The one about Blurred Lines

This is not an entry about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s performance at the Video Music Awards. Let’s get that fact straight right off the bat. But, it is about how what we watch and listen to can effect us in subtle ways. I’m not talking about video games and violence. I’m talking about something much more subtle. I’m talking about pop culture that very quietly chisels away at what society deems appropriate behavior. In particular I’m talking about sexual behavior. To be even more specific this post is about rape culture and how certain parts of pop culture can contribute to rape culture.

What is rape culture? Far be it from me to totally trust Wikepedia, but their definition is actually pretty spot on. “A concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.”  What is so insidious about rape culture is how society won’t even realize it’s happening. Rape culture often begins as subtle attitudes that become accepted as fact without being checked. Rape culture exists in laws that allow a woman’s previous sexual history to be a part of the evidence brought up in a rape trial. (Thankfully this part of rape culture is facing a steady decline due in part to “Shield Laws” that no longer allow this practice.) However, I believe that the biggest offender of perpetuating rape culture, is pop culture itself. 

This brings me back to Robin Thicke. If you listened to the radio at all this summer you probably heard his song “Blurred Lines” many online and print publications decreed it the song of the summer and it was in constant rotation on the radio. I’m the first to admit the song has a very catchy hook. It’s an earworm that can’t help but get stuck in my head. The problem lies not in the music, but in the lyrics.  Just a sample from the chorus is as follows

And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

Disgusting right? Don’t even get my started on the video that goes along with this song. (All I will I say is: naked girls dancing around fully clothed men) First of all the repetition of the phrase “I know you want it” sends shivers up my spine. Just written down the phrase could be directly lifted from a  police report about sexual assault. Secondly, the whole concept of “blurred lines” is almost the definition of rape culture. There is no such thing as a blurred line when it comes to sex. No means no and yes means yes. I don’t know a woman who says no when she means yes. I re-read that sentence wondering if I should be so emphatic about it and I decided yes I stand by it. I have NEVER met a woman who says no when she means yes when it comes to sex or any type of romantic possibility.

This point jumps off from Robin Thicke and moves into pop culture as a whole. Think of a romantic movie you like, or a television show about dating. In fact think of any representation in pop culture of dating. How many times in books, television, and movies do we see the following scenario. Guy is attracted to Girl. Guy asks Girl out. Girl says no. Guy continues to ask Girl out in more elaborate ways. Girl continues to say no. Guy makes some big impassioned speech about how much he wants to be with Girl. Girl finally says yes. Guy and Girl go off in the sunset happily ever after. This is a very common archetype we encounter everyday. I’m not knocking the archetype in and of itself. I’m just saying that we might not even realize how the things we consume can subtly influence what we consider appropriate romantic behavior. In the real world it is not cute when a guy won’t take no for answer. In the real world it’s scary. In the real world it isn’t cute when a guy keeps asking for your number over and over again when you’ve already said no.

I’m not saying that if you like the song Blurred Lines or romantic comedies that you are a rapist. But I do think we need to be aware of the pop culture we consume. We need to call out bad behavior when we see it. I don’t think my sister would let my nephew listen to a song like Blurred Lines without some serious discussion afterwards about what makes the song problematic (although since he’s four years old I’m 100% certain he’s not listening to it at all). At the end of the day I’m not advocating boycotts of certain songs or movies or television. (I mean I just wrote a blog last week about how I’m against banning books for crying out loud.) Every person has to decide for herself what books to read, movies to watch, and music to listen to.  I am advocating discussing what makes the things we enjoy problematic and what our responsibility as consumers is to call out problematic things.

It’s not just a male problem. On last night’s The Mindy Project a character that was so drunk he could not walk on his own or keep his eyes open was kissed by one woman and then had sex with another. Before I hear cries about how I’m too sensitive and the show is a comedy so what’s the big deal let me say this. How would you have felt if instead of the above scenario happening with a male character, it happened with a female character? What if the character of Mindy Lahiri, so drunk she couldn’t walk by herself, was kissed by a male character and then had sex with another? It would make us uncomfortable right? I love Mindy Kaling. I love her show and I’ll continue to watch it. But just because I enjoy something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t point out when it becomes problematic.

What makes rape culture so dangerous is its subtly. We don’t even realize the messages we are being sent until we sit down and really peruse what we are seeing. We live in a world where violence against women is an epidemic. Women are forced into marriage and prostitution. Women are treated as second class citizens. Women are belittled and hurt by the very people put in place to protect them. It is up to those of us (women and men) who are not victims of violence to stand up to normalization of dangerous behavior and say enough is enough. Music, books, television and movies can be romantic, funny, and worthwhile without promoting the mistreatment of half the population.

What about my readers? Have you run across instances of rape culture that caused you to get as worked up as I am? Parents of both boys and girls how do you deal/plan to deal with things like gender violence and gender equality with your kids?

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2 thoughts on “The one about Blurred Lines

  1. Nico says:

    I think some of the issue here is that a lot of people don’t understand what rape actually is. So many don’t realize that it’s a violent act, and not simply a sexual one. One doesn’t just lose control because of sexual desire – a person makes a choice to harm someone else, and enjoy doing it.

    I agree with you, there shouldn’t be censorship – but sometimes I get frustrated that people don’t take personal responsibility for the things they put out into the world, especially when they have a huge audience.

    Like you mentioned in another post, Judy Blume books have been banned (which is insane to me!) so yeah – we should definitely be talking about stuff like Blurred Lines. No doubt.

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