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durham university chooses not to ban ‘blurred lines’: is this good or bad for feminism?


Unlike a number of other universities in the UK; including The University of London, Kingston, Edinburgh, Leeds, Derby, West Scotland, and Bolton; Durham University has decided not to ban the song ‘Blurred Lines’. Durham believes that by focusing on this issue, they are taking time and power away from other feminist issues, such as combating the number of sexual assaults directly.

I have always been in two minds about the song ‘Blurred Lines’ (though I have never been in two minds about the fact that it is an incredibly annoying song that I would pay money to never hear again) – while the lyrics can be construed as being a bit ‘rapey’, they can also be interpreted in other ways as well. Indeed, the first time I heard it, while I knew it was disgustingly chauvinistic, I didn’t actually pick up on the ‘rape culture’ connotations that it seems to go hand in hand with these days.

To be perfectly honest, after hearing all of the outrage about the song, I started to worry about whether feminists were doing themselves a disservice. That maybe by tackling every single small issue, we were making the large ones seem less important and were giving people a reason not to listen to us – a kind of ‘boy crying wolf’ idea.

But the more I think about it, the more I have realised just how important these little issues are. It doesn’t matter whether ‘Blurred Lines’ was originally written without any kind of idea of the connotations it would have (still on the fence about this one…); it has been the way it has been taken by what seems to be the majority of people, and as such, it  needs to be taken seriously.

I have heard quite a bit lately about how feminism is starting to miss the point. That instead of focusing on the sexist nature of society that shows itself in the media and in the attitudes directed at women in power, we should try and change the world structurally. For example, instead of debating whether the media is bad for body image, we should be aiming to change the laws in terms of equal pay, women in high positions, rape and abortion laws etc. And I agree with this, I do. However I can’t help but think that attitudes need to change before the law is ever going to. More women are not going to be in power if people think that it is still acceptable to treat the few women in power as they have been (just look at the examples when it comes to our former Prime Minister). And rape laws are not going to get tougher as long as society still thinks that the victim is in some way to blame.

I don’t think that it should be an either/or. An equal amount of time needs to be dedicated to changing the laws as to changing current attitudes. Because unless attitudes evolve and change, then nothing else ever will either.

I used to think that not getting outraged and responding every time I heard something misogynistic was the way to handle things. A sort of ‘pick your battles’ mentality. But every time I have let something slide, twenty more such comments took its place. These prevailing sexist attitudes need to be confronted, and often. Because the more people get away with it, the more it becomes socially acceptable. Then the harder it is to challenge those ideas at a later time, because they are already so ingrained in our modern world.

I don’t think that the articles regarding Julia Gillard’s treatment were pointless. I don’t think that pieces about whether sexist jokes are funny or not are missing the bigger picture. I don’t think that banning a song that hints at sexual assault is over the top. Rather, they are little steps towards that big common goal that need to be taken if we ever want to get closer to eradicating the inequalities still very present in today’s society.

Because equal pay wouldn’t be an issue if people thought that women were equally as good, and equally as deserving as men. Sexual assault statistics would not be so high and punishment for offenders so low if people didn’t consciously or subconsciously think that women were in some way to blame.

Yes, we do need to lobby for laws to be changed. But we also need to spend time tackling attitudes that lead to these inequalities in the first place. You can’t win every battle, I know. But with each battle taken comes a step towards changing the out-dated and sexist attitudes that have formed these structural inequalities.

Not banning ‘Blurred Lines’ and deciding to focus on the ‘big issues’ instead, will do more harm than good. Because those little things are the ones that form people’s attitudes about the big things; and until we challenge those, we have no hope of ever making the kind of changes that need to happen.

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3 thoughts on “durham university chooses not to ban ‘blurred lines’: is this good or bad for feminism?

  1. The issue of whether Blurred Lines is sexist and whether it should be banned are entirely separate questions – it could be the most sexist song in the world but it should be as free from censorship as every other terrible piece of media in the world.

  2. The issue is about whether the song is promoting sexual violence towards women (which is how a lot of people have taken it). If it were a song promoting racial violence, I doubt people would find the idea of banning it to be such an affront to free speech.

    I’m not saying that everything sexist should be banned, I’m saying that even the little battles have to be fought. Sometimes that means calling people out when they make a sexist comment, and sometimes it means banning a song from a college campus if the song promotes sexual violence.

  3. But the problem is the inherent difficulty of proving in any conclusive way that the song, as well as being sexist, is *promoting* or encouraging sexual violence.

    Re: songs about racial violence – the legally available early work of Ice T, Body Count and NWA could definitely be construed as promoting racial violence, but many of its defenders insist it was actually critiquing racial violence.
    The point isn’t that Robin Thicke is making some great artistic double point, but rather that the question of whether a piece of art is promoting a certain negative trend in society needs to be shown with evidence beyond reference to the specific piece of media/art itself.

    Otherwise, we’re forced to apply the same dubious logic across the board: GTA V promotes violence because you can run people over in the game; Bill Henson’s art promotes pedophilia because there was a picture of a naked minor in one etc.if this media can be correlated to a societal increase in carjackings or pedophilia then censorship seems reasonable, if they can’t, then censorship seems punitive.

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