Image from cultureandlife.co.uk
I am pretty unimpressed with the decision by various universities to ‘ban’ the song ‘Blurred Lines’. As well as being utterly toothless either as censorship or serious condemnation, since the ‘bans’ consist of just not playing it in the student bar, it smacks of an ill-thought-out, knee-jerk reaction, and may instead have the effect of ending the possibility of conversations between men and women that desperately need to be had.
Because of the exhaustive coverage the lyrics of the song (and the video, though I intend to concentrate on the lyrics here) have been given over the summer, it is distressingly clear that a problematic aspect of the song arises from the use of words and phrases that are enormously triggering for both female and male victims of sexual assault and rape. The way in which sexual offenders distort language to contribute to causing a range of fundamental wounds to their victims’ lives is horrifying.
I don’t feel it necessary to cover the same ground as so many other opinion pieces, beyond noting that the use of ‘bitch’ in particular grates with me whenever it is used as a descriptor for a woman. I also don’t particularly like the rap in the original and prefer The Roots’ version. However, I am also prepared to accept that, within the context of an adult and consensual encounter, someone who likes their sex rougher than I do may find the original rap very… compelling.
Because here’s my confession: I find that song really hot. It turns me on.
Robin Thicke has attempted to respond to the criticism of the song by saying on the Today Show: “When we made the song, we had nothing but the most respect for women …We only had the best intentions…It’s supposed to stir conversation… if you listen to the lyrics it says ‘That man is not your maker’ — it’s actually a feminist movement within itself.” Evidently his response has not convinced. I note the clarity of the anger expressed by, among others, The Kraken below.
However, I want to try to walk the difficult line of attempting to clarify what I believe Robin Thicke is trying to say, while accepting the validity of the conflicting views and reactions expressed elsewhere.
I think the song is exploring an experience that is familiar to me, and that is the kind of highly sexually-charged encounter or meeting with someone that I want. I don’t know if this has happened to you, but it has happened to me more than once (and anecdotally it’s also understood by those of my friends that I have discussed this issue with).
I mean a meeting where your eyes meet and there’s an immediate, urgent chemistry. You want that person, and you both know that, at some point, you are going to have each other.
Sometimes you don’t even have to have touched each other, not even in the most non-sexual way, to begin to have the conversation that acknowledges there is a powerful heat between the two of you.
While most of the commentary has focused on an interpretation in which the (undoubtedly very cocky) man is creepily singing to a woman who has shown absolutely no interest in him, an alternative scenario is that he’s absolutely right. The woman does want it, she does want him, and then the lyrics become hot wordy foreplay with nary a touch needed.
I’ll get on to the actual lyrics later, but want to point out that what Robin Thicke has attempted to express in his defence is an exploration of the continuing situation in which being honest, even blunt, about the strong lustful feelings women also experience is complicated at best. In this case, being a ‘Good Girl’ might mean feeling lust for someone, but not feeling allowed to show it or admit to it, or perhaps feeling frightened by the intensity of the body’s response without input by heart or brain, or even feeling that to allow a sexual encounter to take place will cause, afterwards, an automatic reduction in one’s own self-esteem and the respect in which others hold them, including the respect of the person with whom they’ve just been intimate!
And I find it frustrating that so many articles discussed only the scenario in which the woman is not interested – since quite clearly that’s not the scenario Robin meant to explore, and he’s probably a bit tired of feeling comprehensively misunderstood, the object of anger from the women he claims to respect, and endlessly lectured on what he did wrong. He is a person after all, and people tend not to respond positively to lots of criticism without also getting some praise and some guidance on where to fix things in future. Broadly, if we women keep telling men ‘Don’t do this’ – which is perfectly reasonable – we need also to say ‘But try this instead’. It’s the only way to have a conversation with (rather than at) someone with whom you disagree, that doesn’t immediately shut down any constructive results. And we need to have constructive conversations: about rape culture, about female sexuality, about equal pay and equal parental responsibility and all manner of things.
So I’d like to tell Robin what he did right, at least for me.
Here goes: Robin, I like your song a lot, it gets me hot, and that’s because despite being fatly, happily married and 30-something feminist, I am also a highly, powerfully, sexual person and I recognise what you’re talking about. It’s only slightly because you’re kinda my type, physically (and if I were talking to you on Twitter, there might be a winky face here.)
I know the kind of encounter you’re describing, and those encounters and the physical encounters that followed have been some of the hottest and most exhilarating moments of my life.
When you sing ‘I know you want it’ I think of the times when the lust has been unmistakeably written all over my face. When you sing ‘Do it like it hurt’ I think of the times I’ve had when Chandler Bing might have exclaimed “My god, it sounds like someone’s killing her in there”. When you sing ‘What you don’t like work?’ I hear it as a request that a sexual partner is fully engaged in the act with you, so that afterwards her muscles ache pleasurably as after a really good workout.
Most of all, I hear ‘I hate these Blurred Lines’ as a straightforward expression of frustration with anything other than a similarly straightforward response from a woman. Whether the answer is Yes or No.
I was a bit confused by ‘Baby can you breathe?’ in the context of ‘Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica’ until I realised that, in context, it’s clear you were talking about a room full of marijuana smoke. This one does seem to have got you into trouble for the wrong reason, doesn’t it? Sorry about that.
I don’t like women being referred to as ‘bitches’, in whatever context. Sorry, I can’t get past this one Robin, I don’t even like it in dirty talk. But I appreciate that substituting ‘girl’ is also a diminutive from a full-grown man such as you, and ‘woman’ doesn’t actually fit the line. Neither, of course, has the same ‘punch’ as you need at that point in the song to give it a climactic moment. So I’m not sure what to suggest instead, and of course, this whole ‘bitch’ thing isn’t something you in particular made up. But, I really think there ought to be some alternatives – perhaps you can think of some others please Robin? And tell your colleagues too. Cheers.
Lastly, I would really have liked it if you’d been perhaps a bit clearer in discussions about the meaning of the song, and especially I think it would be great if you confirmed for us that you do mean that when a man talks this bluntly to a woman, he should appreciate and expect honesty from her in return, so that the only sort of response to ‘I know you want it’ that he would even consider moving forward with is something like ‘Yes, I want you too.’
Janey Burton likes to have constructive conversations with loads of people, so come and chat @JRFBurton. She also enjoys constructively criticising authors, publishers and agents as a Publishing Consultant, offering Editorial, Marketing and Contracts services at www.janeyburton.com.