By Jesse McLaren
Originally published at Socialist Worker
With 125 million views on Youtube, Robin Thicke’s song and video Blurred Lines has become one of the most popular songs of the summer. But it has also sparked outrage for degrading women and promoting rape culture, reinforced by the arguments that Thicke and his supporters use to defend the song.
The song features a catchy melody and collaboration with well-known singers Pharrel and T.I, and Thicke claimed that “we were just trying to make a funny song and sometimes the lyrics can get misconstrued.”
But the lyrics flow from the sexist premise of the song. As Thicke explained in an interview: “We were walking around the studio like old men hollering at young girls from the porch, so it would be like ‘hey girl, come here, you know you want it.’” Out of this premise emerged the song’s constant and creepy refrain, “I know you want it,” that serves as the backdrop for the song’s title: “I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it, but you’re a good girl, The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty.”
As Katie Russell, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis, explained: “The lyrics of ‘Blurred Lines’ seem to glamourise violence against women and to reinforce rape myths, which we strive to dispel. Both the lyrics and the video seem to objectify and degrade women, using misogynistic language and imagery that many people would find not only distasteful or offensive but also really quite old fashioned. More disturbingly, certain lyrics are explicitly sexually violent and appear to reinforce victim-blaming rape myths, for example about women giving ‘mixed signals’ through their dress or behaviour, saying ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’ and so on.”
Thicke’s defense only reinforced it, saying the “blurred lines” is “between a good girl and a bad girl. Even very good girls have a little bad side. You just have to know how to pull it out of them.”
Not about nudity
In the video, models chosen to conform to the young thin look the corporate media demands are stripped of their clothes and completely silenced (except for a solitary “meow”), as the fully-clothed male singers ogle and cat-call them, and at one point blow smoke in their face.
As video blogger Aimee Davison responded, “I don’t have any problem with nudity. However, I have a problem with power imbalances. And in this video, the women are clearly being used as objects to reinforce the status of the men. In the video, the men have all the control and status because they are not vulnerable, they are completely covered. Whereas the women have no status and are totally open to being exploited and ogled and used.”
Robin Thicke’s wife Paula Patton defended the video saying “I think it’s such a shame that nudity and the human body is seen as offensive, yet violence is totally cool to show to children all the time.” But the problem with this song and video is that it blurs sex and violence, with lyrics like: “You’re an animal…You’re the hottest bitch in this place… I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two…Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you. He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that.”
This is obviously not the only sexist song (Justin Timberlake’s recent Tunnel Vision is similar, singing “I know you like it” to women stripped of their clothes)—but Thicke went further to defend his song as “a feminist movement within itself,” while video director Diane Martel claimed the women in the video are empowered: “I directed the girls to look into the camera, this is very intentional and they do it most of the time; they are in the power position. I don’t think the video is sexist.” But as JH, a contributor to the feminist blog Vagenda wrote: “the only real irony is when Thicke sings ‘ tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature’, because the whole video is about domestication. It is not about girls exposing their bodies for their own amusement but for Thicke’s.”
As Thicke explained, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women…People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’ So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, ‘Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around’…Right now, with terrorism and poverty and Wall Street and Social Security having problems, nudity should not be the issue.” This is similar to reactionary “men’s rights groups,” who claim to be progressive while reinforcing sexism—trivializing rape and turning people’s anxieties about neoliberalism and austerity into a backlash against the women’s movement based on conservative notions of gender roles.
For a recent video hit that challenges oppression instead of reinforcing it, see Mackelmore’s Same Love, and for a for a sex-positive parody of Blurred Lines that promotes consent, see the video Ask First: “no way to know I want it unless I say I want it, consent is sexy, shows you respect me.”
Jesse McLaren is a lecturer at UofT and member of UofT Students Against Sexism.