Let’s talk “Blurred Lines,” y’all, because as far as the Google can search, no one can shut up about it.
Feminists, journalists and women everywhere who refer to themselves as “comediennes,” just can’t stop writing about how objectified, exploited and s**ty (did I say shitty or slutty, you’ll never know!) they feel because of this damn song and video. Lest we forget that no one at Jezebel, The Hairpin or XO Jane has weighed in, probably because it’s not that big of a f**king deal and you all are making yourselves look like opportunistic, reductive Puritans who can’t adapt the feminist message to the 21st century.
Let me be clear first though, there is absolutely nothing OK with sexual violence, violation, or sexism. But it’s just these kinds of shallow viral take-downs that make us all look like a bunch of Rosie O’Donnell-s who won’t be happy until nothing is ever controversial. Controversy, and especially pop-cultural, self-conscious, satirical controversy like “Blurred Lines” is how we effect change. And when smart women respond to things like this by running through the town square screaming, “rapey vibes,” we’re proving how disjointed everyone has accused our movement of being for decades.
I went to a very liberal, private college where it was a lot cooler to wear hemp, a septum ring, no makeup and bring fair trade coffee in a mason jar than it was to join a sorority. But despite feeling empowered by that freedom and the positive male response I saw to that freedom, I could never jive with those turkies. The reason for that is because I love wearing makeup. I love showing off my body. I love the power I derive from my sexuality and feminine energy. I also want to get married and have a million babies someday, and the feminists at my school loved to turn down their freshly pierced noses at me. And that is the core of what drives me crazy about feminism: What’s the message going to be ladies? To celebrate our femininity or not? Is it more feminist to be less of a woman or more? Is any woman ever less of a woman? No. So stop alienating your peers.
On the one hand I will say that I don’t think there’s a self-aware bone in Robin Thicke’s body (pun intended). Either that, or he is just woefully inarticulate and blindsided by this single making him infinitely more famous than he was before it was released. Whichever the reason, he hasn’t done himself any favors with the statements that he has made about the video. There’s the GQ interview where he asserted that since he, Pharrell and T.I. are all happily married, they’re the perfect kind of guys to exploit women. I get why that ruffles feminist feathers, because he’s missing the point that if men with “classy” images like Pharrell and Thicke (T.I. is debatable) are advertising that message then the douchebags who already propound an inherently misogynistic mindset will think they’re all the more justified.
Thicke got himself even more tongue tied when he said on the Today Show that the song was a feminist movement within itself, but also that the song was supposed to poke fun at men who abuse women. So which is it Robin? Is the video/song liberating because it celebrates a woman’s freedom to be naked, sexy and aloof to male advances, or is it liberating because it parodies misogynistic attitudes? The verdict points more towards these artists having made the perfect pop culture bait by combining nudity, fashion, and a really catchy song and then having to spin a message when it comes under fire.
Which brings me to another point, the video is really well done. Not the censored piece of crap, if you want to get mad about something, get mad about that one. In the censored version the women are basically wrapped in plastic like pre-made hoagies, if anything is sexist it’s that. In the uncensored version the women are celebrating their bodies and sexuality. The men are pining over them. The ladies are rolling their eyes, and walking away. If anything the video reminds me of a Richard Avedon/Mario Testino/Kate Moss/90’s high fashion throw back.
You can’t deny there wasn’t excellent art direction on the video, which is something I can’t admit for other videos that exploit women like say, any rap video ever. That is maybe my biggest problem with this whole controversy; it’s white people getting mad about white people stuff. Because Robin Thicke is white, and Pharrell and T.I. have had both pop and hip-hop success, the video is mainstream. The song isn’t only getting played on hip-hop stations, and the video isn’t only getting rotated on BET. Women bounce their asses in thongs and get champagne thrown on them in rap videos all the time, and they’re proud of it. But the second it happens in a more mainstream capacity, everyone gets their pitchforks out. No, not every rap video features bare breasted models, but female sexuality is celebrated in a different way in hip hop, and the second that idea crosses over onto our MTV screens we’re losing the will to menstruate.
If that idea is a little too revolutionary for you though, there are other alternative examples, like everything Terry Richardson has ever done, which is another avenue that doesn’t exist in the mainstream so people don’t get so flustered about it. So then let’s talk about all of the women who’ve candidly and pointedly exploited their sexuality for entertainment and fame. The list is infinite but Brittney Spears writhing on stage with an anaconda in a nude bodysuit and Katy Perry shooting whipped cream from her tits both come to mind. I understand that in those cases women own their sexual prowess rather than men parlaying that eroticism into the number one song in the country.
But what isn’t to say that the models in the video didn’t feel the same way as Brittney or Katy. Esquire reported Emily Ratajkowski, one of the three models in the video, stating that the attitude and eye contact of the models in the video is what gives them their power over the men. Personally I think that logic is a little flawed, but regardless, she didn’t feel objectified, she felt powerful. So in what world is it in the power of other women to take a beautiful and empowered woman and tell her that she’s actually not empowered at all. That is the self-righteous, dissonant war march of feminism that attacks liberated women for not feeling marginalized that really needs to stop.
I’m sure I’m on lots of lists to get tarred and feathered at this point,
so let me back track. Objectifying, exploiting, degrading, abusing or condescending down to women are not things I take lightly. Women (and men alike) have to stand up for other women, and that’s what I think the intentions are of the feminists and supporters of feminism speaking out against “Blurred Lines.” But this discourse seems like it needs a strong injection of “I statements.” People acting as though the video naturally offends every woman, but at the same time the nude women in the video are proud and the rest of American women are requesting the song over and over. So who is really offended?
Yes, the lyrics are suspect. There’s nothing really polite about telling a woman that you have something that will “tear her a** in two.” However, I don’t find that lyric offensive at all. The song to me is more about my freedom to be a “good girl” and also not have to give any f**ks about my sexuality. The line “I know you want it” to me is less of an affront to no means no, and more of a desperate plea from a man wishing this good girl would want it, and that she can have it if she does. And in terms of the men being clothed and the women not, to me that is not an issue of vulnerability. Instead the clothing disparity communicates the women as sexual goddesses, while the men are reduced to cowardess for their lack of nudity.
This isn’t the first time that men have objectified women in music, and it certainly won’t be the last. It seems temperamental of feminists to have such a one-track vision of this objectification and not be able to frame “Blurred Lines” in a cultural context of past, present and future. It’s not anti-feminist to want sex and celebrate sex. Dance and pop music has, and always will be about sex. Until the feminist movement can find unity and temper the war calls accordingly, the message will always be distorted, and people will keep bouncing boobs and blurring lines.
Lastly, if you want a new version of “Blurred Lines” here’s Robin Thicke, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots playing a toy instrument rendition, and Black Thought has kindly rewritten T.I.’s verse to be more girl power and less deflower.