Violence Against Women on a Concert T-Shirt

by | August 23, 2014
filed under Pop Culture


Trigger Warning: Imagery and graphic description of violence against women

Earlier this summer, a Nine Inch Nails (NIN) concertgoer posted an image on a NIN forum of a T-Shirt that was on sale at the concert. The image represents the epidemic of violence against women that is plaguing the United States.

The torture and murder of the woman in the image is offered up without comment, without question, on a concert T-shirt that can be purchased by thousands of concertgoers. This means that potentially thousands of people could be walking around with this image of torture and murder emblazoned on their T-shirts.

This is the T-shirt:

This image from a NIN concertgoer was posted to a NIN 2014 online forum

This image from a NIN concertgoer was posted to a NIN 2014 online forum


Note the woman hanging, upside down, with her ankles and wrists bound. Note the saw cutting her in half from her vagina to her waist. Note the blood dripping from the blade. Note the quote (from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five), “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” which implies that torturing and murdering women is beautiful and does not hurt anyone. Note the skull in the bottom corner, and the drain for the blood, which suggests that this has happened before in this space.

It is likely that some people would buy this T-shirt because they think it is edgy, or hip, or cool. It is likely that some people questioned about this T-shirt would roll their eyes and say that I am making “too much” out of it. It is likely that I would be told to “lighten up” because “it’s just a T-shirt.”

But it is more than just a T-shirt. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), over 3,500 women were murdered in the U.S. every year from 2002 to 2009. Further, as the Violence Policy Center (VPC) explained, “For [2010] homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims (1,571 out of 1,669) were murdered by a male they knew.” These statistics illustrate the very real danger of ignoring, or even discounting, violence against women.

When the torture and murder of a woman is callously displayed on a concert T-shirt, violence against women is being condoned, regardless of the intentions of the producer or purchaser. This is a problem in a nation in which one in four women will become victims of domestic violence, as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states.

Violence against women has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. This NIN concert T-shirt is one small example of just how common images such as these are. I see them in magazines, on television, in movies, in music videos, online.

My aim is not to cast blame, because that is counterproductive. What is productive is having conversations about how representations of violence against women are ubiquitous, which has the effect of normalizing the violence. Because as long as violence against women is deemed “normal,” it will continue, and women will continue to die because of it.


Michelle Root is a doctoral candidate in English, and she also holds a Graduate Certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies. Her research is focused on rape culture and violence against women.

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  • Misha

    The image is gory and violent, no doubt, but note that there is no vagina. The author imputes the sex of the victim onto the image. It could as easily be a man. Maybe it is Trent Reznor. I side with the critic who claims that too much is made of this image. Violence against women is indeed a problem. The causes of the problem are not to be found here.

  • Ellison

    This article could only be seen by anyone with an education as “asinine.” First, the person being hung upside down is not identified as being a man or woman. There are no breasts or vagina visible. It could be a man with long hair, in fact it’s a tad bit whoopieist to assume that because someone has long hair, they are a female. Trent Reznor had long hair for a while. Furthermore, the method of execution depicted in this image (sawing) is one that dates back thousands of years. Both males and females were subject to this type of execution.

    Do some research and some thinking before writing an article using only your knee-jerk emotions as an inspiration.

  • Eric

    Seriously? You think violence against women is condoned because of the way you misinterpret things? This set off my TRIGGER for overly offended and sanctimonious writers. Include the warning for that please!

  • OolonColluphid

    There is literally no way that NIN put out that t-shirt. There are other things at that merch booth of questionable authenticity, as well. That’s gotta be someone local trying to make money selling their own shit alongside official merchandise.

    • Kobediah Miller

      Check the merch store. That is an official shirt. Yr out of the loop???

      • OolonColluphid

        I guess so. In my defense, the merch store has only recently been updated. I don’t really know what to say – if you look at the page, that shirt and the one immediately to the right of it stand out. They stand out for looking as if a child drew them. They seem to have nothing in common with NIN artwork, now or ever. Trent tends to have very strict control of the image that NIN portrays. While I could see shock-inducing violence being a part of that image 20 years ago, it is shocking to see it now. Not because of the violence, but because of how poorly it is displayed, how trite the Vonnegut, Jr quote seems, and the utter lack of context. I doubt anyone familiar with NIN, and with Trent’s advocacy and collaboration with overtly feminist artists would mistake intent, but I assume neither you, nor the author of the artical fall within that category. From that perspective, the assumption is understandable…in a C. Dolores Tucker sort of way.

        As a person of color, and someone who strives to be an effective feminist ally, this is far from the first time I’ve been faced with a potentially difficult decision regarding the choices made by the artists whose media I enjoy. I find that making quick decisions based on surface-level evidence from artists does not serve to further dialog. Difficult though it might be, these instances need to be judged on a case by case basis. I dislike white folks telling me that David Bowie’s “China Girl” is inherently racist, when I find that hearing a white person’s perspective on colonialism to be beneficial, and something that adds to the dialog.

        In the case of this shirt, I have no fucking idea. I only ask that you respect the artist’s body of work, and see where it fits (fucking does not fit at all,) so that there’s a context. My guess is that some random guest artists or friend made these up? You don’t go from dating Tori Amos, namedropping Lauryn Hill, to popping this on your t-shirt. Honestly, I’m just going to email Trent, and see if there’s an explanation for these shitty shirts.

  • juskajo0

    That’s not an official t-shirt. No way would Trent or Rob sign off on something that cheesy. Looks like a drawing from an 8th grader’s notebook.

    Unfortunately, the band or label doesn’t have a lot of control over what bootleg crap is sold at shows.

    • Kobediah Miller

      That is an official t shirt. Check the merch store. There are 2 “looks like a drawing from an 8th grader’s notebook” t shirts for sale.

  • Steve Sandwich

    That’s not a woman.

  • Suzie McDonald

    Oh, ok, if it’s a man, that makes it ok?

    • That’s a strawman. Saying violence against women is wrong in no way condones violence against men. Personally I think this is a pretty awful shirt regardless, but the author’s point is that if it does depict a woman, it is necessary to look at how casual, everyday depictions like these fit into the epidemic of violence against women in our society.

  • r ewrwer

    I dig how the author of the piece of fecal matter assumes that the figure on the tee shirt is a woman or someone who identifies as a woman, and proceeds to rant on “the saw cuts from the vagina to the waist”… How the fuck can you see all this in a outlined abstract drawing? Did you drop a tab of LSD? Or are you so fucked up on the brainwash culture of fake feminism?
    I myself have been gang raped by three military men; I know PTSD, I know flashbacks, I know months of not being able to function in the world outside my door! Fuck this trigger warning hoke!
    I have been listening to Nine Inch Nails since I was twelve (late 1990s), I am familiar with their work [you aren’t ]. What comes to mind is their 1991-1992 work broken/fixed {remix version}. If you have seen the broken videos or know of Throbbing Gristle and the industrial/abstract movement in music/arts it will help you digest this product ,rather than jump into fake feminist trigger warnings.
    I am for changing the judicial system because it is fucked thoroughly ! ; My case was dismissed {the pigs were led by a sex crimes pig who said I had consensual sex with three rapist [ to my sobbing face ]! I didn’t get justice because the pigs took the rapists’ side. I don’t care being labeled as a victim, I don’t hide it either. Some pricks think it makes you weak to be that; you are what it is. Our culture of apathy in government and general masses view needs to change and now! With a rapist in the white house we are fucked, we are doomed. Change the system; don’t sit around writing useless words.

    • Jonathan Dowland

      Keep correcting everything Wrong On The Internet, even stuff written 3 years ago…

  • Undercover Trekkie

    As a female surviver of abuse from her father, I certainly do not condone violence against anyone, man or woman. And I agree that violence (especially against women) is an epidemic that needs to be addressed. However, the author is reaching here, and I think reaching far beyond the point of logic. There are two main reasons I think this:

    1. The shirt does not definitively depict a woman. There is long hair yes, but men have had long hair just as long as women, and we see no breasts or any sign of a vagina. This could just as easily be a depiction of a man, or (most likely in my opinion) a neutral human figure.
    2. The quote used is from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, which is a well known satire. The quote itself is used (in context) to mean exactly the opposite of what it says- the character in question is describing WWII. Even out of context the fact that the quote uses absolute language (“everything” and “nothing”) marks it as satire because there is no world in which everything is beautiful, and no human has ever lived a life in which nothing caused pain.

    I appreciate what the author was trying to do here, I really do, but I’m afraid that rather than supporting her cause she simply gives more fuel to the naysayers who accuse us of being “too sensitive,” rather than addressing the real situation.

  • Jessica Lee

    There is no way to tell the sex of the character. Noticed I say “sex”. Yes, because even if you could see their genitals it does not make them a man or woman.

  • Jessica Lee

    There is no way to tell the sex of the character. Noticed I say “sex”. Yes, because even if you could see their genitals it does not make them a man or woman.

  • Jessica Lee

    There is no way to tell the sex of the character. Noticed I say “sex”. Yes, because even if you could see their genitals it does not make them a man or woman.

  • Richard Michael✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

    This WINS IDIOT ARTICLE OF THE DECADE…. Congrats! What you DON’T KNOW ABOUT NIN Could Fill 7 Phone Books… Ass-Clowns.

  • Eliška Poslední

    Is this a trolling page? Because this article is just ridiculous. Anything morbid or dark normalizes violence?
    You could also talk about how harmful the movie Evil Dead is because the main (male) protagonist cuts his girlfriend into pieces with a chainsaw. That’s not how it works. As well as horror doesn’t condone murder, demons, whatever just by depicting it, NIN does neither.

  • Micah Abinadi Moses

    1. This shirt was designed by Trent’s wife
    2. She stated that this is an effegy of Trent (great job assuming gender based on gender norms)
    3. Have you read slaughter house five and the context of that quote?
    4. It’s also a reference to the happiness in slavery (a tongue in cheek title) video depiction of a man being tortured. Although in a symbology of things in won’t go into but if you watch it it’s obvious.
    Well maybe not since you clearly don’t understand context on SH5.