The fact that nobody asks for sexual assault should not need to be stated in this day and age, yet the notion that they do is all around us. It’s in media reports drawing attention to survivors’ past sexual behavior, in lawyers’ questioning over what victims wore, and in the fear women live with every day that they’re “asking for it” if they’re not careful enough. Austin-based singer-songwriter and bass player Bonnie Whitmore decided to confront these myths and the ways they’re used against women head-on in her latest single, “Asked for It.”
The song has an old-fashioned sound evocative of Motown with a hint of country, giving it a sarcastically happy-go-lucky tone that makes Whitmore’s anger palpable. The cheery cymbals in the chorus create an eerie juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics as she sings, “She’s the kind of girl you say asked for it/Didn’t see it coming, but she asked for it.” The verses directly address rape culture with lines like, “There are few who try for retribution/Statistics show it’s more like one of six (five)” and “Each time you silence them/Recreates the same event.”
Whitmore wrote the song back in 2012 after Missouri representative Todd Akin claimed that “legitimate rape” could not result in pregnancy. “I sat on the song for a really long time because the first time I performed it, it was like the air was being sucked out of the room, and people weren’t ready to receive a pop song about rape culture,” she says. But the #MeToo movement and related activism has changed this, and now, Whitmore not only plays the song live successfully but also has the audience sing the chorus along with her.
Crowd reactions are often telling. “On one side, you have a group of people that’s really enthusiastic about it because they understand the sentiment of what I’m doing,” she says. “But there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t want to participate. They don’t want to say ‘asked for it’ and that’s the point: Women don’t ask for this. Women don’t ask to be assaulted. No one asks for that.”
Sadly, the song is just as relevant today as when Whitmore wrote it, and she hopes it leads listeners to question the way they respond to sexual assault survivors’s stories, as well as how the legal system responds.
“I just want people to listen to women more, and instead of putting the blame on the victim and onto the survivors of this, do a lot more to really understand and try to stop this from happening,” she says. “When you talk about somebody who’s been robbed, do we say ‘You shouldn’t have bought that TV?’ or ‘You shouldn’t have left your backdoor unlocked?’ We don’t blame the person who’s robbed. But this is how we approach rape, and we spend a lot of time wanting to know what the victim was wearing, what they were doing, how they contributed to this instead of outwardly being supportive of that person.”
“Asked for It” is on Whitmore’s fourth album Last Will and Testament, which comes out October 2. She co-produced the album with songwriter, musician, and producer Scott Davis and recorded it in Austin’s Ramble Creek studio with engineer Britton Biesenherz, drummer Craig Bagby, keyboardist Trevor Nealon, and backing vocalist/accordionist BettySoo, also adding horns and string arrangements to some of the songs. They all played together and recorded it live, then added some embellishments afterward.
Whitmore’s goal with the album was to speak out about world issues that matter to her, and she does this in a number of ways. “Time to Shoot” was written after the Pulse Nightclub shooting; “It’s not about faith if all you hold is to hate,” Whitmore reflects. “None of My Business” similarly responds to the 2015 Paris terror attacks with lines like, ““Day in and day out, all we really do is scream and shout/Missing what it’s really all about/Instead of melody, let’s find the harmony, love forwardly/Don’t let our fears defend us.”
Other songs like “Fine” and “Love Worth Remembering” explore relationships, while “Last Will and Testament” and “George’s Lullaby” deal with loss, the latter specifically a tribute to Whitmore’s mentor, bassist George Reiff.
“A lot of what I’m trying to do with this record is create space to have more conversations about hard topics,” she explains. “In these times when things are really hard, music is such a healer. When you can put something to a melody, it affects people differently. When things are hard and tough and we’re trying to figure it out, we need to be having those conversations to try to make it better.”
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