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:
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  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.