At My Worst: Stevie Rae Stephens

You never think it will happen to you until it does.

I was cast in my college’s production of The Vagina Monologues in 2012 and my eyes were opened to the profound effects of sexual violence. By 2014, I was working on a masters of music in England. I was well-versed in the details and complexities of rape culture by this point, however; was crippled with fear and disbelief when I was assaulted on my 23rd birthday. I was pulled into a dark room by my hair as I walked down a hallway following a train of my friends into a small party. I had never been so afraid and I completely froze as my assailant pulled me to the floor. I screamed at myself to fight, to get up, to run, to move, to do anything and yet, nothing broke my silent paralysis. Within a few minutes, the door was opened and my muscles were triggered into a sprint down the stairwell and a few blocks up the road. I was so fortunate to have escaped before any more irreparable trauma occurred.

A year passes and I’m living in Monterey, California. It’s my 24th birthday and I had done nothing for my music. I needed to shake things up, stop stalling progress, and start building a foundation for a successful career in music. I realized I needed structure— something to hold me accountable— so I walked down to the local dojo and began my training as a martial artist. Within a month, I began to notice incredible differences in how I held myself and how I was treated. I stopped apologizing for taking up space, began cherishing my body and standing my ground about boundaries. Turns out self-worth is the most powerful weapon.

Another 2 years pass, I trained to a black belt level before moving to Nashville to be a songwriter. After 8 months in Nashville working as a bartender, a coworker asks me why I trained in martial arts and I tell her my story. It’s my 26th birthday. We were arguing before she drunkenly grabs me by the hair and attempts to pull me to the ground. To my surprise, there was no hesitation as my voice bellowed the words LET GO OF ME NOW and my body balanced and planted itself in a perfect defensive squat. She disregarded the warning and I rocketed upward with an open hand slap that left her blue, bleeding, and hospitalized. An attempted warning shot before real training kicked in potentially leaving us with the horrible sound of bones breaking. I thank God that she stayed down as I remember my inner voice begin to prepare me for a defensive wrist lock that would have injured her in more ways than I care to admit.

I was fired 2 weeks later. After I spent 3 days not being able to speak, I received a call from a friend to play in the first night of a new weekly round called East of the Row. I pulled myself together, spent 2 hours finishing the song Liar, and found the strength to leave my house.

Another few weeks go by and one of my close friends from college gets a hold of the work tape for Liar and produces the first instance of my music the way it’s intended to be heard. I attempt to write the title track for a new album in this vein of production nearly 10 times before my producer sent me an idea based on some lyrics and melodies revolving around martial arts and the assaults. He called it Ladylike and I realized this was the brand, the purpose, and the intention. After a year and a half, the Ladylike production was cracked and I started releasing my feminist concept project in January 2019 via 4 singles, 3 EPs, and a full album and bonus track.

You never think it will happen to you until it does. At my worst, I found the resilience to become my best. I have directed my own production of The Vagina Monologues at Nashville’s EXIT/IN and become a self-employed full-time musician this year. I know that even the darkest moments of my adult life have led me down a path of happiness, gratitude, collaboration, strength, and self-love. This is my Ladylike.