i hate these blurred lines: misogyny and the perpetuation of rape culture in music
Through popular culture we create and reiterate our notions of gender and sexuality in society. Sorry to get all Sociology 101 on you, but when I saw the hit ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke soar to number one, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of messages are being sent here in terms of gender and sexuality. Go beyond the catchy descending bass line and infectious cowbell beat, and what we have is a song about, at best, masculine heterosexual conquest and objectification of women, or at worst, misogyny and date-rape.
The song’s lyrics charmingly describe the unfortunate dilemma gentlemen face when they meet a sexy lady who has clearly got her “good girl” disguise on, being all coy and pretending to not want sex, which OBVIOUSLY means she totally does because look how sexy she’s being, so you should just tap that, Bro.
So much for “No Means No”. In 2013, major hit songs justify and perpetuate rape culture by bemoaning these “blurred lines” that apparently exist in heterosexual pick up scenes the world over. Feminist Sad Face.
The main lyric claims: ‘I know you want it/But you’re a good girl/The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty,’ and in doing so, continues the cultural construction of feminine sexuality as being passive until acted upon by men. Not to mention reproducing the same old trope of women being indecisive nutbags who need to be told what they want by the likes of Robin Thicke who, by the way, ‘Has A Big Dick’, according to the film-clip. Which apparently adds to his personhood and social worth. It also means you should be OK with the fact that he wants to “liberate you” (read: rape you).
Mia Freedman was especially offended by the totally romantic lyric ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two,’ arguing that this ‘is a sentence about raping the “good girl”. The girl who “wants it” even though she says she doesn’t’.
As you can see in the comments on her article, Freedman was criticised for overthinking something that’s ‘just a pop song’ and ‘trivialising rape’ by claiming that the lyric implies sexual assault when it could just be referring to your garden-variety, harmless pastime of rough anal sex.
Feminists are often criticised for sweating the small stuff, but as Caitlin Moran describes in How To Be A Woman, when you add up all of the ‘patriarchal bullshit,’ even the small things, it starts to constitute a bigger problem. Like having squatters. Thus, getting angry about a song, a clip on YouTube, an advertisement or any other cultural text, is productive because if we don’t question the way women are represented in the media, sexist discourses will start to trickle into everyday life, then into politics and law. And eventually we’ll be back to square one. Do not collect $200. Do not pass Go.
The explicit ‘Blurred Lines’ clip, along with Justin Timberlake’s similar recent effort, ‘Tunnel Vision’, both raise questions about the representation of women and women’s bodies in R&B and pop music. It probably does not come as a surprise that the explicit versions of both clips feature naked and semi-naked women gyrating next to fully clothed men.
When viewing clips like these we must question what the implications of such representations are. Why are women always shown naked? Although I have no problem with women’s bodies being celebrated in their multiplicity and complexity, being naked all the time can be negatively sexualising, as Toula Foscolos argues:
‘You can’t be naked, while everyone else is clothed, and be in power. You can’t be naked and be the one in control. You can’t be naked and be the one choosing. To be naked is to be exposed; to be weak. Ultimately, it’s to be powerless.’
So, can we please just call bullshit on the whole (heteronormative, male-defined) “sexiness is empowering” paradigm once and for all and stop getting annoyed when “feminist kill-joys” call out the sexist objectification of women in our culture? Because even the smallest and most subtle ways that we construct and represent gender have a tangible impact in the real world – you just might not know it yet.