Criticism of the Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines”

Hear an Elon student's opinion on this controversial song.

By: Anna von Wodtke

Yes, I’m actually doing this right now.

I would imagine that this issue is getting pretty old for everyone who has been paying attention at all.  It’s getting old for me, too, but I also appreciate that a popular but problematic song is actually getting called out for once and a lot of people are having conversations about sexism and rape culture that they wouldn’t usually have.  So that’s pretty awesome.

Long story very short, the song came out.  It was then criticized by several articles, saying that it was “rapey” and had a multitude of other issues (objectification, perpetuation of rape culture in general, etc.)  On September 19th, this article was published.

It’s a response that essentially says that the feminists who have been criticizing the song are actually just being slut-shaming hypocrites.  Now I’m not going to even get into the concept of privilege, and the fact that sexism against women is actually not the same as sexism against men, because it’s easier to attack this from the standpoint of, sexism is bad in general.  Privilege is nuanced, but I will concede that it is frustrating that the article doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of male privilege at all.  THAT ASIDE, here are the responses I have to individual arguments made within the article:

[Disclaimer:  I absolutely enjoy and appreciate certain aspects of the Law Revue Girls’ parody of Blurred Lines, but I do realize that it is problematic in a few ways and I respect this article in that it calls the problematic aspects out.]

1. So the article begins with a spiel about how the lyrics, “just let me liberate you/you don’t need no paper/that man is not your maker” could be, as Robin Thicke actually said in real life, “a feminist movement within itself.”  “He’s saying her boyfriend doesn’t own her!”

Well he should get a cookie for such a groundbreaking idea.  My problem with this argument is that, when Robin Thicke tells a woman that he can liberate her, that actually kind of defeats the point of liberation.  Obviously if you need a man to free you from another man, you’re still not actually “freed.”  It’s condescending, controlling, and incredibly ironic.

2. The next point references an article (let’s call this Article B, and the article that I am criticizing, Article A) that compares Thicke’s lyrics to things actual rapists have said to their victims, and says that “the way they take words out of context is reprehensible; it’s dangerous to make statements as powerful as these without anything to actually back them up.”

I don’t really understand how there is any logic in saying there is nothing to back these comparisons up, as they are literally things that rapists have said, and rape survivors came forward and compared to these things to the actual lyrics.

3. Then, the author of Article A goes on to write that “there is a world of difference between ‘I know you want it’ and ‘I know you wanted it.'” Well, yes, obviously, as one is present and one is past.  That does not mean one is okay, though.  Saying “I know you want it” is inherently problematic because it implies the assumption of consent at best, and a disregard for the actual feelings of the opposite party at worst (which is kind of exactly how sexual assault starts).

4. This is my favorite part:  the author says that Article B compares the statement “you’re a good girl” to the virgin whore dichotomy, and that we can analyze from this that “a good girl wouldn’t show her reciprocal desire.”  The author of article A says “My 11th grade English teacher would give this analysis a C-.”

Okay.  Where to start.  Saying, “you’re a good girl” OBVIOUSLY is part of the virgin whore dichotomy, which, dear author, does not mean literal virgins and whores, but rather the societal concept that you can only be one or the other.  When Robin Thicke says “you’re a good girl,” the whole idea behind saying that is that good girls cannot overtly show reciprocal desire because they would then lose their status as a good girl.  And that’s why Robin Thicke assumes that she “must want to get nasty.”  Not because he’s asking, but because he thinks he can make that assumption, because in the good girl world, no can mean yes.  And that is the problem with the virgin/whore dichotomy and the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy, which, WOW, are essentially the same thing in terms of consent.

That was fun.

5. See, I thought the last part was my favorite, but I was wrong.  The next point Article A author makes is that referring to the girl in the song as a “good girl” is actually–no, wait for it–“a tongue-in-cheek statement about an aesthetic that derives from our overarching society norms, which is almost always used in a playful manner, and is not confined to one gender.”

OH MY GOD.

First of all, I barely understand what the author is even trying to say here, because despite the use of “big” words, it actually makes no sense!  Imagine!  Okay, so calling someone a good girl is actually not always used in a playful manner; it’s actually indicative of a huge cultural problem we have in which we label people by their sexual behavior.  And that kind of slut-shaming actually IS confined to one gender, because slut-shaming men is absolutely not the same as slut-shaming women (society criticizes men’s behavior, and women’s character).  I don’t really see where aesthetics or tongue-in-cheek comes into play here, unless the author is implying that the song is one big irony fest aiming to perpetuate the feminist movement.  I’m going to have to say…….probably not.

6. The paragraph that comes next attempts to tackle the lyric, “the way you grab me/must wanna get nasty.”  The author writes that “the lyric only poses a problem if Mr. Thicke is ignoring this woman’s rejections.  Come on guys, it’s not a crime to think someone might want to have sex with you!”

Well.  Actually, the lyric is, “MUST want to get nasty.”  It doesn’t sound like Mr. Thicke is actually asking for consent at all, but rather just assuming that it has already been given.  And also, if the author could remember the “overarching society norms” she mentioned not but 3 sentences ago, she might realize that the ENTIRE POINT of the problem people have with this song is that the “no means yes” standard actually exists because women are socialized to believe that showing sexual desire makes them dirty and less valuable.  Therefore, in this situation and many similar situations, it doesn’t always matter what the woman is saying or not saying, because it is assumed either way that she is interested.  See, that’s the problems with assumptions.  And saying that someone MUST want to have sex with you is a pretty serious assumption.

7. The author makes the point (several times) that feminists have been slut-shaming and bedroom-policing by saying that all bedroom activities must be respectful, and that “he don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that” implies disrespectful sexual behavior.  I will concede that Article B does say that this is a “misogynistic fantasy” and call that kind of behavior degrading and abusive.

This one’s a little tricky.  If consensual, no one is in a place to judge what happens between two people sexually, and that’s where Article B enters into grey area.  However, when not consensual (and I’m pretty sure we’ve established that “Blurred Lines” implies at least a degree of a lack of consent), BDSM is particularly abusive to a sexual assault victim, and I think that’s what Article B is really saying.

8. In the same paragraph, the author of Article A talks about how “neither the song nor the music video indicates any rejection…there is no reason to believe that the woman in question has ever said no.”  Well we could also look at it from the perspective that the woman in question also never said YES, which is an essential component of consent.  Not saying no is not consent.  Saying yes, enthusiastically and unimpaired, is consent.  So aside from forgetting that obvious fact, the author also writes, “I don’t know why we assume that the woman is a damsel in distress, incapable of making a decision about whether or not she wants to partake.”

Yes.  Put the blame on HER.  Because victim-blaming isn’t an enormous societal problem or anything.  What is so absurd about this is that the author already mentioned the virgin/whore dichotomy, but apparently does not understand what it actually means for society as a whole.  Slut-shaming causes many situation in which many women who are interested in sex feel like they can’t say yes without being whores (no means yes issue).  So therefore, even if this women were interested, she might feel like she can’t say yes.  On the other hand, if she weren’t interested, she might also be afraid of saying no (because she doesn’t want to be labeled a virgin/prude).  So I wouldn’t say that women who face this issue are “damsels in distress.”  I would say that they have lived their lives under an oppressive patriarchy enforced by all of society, and therefore, both saying yes and saying no are more complicated than they might seem.

In summary:  this paragraph has a condescending and reductive attitude toward women who don’t know how to deal with certain situations because their reputations rest on their actions.  Because society sucks, put simply.  And perhaps we shouldn’t blame women for being victims of societal oppression.  Hmmm.

9. “Slut-shaming and sexual confinement, that’s what the Feminists are up to these days.”

It’s funny, because MY 11th grade English teacher would give that analysis an F!

10. The author writes a list, yes a list, of ways that “Robin Thicke’s lyrics and video actually support a feminist manifesto.”  One of these supposed reasons is that the lyric, “you’re far from plastic” means that a woman “is not an object to be subjugated by any man.  I’m going to go ahead and be the first to say that that’s quite a leap to make.  “You’re far from plastic” could mean just about anything, really.  Like, you’re far from vanilla (aka, you like BDSM/kink), or you’re far from typical (aka, you’re super exotic and sexy).  It could pretty much mean anything so I think we should calm ourselves down before we call a single subjective lyric a “feminist manifesto.”

11.  “Naked/scantily clad women playing with large toys in video show they are sexually liberated individuals.”  This is a little bit of a leap as well, to say the least.  Now, I will say that nudity does not necessarily imply objectification.  However, I think in the case of the “Blurred Lines” video, it does.  If the men had been naked/scantily clad, too, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  But they were fully clothed…so what does that mean?  I think it’s probably NOT a leap to say that it does actually imply objectification, as only the women are portrayed as silent and naked.  The men are clothed and singing, in control.  I don’t really see any way you could spin this in which the women aren’t seen as props.

12. The author also says that the feminist reactions to the song and video “imply that women never say yes to sexual advances.”  It’s funny, because I read that precisely nowhere.  Nobody said that women NEVER say yes to sexual advances.  People just have a problem with this song because it perpetuates a culture in which women shouldn’t say yes to sexual advances, because they need to be “good girls,” and it’s okay because men with just “know” when you want them.

So those are my problems with that article.  Comments/additions/questions are totally welcome.

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2 thoughts on “Criticism of the Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines”

  1. Can I also point out the flawed argument in Article A about Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” and how it is perpetuating slutshaming? Because she has received tons of criticism about her lyrics and the oppressive nature of them, and yet the author claim no one is ” batting an eye”. How can she even compare the two songs and THEN call TSwift’s more offensive? Can you take multiple lyrics from her song and match them up to words rapists have said to survivors?! I don’t think so.

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