Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Blurred Lines"... Of Consent?: Misogyny in the Music Industry and Media

Like every song churned out by the major music industries, "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke is pretty much on every radio industry you listen to. It has a catchy beat and the guy can sing. All's good, right? Talent has come to the music industry? Think again.

Upon closer inspection of the lyrics, I realized what exactly the title referred to. Consent. "I hate these blurred lines. I know you want it," Thicke sings. "Good girl." The saddest part is I'm not taking it out of context. This song is talking about the "blurred lines" of consent when it's not clear whether or not she is actually capable of consent and when consent is not clear. In other words, it's rape.  Thicke refers to the girl he sings about as "the hottest bitch", an "animal" that he needs to "domesticate" and of course "a good girl" for submitting to his questionable sexual activities. TI finishes off the degrading of this nameless girl:  "One thing I ask of you/ lemme be the one you back that ass into/ Had a bitch, but she ain't bad as you [...] I'm a nice guy but don't get confused, you're getting it." Essentially, this girl is not seen as a human being with feelings, not worthy of respect. She is an object and her consent (or lack thereof) doesn't seem to matter. Despite what the fact that he knows he's raping her, he's still a "nice guy" just giving in to what he sees as normal sexual behavior. The music video further demonstrates what the song is trying to portray. The "nice guys" are donned in suits and ties while the stupid "bitch[es]" stare up at the camera with vapid expressions on their faces, wearing plastic wrapped skimpy clothes in the censored version and nothing at all in the uncensored one. The men are the sophisticated, presumably competent ones while women are presumably their rudimentary counterparts. In essence, they're the objects that these men are trying to capture for their own gratification, the plastic further demonstrating this.

But this isn't normal sexual behavior. This song isn't promoting good, albeit sexual, fun. It's promoting rape.I know a lot of feminists make big deals out of stupid crap and get easily offended over sex/ relationships and anything resembling male sexual behavior but I'm not one of them. I don't like how easily feminists throw a powerful word like misogyny (hatred towards women) around when only mild to moderate sexism (stereotypes, bias and prejudice/discrimination against women) has been shown. I'm not someone "easily offended" and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I can't help but take offense at this song and it's hard to see it as singing about anything but rape. And this song isn't just sexist; it's misogynistic.

This song and its accompanying music video is only a small piece of the picture. The music industry and the media is on a total sexism/ misogyny bonanza. Hip hop and rap has been totally overrun with lyrics about "bitches" and "hook ups"; pop is a bit more subtle, having female stars sing only about having sex and being drunk with men having sex with women and also being drunk. Women are being objectified at a much higher rate than men. There's a serious dearth in strong female characters in the media; women act and look only a few numbers of ways and in a few numbers of roles while men act in much more varied ways. And that's a problem. 

There's nothing wrong with a little bit of objectification. I know, I know, I shouldn't say that but it's true. These women are consenting to be objectified; people attracted to those in question are happy. And, I admit, I swoon just as much over the Abercrombie and Fitch models as any other girl does, personally. However, the problem comes when you exclusively objectify women; that is to say, only show them in a sexual way. When you don't show them in any other way or in any other role. Rather than showing women as sexual beings who can have a good time every once in a while, they are shown only as objects. And when these "objects" show that they too have sexual feelings, they are punished and labelled as "sluts". Not to mention, as I said before, men are not treated in this fashion. Occasionally, men are shown as sexual objects. However, they are also shown in a variety of other roles in the media and in film as well when women are not. Men are shown as sexual beings; women are not. The sexes receive two completely different kinds of treatment.

There's nothing wrong with having a ditsy blonde or any other stereotypical woman, either. But the same issue applies. When these stereotypes are the only thing that are there and not evenly applied, that's a problem.

The Bechdel test perfectly demonstrates women's role in a male-dominated media. If you've never heard of the Bechdel test, essentially it's as follows: two named women in a movie have to have a conversation about something other about something other than a man. They only need to have one conversation and it can literally be about anything even about some stereotypical conversation about something like shopping lasting any amount of time. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. Famous examples of movies that fail the Bechdel test include: Transformers, Hangover and even a great many deal of  Harry Potter movies. The movies that usually do pass this test tend to have women as the female protagonists rather than a movie with a male protagonist that shows women as equals. If you do this test and replace "female" with "black", it's even worse. A lot of movies will get out of the claims of racism, sexism, etc. by having the one token black and/or female character. However, this character's exclusive focus is usually on the main character and they have little to no life outside of the main character.

These kinds of messages are obviously very much harmful to women and girls. They may be implicit enough not to be responded to directly. They begin to see themselves as they are represented and they work so hard to conform to these stereotypes. Many of them, feeling the presence of these messages, even turn to slut-shaming and pressuring their peers into this lifestyle, making themselves indirectly responsible for their own oppression. It's a vicious cycle.

It's not easy on guys, either. Men are affected in even subtler ways. With models of good behavior hard to come by, it's easy for guys to disrespect women in the same manner as they've been shown. With sensitivity seen as uncool and feminine, men are pressured to shunning their emotional sides. Patriarchy affects them too and often backfires. Because of this, men are discriminated in divorce cases, domestic violence cases, etc. The media might view women as stupid, overly emotional sexual objects deserving of sexist treatment but they also view men as bad spouses, bad parents and cruel, insensitive, "macho" people. After all, if women are told that even the slightest baring of skin meant that they are "asking for it", what does this say about men? What message does that send them? Implicitly, this says that they are such disgusting animals that they cannot restrain themselves, even if it means horribly impacting the emotional welfare of the women they are assaulting. And that's not fair on them either. For these reasons, men have even reason to be outraged by these messages as women do.

The media isn't everything. However, it is the mark we leave behind and the lens we view ourselves through. It is what we consume every day, the messages we put on repeat. It affects us more than we think. Is this really what we want to leave behind? What we want to feed ourselves? This is pathetic and we can do better. I'm not even touching on the racism, homophobia and general prejudice the media also demonstrates. If enough people take a stand, things can change.

With their misogynistic messages, Robin Thicke and similar musicians are a part of the problem. You and I can be a part of the solution.

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