Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kiss With A Fist

A Kiss with a Fist (is better than None)”
By Florence and the Machine

You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed […]

My black eye casts no shadow
Your red eye sees nothing
Your slap don't stick
Your kicks don't hit
So we remain the same
Love sticks
Sweat drips
Break the lock if it don't fit […]

A kick to the teeth is good for some
A kiss with a fist is better then none

A kiss with a fist is better then none

I broke your jaw once before
I spilled your blood upon the floor
You broke my leg in return
So sit back and watch the bed burn
Love sticks
Sweat drips
Break the lock if it don't fit

A kick to the teeth is good for some
A kiss with a fist is better then none

A kiss with a fist is better then none

“A Kiss with a Fist (is better than none)” by Florence and the Machine is a new song which is now being played in heavy rotation on alternative radio stations across the nation. On a given day, this song will rotate at least once an hour on local radio, and has become very popular in recent weeks.

Both the recorded song and music video have an upbeat, fun, lively, pop-punk feeling. From just a casual listen, the lead singer’s mousy, warbling voice punctuates the guitar licks in a way which makes you want to crank the radio up and rock out. In fact, it almost feels like some sort of anthem you should belt out loud.

But I’ve found, as a listener, you simply cannot escape the graphic lyrics. These lyrics mirror the words DV advocates never want to hear. These lyrics reflect the attitudes that we work constantly to address and change in our communities. These lyrics depict the very actions that often stonewall efforts to bring charges against abusers. These lyrics embody the confusing messages which drive our clients to minimize their own abuse. In a sense, these lyrics invalidate the core belief that no one should be mistreated or terrorized in a relationship by suggesting that its okay to stay, as long as you fight back.

Until you hear the stories of actual women who are trying to survive an abusive situation, it can be difficult to imagine that the scenarios painted in these lyrics can in fact be real. It’s easier to pretend that acts this heinous are not committed in intimate relationships, yet, frighteningly enough, they are. Every day. I think back to statements I’ve heard from women about how their abuser “wasn’t so bad” because he was great with their kids or held a steady job. Never mind the constant physical assaults and domination she endured for years because in the scope of her life, the most recent incident wasn’t really “that bad.” He may have drug her across the floor, drunkenly kicked her in the face or strangled her to the point of having Petechiae, but at the end of the day, she did punch him in the arm when he called her degrading names after she confronted him about his actions. It’s her fault because she did hit him first, she started it.

I was stunned to hear this song on the radio. Certainly there would be some sort of public response considering timing of the song’s major US release puts it in strongest rotation during National Domestic Violence Awareness month. A search on the internet finds quite the opposite:

“Gleefully straddling across the prog-rock, punk divide, Florence is going to be huge this year– at least in England, where a girl can sing rock songs with a title like "Kiss With a Fist" without totally freaking out the male population.” (

“It's all a bit of a (rather sinister) laugh, as Welch's refrain "a kiss with a fist is better than none" is supported by her own lack of submission to the beau whose jaw she once broke. Clearly, Florence is no victim in this Punch and Judy romp.” (

So the question remains, is the song just a rallying cry to women to begin fight back against their abusers? If they do, does their retaliation then nullify the abuse they are experiencing? By using violence, are they now on equal footing with their abusers?

In V.A.W.A’s Applied Research Forum Paper, ”Towards an Understanding of Women’s Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships” by Shamita Das Dasgupta, the author urges us to consider this aspect of supposedly mutually abusive relationships; “In reality, men’s violence strikes prolonged fear in their partners whereas such behavior by women tends not to produce similar results.” Dasgupta goes on to state: "Furthermore, the majority of research findings report that women who use violence are battered themselves and use physical aggression to escape or stop this abuse. Studies also indicate that women are generally quite unsuccessful in achieving their objectives. In most cases women are able to neither control violence against themselves nor modify their abusers’ behaviors according to their own will." (

In other words, generally, fighting back does not end the abuse nor does it return power to the victim in a way that will result in change.

With regards to the song, we still should consider the intentions of the artist. Florence and the Machine lead singer Stephanie West says that she didn’t write the song about an abusive relationship, but one in which the power struggles are what actually strengthens the song characters’ bond. In a recent interview, she explains her work,

“Well it’s not about domestic violence,” West says, “[…] you know when you see a couple and their whole thing is…they fight. That is what keeps [us] together, but that’s what tears [us] apart. Two people giving as good as they get. They are sort of destroying each other, but that’s [the violence] what binds them.” ( Emphasis added.

Mirroring the West’s assessment that these relationships are held together through the thread of constant retaliation and violence, for our clients, it is hard to imagine a life or relationship without the presence of abuse. A relationship filled with “drama” and “passion” is often perceived as one filled with strong love. Ultimately, this may be the reason why some victims struggle with the choice to stay because they believe “they can handle it.” They have learned how to survive, albeit problematically, in the midst of constant dysfunction and violence. It takes a great deal of courage and strength of character to muster the will to leave an unhealthy relationship.

My concern is that presented without context, without dialogue and without resolution, this song has the potential to send the wrong messages to young women and men about what defines a loving relationship and most importantly, what defines abuse. Unfortunately, “Kiss With a Fist” does not end with the narrator leaving the relationship or her insistence that her life does not have to be lived in constant conflict. We as the audience are left to imagine what will happen after the song stops. I believe as advocates, we can use our voices to question these mixed messages and to help move our community away from examples which accept "mutual" abuse as a way of life and confidently toward examples of mutual respect and love.

article found via Bitch Mag - discussions

No comments:

Post a Comment