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?