Patrick Stewart Addresses Violence Against Women: The Internet Applauds

In March of 2013 I was able to briefly meet Sir Patrick Stewart at the Orlando Megacon, a comic/fantasy festival where the cast of Star Trek the Next Generation was reuniting for a panel discussion.  As we stood for a picture I looked at him and said “I just want to say thank you for all the work you do to raise awareness about violence against women.”  Mr. Stewart paused, grabbed my arm and said “Thank you.  I do that for my mother.”

This past week, at Comicpalooza in Texas, Heather Skye, a Trekkie, was lucky enough to get to ask Mr. Stewart a question at his panel discussion, a question that was recorded by an audience member and put on YouTube.  During her time she thanked him for his work with Amnesty International, for which Mr. Stewart did a photo and video campaign aimed at ending violence against women.  Ms. Skye also mentioned that she was going through a similar situation to Mr. Stewart’s mother who had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband.  At the time Alfred Stewart (a returning WWI soldier) probably suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or ‘”shell shock,” but lack of treatment resulted in violent behavior.  For her question, Ms. Skye asked Mr. Stewart if he could talk about what work (aside from acting) he is the most proud of. patrickstewartsign

Mr. Stewart then delivered an impassioned speech, mentioning that his work with an English organization called Refuge, which focuses on helping women and children who are victims of domestic violence, is the work he is most proud of.  He explained that no woman deserves to be abused and no man should believe that a woman is ever deserving of abuse.   Raising his arms above his head, Mr. Steward shouted that, even if a woman does something to provoke a man, he should never act violently toward her because “violence is never the answer.”

As this video went viral, more people started to comment on and address another significant part of his answer.  Mr. Stewart made sure to point out that the lack of treatment his father received for PTSD was what contributed to his violence and that what is often forgotten in cases of domestic violence are the ways to treat people who batter and abuse.  Mr. Stewart also mentioned that it is men who need to take responsibility for violence against women, that men will be the ones to stop abuse.  This is also often looked over when violence against women is addressed.  Even though there are national programs like Men can Stop Rape, one area that activists will say continues to need work is the outreach with men.

As someone who has studied violence against women, wrote about healing after violence and worked with survivors of sexual and physical violence I know that is (unfortunately) very rare for a man to address this as a problem for men to solve.  Grasping this concept requires a cultural shift, a change in how we think about violence against women and a movement away from victim blaming.  By acknowledging that violence against women affects everyone, Mr. Stewart pushed open a door to lead a call for dialogue on what everyone should be doing to bring about change.

So, thank you Patrick Stewart.  Thank you for this message, thank you for using your celebrity in this way.  And thank you Heather Skye for asking the question that brought about this amazing response.  I imagine it helped change a few minds and will bring much needed attention to this issue.


Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, PhD is a sociology professor at Valencia College in Orlando.  She has written about healing from violence for various websites as well as in her book “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos.”

Music as Mantra’s-Finding healing through songs.

Listening to Tori Amos’s music probably saved my identity.  I don’t want to say “saved my life” because I am not sure if my life was ever in jeopardy.  But, my identity was and I think that, on some level, losing one’s identity (or never finding it in the first place) is a horrifying thought.

When I found Tori’s music I was a junior in high school and had just gotten out of a terrible, abusive relationship that lasted much longer than it should have.  I was seventeen and really had no idea who I was.  This was compounded with the fact that I lived in a small town where gossip spread like wildfire and where everyone seemed to have an opinion about what had happened to me.  So, not only was I trying to heal from something very destructive, I was also trying to be a teenager in a very suffocating place.  I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to become.

Then a friend of mine gave me a copy of Tori Amos’s CD Little Earthquakes.  Just like many Tori Amos fans have said, that CD changed everything.  It required me to listen and interpret the song lyrics, to adjust them to my emotions and to find mantra’s in songs like “Girl” (Everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own”).  I began listening to all her songs on a loop (at the time she had three albums out) and found myself transfixed by this person who seemed to understand what I was going through, even though we had never met.

As I grew older and began the long journey that was my college and graduate education I found myself turning to Tori’s music for more than healing (although healing was still certainly a major component).  I began to see it as a guide through things like politics (the album American Doll Posse took on George W. Bush and his policies), the experience of Native people (with the album Scarlet’s Walk), international relations (the song Juarez which addressed the rape and murder of women in Juarez long before the media started covering it) as well as my own feminism.

When it came time for me to pick a dissertation topic for my PhD I workshopped an idea about the ways women have used music as a means to heal themselves as part of a holistic health class I was taking.  I was surprised at how positive my classmate’s responses were, especially since none of them had heard of Tori or her music.  With this in mind, in the summer of 2009, I began interviewing women who are fans of Tori Amos to find out what it was that drew them to her music.  The results of this study demonstrated to me that music goes beyond being a powerful healing force, music reflects the experience of the listener and becomes a way for a person to engage in self care.

But, specifically for women, music that tells the story of another women’s experience is particularly powerful, especially if the song is written and performed by another woman.  Many of the women I interviewed were survivors of sexual or physical abuse.  For them, Tori’s music took them on a journey to self-healing because the songs spoke to Tori’s own experience overcoming sexual assault.  Another common theme was experiences women had had with miscarriage.  One women, in particular, told me the story of a pregnancy that was the result of her rape and the miscarriage that followed.  Knowing that Tori has been through miscarriages, and had written entire albums about the experience, gave many women a guide, a way to help them heal.  The result of this study is my forthcoming book, “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos.

In holistic health it is taught that people cannot heal unless their mind, body and spirit are all being worked on.  This is what I think music does for people.  I spoke with many rape survivors who told me they write down song lyrics in their journal’s and use them as bullet points to express what they are feeling, because doing this in a journal is a safe place.  I met a woman, who was healing from breast cancer, who told me that her best healing takes place in the car on her way home from work because she can scream along with the music she is playing and release her tension.  Many people talk about blasting a CD (or IPod playlist) while creating art, that the music gives them a rhythm to help them create.  One woman in particular, who is dealing with a disease that left her disabled, told me about her “painting songs”, a playlist created to get her motivated to create her art.  For myself, music becomes mantra’s in my head that will often punctuate what I am feeling.  Sometimes I am aware of what they mean and sometimes I let them pass through and assume that the meaning will come to me later.

I hope to explore the ways that music can be a tool in your “healing kit” in future posts.  I hope you can offer me suggestions or share your own way(s) of using music to heal in the comments.  Until next time, one of my favorite quotes from Leo Tolstoy, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, PhD is the author of the forthcoming book, “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos” which will be release by Scarecrow Press.  She has written for The Orlando Sentinel and the journals “Qualitative Research” and “Humanity and Society.”  She is currently a faculty member in sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida and she studies the ways pop culture influences ideas about gender.  She also runs the Facebook page “Pop Culture Feminism.”