Rape culture in the music industry: Raye’s ‘Ice Cream Man.’
By Emma Breslin
Content warning: This article discusses themes of sexual assault.
There is not only a prevalent rape culture in the music industry but there are also wider issues of misogyny, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in our society today. For many young women, music has been the way to expose these experiences of bodily violation, empowering many to speak out and reclaim their voices.
If you have not already, I invite you to take a look at Raye’s new album, My 21st Century Blues, specifically her song entitled ‘Ice Cream Man’. This is a heart-breaking but empowering song in which Raye reveals her own experience with sexual assault in the music industry as a young, up-and-coming artist. The song’s honest depiction of Raye’s personal struggles following the aftermath of sexual assault seeks to promote a more open, safe arena in which women can speak out about such degrading experiences.
Only recently has Raye released the music video for the song that she wrote years ago. It is a simple, yet harrowing illustration of the physical and psychological intrusion of sexual assault on the female body and mind. In the self-directed music video, Raye focuses the camera on herself throughout, whilst she sits on the floor of a public bathroom. As she goes to get up, the camera pans down Raye’s body, showing a sequence of different hands touching her body aggressively. Such a depiction reflects the non-consensual, brutal experience of sexual assault.
At the end of the music video, a series of captions appear, stating “when I experienced sexual assault and rape, I didn’t tell anyone. One in four people experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The odds are that is at least 25% of you reading this”. She later remarks that “this evil has more power over us in the dark than it does the light… If I can encourage anything, let’s not bury it deep down inside us forever”.
It is well known that the worldwide music industry is rife with sexual assault and exploitation. This assault is usually, but not always, perpetrated by men against women. According to Voice Mag, “A Musician’s Union survey from last year reported that 48 percent of musicians and music industry professionals in the UK have encountered sexual assault at work, a staggering amount when compared to other professions”.
There are countless examples of sexual assault in the music industry. For example, Kesha revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by producer Dr. Luke, which fuelled the #MeToo movement in the music industry. This movement initiated a number of artists to speak out and reveal their personal experiences of sexual assault in the industry, such as Lady Gaga and Lily Allen, to name a few. So if sexual assault is so pronounced and evidenced in the music industry, then why have these perpetrators never been punished? Why have these women never received justice?
There is an inherent flaw in the system. Women are not being believed. They are being disregarded and forgotten, their reality becoming insignificant stories. Evidently, there is a lack of support for women in the music industry – and in greater society – with no safe space being established in which women feel comfortable and protected enough to speak out. Why do you think it takes months, years, decades, or eternity for women to speak out about these experiences?
Let’s take a closer look at Raye’s beautiful lyrics. The chorus of the song is perhaps the most touching, portraying the intrusive touch of the perpetrator and the inevitable trauma that consumes the victim:
“Coming like the ice cream man / Till I felt his ice-cold hands / And how I pay the pricе now, damn / Goddamn, no, what the? Goddamn / Everything you did, it left mе in a ruin / And no, I didn’t say a word, I guess that proves it / I’m a woman, oh yes”
The title of the song, and the centre of this chorus, is the ‘Ice Cream Man’. Whilst Raye has not revealed the meaning behind this imagery, there are many different ways to interpret it. For me, the “ice cream man” epitomises the external friendliness of the perpetrator, as they trick and deceive their victim, exploiting their kindness and vulnerability. Only once the perpetrator touches their victim do they realise their “cold” intent, which disturbs the warmness and safety of their body.
Raye encapsulates the sad fate of the female victim, stating that what constitutes a “woman” is the fact that they will not say a word after such horrific experiences. However, it is these next lyrics that will symbolise the restoration of their power as women. Raye describes how her experiences of sexual assault forced her to grow up faster than normal, transgressing her years as a child and becoming a woman:
“‘Cause I’m a woman / I’m a very f****** brave, strong woman /And I’ll be damned if I let a man ruin / How I walk, how I talk, how I do it / Man, I’ve been broken for a moment / I’ve been through it, no / It’s even harder to be brave alone / I was a girl, now I’m grown, I’m a woman / A very f****** strong woman”
In a live performance, Raye performed ‘Ice Cream Man.’ wearing minimal clothing to convey how naked she feels when she relives her experiences of sexual assault. The humiliation, degradation, and vulnerability that come with sexual assault are embodied by this performance. Raye demonstrates how her experiences will always live within her, but that she has found a newfound strength to address them and try and help others going through similar things.
In this stunning, devastating, and touching song, Raye speaks for all women who have experienced sexual assault and who should be proud of how far they have come and how far they continue to go despite the attempt to break them. As the music industry continues to face public announcements of sexual assault allegations, it can only be hoped that such songs contribute to a safer environment in which all artists feel protected, are able to speak out about difficult experiences, and trust that justice will prevail.
You can listen to ‘Ice Cream Man.’ below: