Media literacy is the key here, as we can’t necessarily banish this type of stuff, but we can certainly resist it and teach our children to do better. Thanks! It sounds like your daughters are lucky to have you as a mom.

  15. Your post really struck a chord with me. So well written and on target. I was going to leave a comment here, but I started writing so much that I decided just to post a response on my own blog. FYI 🙂

  16. I couldn’t agree with you more. Love has to be kind to qualify as love. How can a hit feel like a kiss? This type of female thinking has legitimized violence against women. You have done wonderful job by posting this story.

    1. Thanks. And I would say it is male thinking as much as it is female, and that we are likely conditioned to feel weaker and therefore take it. I just can’t believe this song was ever written!

  17. You’ve inspired me to write about my own story encountering a violent ex boyfriend. I agree with your views but there’s a little twist in my thoughts regarding jealous hitting. I will have to sit and write about it sometime this week when I get a chance. Thanks for posting this, definitely food for thought. And I like your writing style as well, I can really hear your voice in it.

  18. Reblogged this on splitxends and commented:
    Violence towards women in a moment of jealousy justified? What about violence signifying ownership? Do women want to be owned? This blog post inspired me to write about my own experience with a violent ex. And my thoughts on his actions. Coming soon ~ Thank you Emily.

  19. I think it is a travesty that so many women have this mentality, perpetuated by a misogynistic culture that skews romanticism. I am glad that things are changing now a days and domestic violence is taken seriously by the law. But I don’t know if young women will ever stop being attracted to the “bad boy.”

  20. Violence is not acceptable in this society or in any society. No matter what is the cause there it should never end up as violence especially against females.
    There are a lot of different types of violence against women for instance verbal violence, mental torture, belittling, and physical violence.
    I don’t understand what justifications can be found by the violator: being offended, provoked which is followed by ‘you asked for it’ and ‘it’s all your fault’. Such agreements may be accepted by the violator but there should be a strong ‘no’ to this approach.
    The cruel effect of this heinous crime on the victim is that the victim develops a guilt about this atrocious act. This guilt feeling stops the victim sharing this terrible act with other people. For example me, it took sixteen year to overcome this feeling of guilt. Still I feel shame to share with family or friend as it’s me and only me responsible for this act. Plus there is no one to provide much needed psychological support at that time. As there is no law for such social situations and a woman must keep quit for the sake of her family.

    1. You are describing victim-blaming, and you are absolutely right that this is unacceptable. Not only is violence against women unacceptable, but blaming them for it and making them feel guilty for it is wrong. I hope you are still finding ways to heal and that you continue to speak up for the women around you. Keeping quiet doesn’t help anybody. Thank you for the wonderful comment.

  21. Just reading the lyrics nauseated me, made me angry, and disgusted. It reminds me of the song “My Man”, originally in the 1928 film of the same name. The song is about a woman who loves “her man” so much that she’ll crawl and beg on her knees for him, despite him having affairs with multiple women. Barbara Streisand sang a version of it song in the film Funny Girl as well as Regina Spektor. I’ve only heard Regina Spektor’s version. To me, the lyrics to “My Man” are just as disgusting as “He Hit Me”. The former seems to perpetuate the idea of male ownership over females. I hate the image of a pitiful, distraught woman whose only will to live is for “her man”. It would be interesting to hear what you think about the song. Anyway, thanks for this post, I wholeheartedly agree with you. That being said, I need to check out the three versions of “He Hit Me”.

    1. How interesting. It is disheartening to know that there are more songs like this out there. I’ll have to look into this one. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  22. I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on this song. At least it shows how women were (and still are) made to feel so dependent of men that they’ll accept anything.
    Also I wanted to make a little point about Courtney Love’s cover, I can’t remember the exact words or where I read it, but I think her version was an ironic one, showing how absurd the meaning of the song was.

    1. I think you are right about Courtney Love. I didn’t get that from just watching her song, but a classmate mentioned Love’s comments on it. Thanks for sharing this!

  23. I too was appalled by the song and I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t written as a joke. I am a huge advocate against domestic violence and anything that supports it, so I found the song very offensive. There is never a justified reason for a man to violently act out his aggression towards a woman.

  24. This was a really poignant piece, and struck a lot of chords for me. One thing I do feel about the song lyrics though, is that they explore the vicious circle of being stuck in an abusive relationship which messes with your head. On the other hand, they also make me extremely angry and repulsed with the world…

    1. I like your interpretation because if they are ironic, then they are powerful at exposing this problem and how difficult it can be for women to make sense of.

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