Why WERE We Silent All These Years? Tori Amos and Life Before The #MeToo Movement

In this feature, I take a close look at the way in which artist Tori Amos has helped pave the way for survivors of abuse to be heard, and how the charity RAINN is making an impact…

Photo copyright: Desmond Murray

In this post #MeToo climate, we are perhaps more accustomed than ever before to hearing accounts of abuse and inequality, and most of us with any moral clarity applaud this. Since #MeToo, we call out for these solidifying stories of survival, in the hopes that such accounts will not only give hope to those effected, but also encourage those who have gone through similar things to trust that the world is a safer place than it once was, in which to speak out and be heard.

The #MeToo movement was originally launched in 2006 in the USA, though it reached fever pitch, gaining widespread attention, in 2017 after movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was publicly accused (and later convicted) of sexual abuse towards several women in the film industry. The mainstream media, social media platforms, schools, universities and corporations all seemed to unify in this age-old fight. It seems the modern world turned to a new chapter, one in which women would no longer be silenced and would instead stand up for themselves and each other. This is clearly something to celebrate, yet there are those who have been planting the seeds of empowerment for women to make this stand for many years; women who have been setting the scene of the battles that were to come. Turning the soil, so to speak, for what would emerge all these years later. One of those figures is Tori Amos.

Faye Sadou/MediaPunch/IPx via AP

It is hard to believe that for over 30 years, the virtuosic singer/songwriter has been pushing back boundaries that were once set in stone by the patriarch. Urging victims to talk of their abuse and empowering women through lyrics so darkly profound that listening to them feels almost like overhearing a church confessional, Amos was — and still is today — an artist who refuses to accept the status quo. She wants better for the women and teenagers who attend her shows in their droves, better for those across the world who have been touched by abuse, victimisation and inequality. She will not settle, and neither, her music seems to suggest, will we, if Amos has anything to do with it.

Since the beginning of her career, Amos’s lyrics have been drenched with in-depth analysis of sexuality, empowerment and womanhood. In tracks such as Silent All These Years (Little Earthquakes, 1992), Amos sang longingly about searching for her voice to express past trauma. In Me and a Gun, the first single to be lifted from her now-revered debut, the composition was almost shocking in its open exploration of a deeply upsetting memory. Me and a Gun quickly became the talking point of her early career. The acapella track needed nothing but her voice: her words and her personal experience carried the rest.

You can’t help but pay attention as Amos shares the harrowing details of her own assault in Me and a Gun with her listeners. Seldom has an artist before or since laid out their own violation in such a gut-wrenchingly straight-forward manner as Tori did on the track. This time, the lyrics weren’t cloaked in metaphors, instead, Amos is arrestingly frank to the point where you almost feel uncomfortable listening to it (which was, perhaps, the point all along).

Photo: Atlantic Records

To share her own traumatising experience with the world highlighted her fearlessness as a composer, and more than this, it helped pave the way for future generations to open up about their own experiences. Even back then, Amos was helping victims of abuse to find their voice, and to tell their story. Little Earthquakes was the first step on her journey to helping other women find their own strength: to stand up and speak out.

Amos has been closely affiliated with RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). She has promoted the charity a number of times and become a spokesperson of the organisation, which is a non-profit based in the USA.

In an interview feature on the RAINN website, Amos explained that she had felt called to action after a particularly upsetting event at one of her shows in the early 90s. A fan had fainted during a performance, and after the show, begged Amos for help after admitting her stepfather was repeatedly sexually abusing her at home. Feeling stunned and powerless in that moment (and warned that she could be arrested if she took the young girl with her, as she was under 18) something seemed to switch in the artist’s mind:

Still, it is Amos’s music that has done much of the talking on these emotive and turbulent topics through the years. The examples are littered throughout her entire body of work, from 1994’s seminal, Under The Pink, in which Amos sang in protest about the appalling practise of Female Genital Mutilation (on her signature hit Cornflake Girl) to Mrs Jesus from 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk, in which Amos succinctly brings to the forefront how often women have been overshadowed or minimised as figures in history. In Amber Waves (of the same album), she explores the effects of sexual objectification on her female protagonist (“you say there’s not a lot of me left anymore”).

In 2001, the music legend even released a collection of 12 songs originally penned by men, entitled Strange Little Girls, in which the artist subverts the narrative, with Amos twisting each track into the perspective of a woman. Hearing Tori — then a new mother of a young daughter — recite the lyrics to Eminem’s murderous lullaby 97 Bonnie & Clyde is particularly chilling. It’s as if the mother has found her voice from beyond the grave, as Amos utters Eminem’s account to his daughter detailing a story in which he ties up his ex-wife in the trunk of his car and dumps her body in the river. Even as recently as 2021, in her critically acclaimed album Ocean To Ocean, Amos reflected on her trauma in the poignant track 29 Years.

The music legend has flavoured her back-catalogue with deeply moving accounts of what it means to be a woman in this world time and time again.

I didn’t know what type of writer I would be,” Amos admitted in her 2020 interview with RAINN, “until I had to face some dark things in my life. I wrote my way out of my own private hell. Writing songs was the only way I was going to heal. The music… it became transformational. It was the thing that began to help me recover.”

Amos’s sonic journal of womanhood flourished at the beginning of her career in the late 80s and has continued since. Then, as now, she stands up for herself — and in her music, stands with us in our moments of vulnerability.

To many, Tori Amos is an artist who has helped shape the cultural landscape of where we stand today as women. The uncomfortable truths she forces us to confront in her music and lyrics is vital to many who have found solace in her work. In this current climate, of standing up to abuse and being able to share accounts of such traumas, Amos has long been fighting for victims to not only find their voice, but to be heard. In this way, amongst many others, she has been a true pioneer.

Image via RAINN.ORG

The fight is far from over. Please check out RAINN to find out how you can support the cause.

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Freelance writer and published author.

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