MAKE IT STOP
Tori Amos: Donald Trump Is ‘Disrespectful to All Women’
The acclaimed singer-songwriter opens up about her theme song to the poignant documentary ‘Audrie & Daisy,’ rape culture in America, and much more.
The first time Tori Amos watched Netflix’s documentary Audrie & Daisy, about two teen rape victims driven to suicide—one completing her attempt, the other a survivor—it left her numb. “It’s a call to arms,” she told The Daily Beast from Los Angeles, emphasizing the urgency of the eye-opening film about rape culture and how America is failing to educate young people of both genders on consent, with devastating results. “Because these are our boys and our girls. This issue is important, because it’s not going away.”
Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s alarm bell of a documentary tracks the parallel stories of two teenage girls from opposite sides of the country who shared an unconscionable trauma. Audrie Pott, 16, was a bubbly California teen from the Silicon Valley-adjacent town of Saratoga when she was sexually assaulted and defiled by three male classmates at a party while she was passed out. The boys took pictures and shared them on social media. After eight days of harassment from classmates over the photos, Pott hanged herself.
Daisy Coleman, 14, was living in Maryville, Missouri, in 2012 when she and a 13-year-old friend sneaked out to drink with an older senior boy. She blacked out at his house party and had to be carried out, crying, and woke up hours later in her own front yard in below-freezing temperatures, her hair frozen to the ground where she had been dumped. Despite a rape kit that tested positive and cellphone footage of the crime recorded by another boy, charges were dropped against Coleman’s well-connected alleged perpetrator—the grandson of a four-term state politician.
Coleman, like Pott, found herself deluged with cyberbullying threats. Other kids taunted her openly and slut-shamed her, and the harassment extended to her family. Her mother was fired from her job at a local veterinary clinic because her daughter’s case was causing conflict within the small town’s petty politics. Coleman, like Pott, attempted to kill herself twice. Months later, her family lost their house when it mysteriously burned to the ground.
Grammy-nominated musician Amos, a longtime activist and rape survivor herself, threw her support behind Audrie & Daisy after watching the film. Twenty-five years ago, Amos blazed a trail for sexual-assault survivors when she wrote her own rape, at the age of 21, into the song “Me and a Gun,” and became a national spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) in 1994. When she watched Audrie & Daisy for the second time, she found the inspiration for “Flicker,” an original song of survivorhood, empowerment, and collective responsibility that became the film’s stirring theme song.
In “Flicker,” Amos outlines the bigger picture at play in cases like Pott’s, Coleman’s, and that of Delaney Henderson, another California teen who’d survived a similar assault and dedicated her life to reaching out to other girls like her. Amos’s lyrics acknowledge pain, loneliness, and trauma—but they also empower, celebrating the strength within these young women. “Heroines, they are not born… they are made,” she sings.
Much of the discussion around rape culture and consent in America revolves around sexual assault on college campuses. But Audrie & Daisy makes a chilling point of showing how rape culture among men starts even younger, with boys—and it’s the parents and adults who fail to educate their children on consent, rape, and bullying who need to hear stories like Pott’s and Coleman’s just as much.
“When you think about how the teenagers in the Audrie case were defining abuse, saying, ‘Well, we thought it was just going to be kind of funny…’ Kind of funny, to assault her and draw on her and then put those photographs on social media?” said Amos. “On one hand, it seems to me that we as Americans can be very puritanical about talking about sexuality with our teenagers because maybe if we don’t, it will just go away. Maybe we don’t have to deal with it, because that’s happening out there with somebody else’s community, somebody else’s kids. And it’s like, ‘No, guys. This is happening.’”
“These kids know how to operate technology,” she said, “but they’re emotionally dangerous.”
She pointed to the case of “Emily Doe,” the woman whose powerful victim-impact statement to her convicted rapist, Brock Turner, went viral this summer and underscored the systemic failures that resulted in a relatively light sentence for the former Stanford University swimmer. Turner served only three months behind bars.
“When you have the father of Brock Turner calling that attack ‘a little bit of action,’ then we’ve failed,” Amos said. “We’re failing as parents and as grownups and as adults. I feel like this movie is a call to arms—and it crosses all party lines. It’s not just Republicans and their kids who are experiencing this, or Democrats and their kids, or the Greens, the environmentalists, anybody. It’s all of us. These are our kids. And the idea that we have perpetrators who are 15-year-old boys has to make us realize, wait a minute: This conversation has to happen sooner, so that they understand what abuse is, what an attack is.”
It’s hard to ignore the confluence of timing when vital conversations about rape are being had around films like Audrie & Daisy and figures like Birth of a Nation’s Nate Parker, in the midst of an election cycle featuring a presidential candidate who routinely insults, objectifies, and intimidates women.
“The truth is he speaks for himself,” Amos said of GOP candidate Donald Trump, “and he speaks loudly. And it’s clear what he means when he’s disrespectful to all women. Because when you vilify a reporter—when you vilify somebody who is asking you to be held accountable—you’re trying to intimidate them so that they won’t ask you the questions. Well, we should be able to ask our leaders questions without being intimidated by them. It’s troublesome to me because this does spread through our society.”
She compared Trump’s brand of unapologetically misogynistic rhetoric and the amoral behavior of the 13-year-old boys who stripped an unconscious Pott’s body, wrote sexually explicit messages on her private parts with Sharpies, sexually assaulted her, and then posted the evidence for all of their classmates to snicker over.
“You have a friend who’s unconscious and really, the first thing that comes to your mind is, ‘Let’s rip off all her clothes, sexually assault her, write all over her, and then send these pictures out to humiliate and destroy her?’” exclaimed Amos. “We have to go back to accountability. You are what you believe. You can’t segregate yourself from the verbal attacks you put out there or the things you say about another person.”
She did stop short of saying Trump is waging a full-on war on women. “In order for the Republican Party to stop rolling their eyes at us Democrats, we have to use logic and not make sweeping statements,” she said. But Trump, who vowed to punish women who get abortions, among other campaign promises, isn’t alone.
“I’d argue a lot of people out there want to control women through these policies,” Amos offered. “That’s what I think is driving it. These people want to control our being.” The source of that drive? “Fear. The patriarchy has had power for so long, and it’s only recent that it’s been shifting.”
To those voters still on the fence between voting Hillary Clinton vs. Trump, she says: “Keep watching. Keep thinking it through. Keep thinking about what constitutes presidential behavior and how they handle themselves. To become president of the United States, I do believe you should have experience. You can’t just go operate on someone without being a doctor.”
“Everybody needs to be present right now,” Amos continued. “I’m not going to tell another person how to vote. I don’t think that that’s fair. I think what we should all encourage each other to do is before we press send, metaphorically, we need to think about the consequences… really think about the consequences. We have a responsibility to really think about what this could mean.”