Last week, more than 20 universities across the United Kingdom banned Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” from being played in student union spaces.
The action was taken because students felt the song promoted rape culture in addition to perpetuating the notion that it was okay to objectify women, according to The Guardian.
Although the aims of the ban are admirable, its methods are questionable.
In the eyes of the student unions, banning “Blurred Lines” should be taken as a sign that the derogatory acts toward women are unacceptable. However, there is nothing from the ban itself that will prevent sexual assault or sexism from happening on university campuses.
Students who want to listen to the song can continue to listen to it on their iPods or on the radio.
This is not in any way an endorsement of “Blurred Lines,” or the sexist behavior it aggrandizes. It is an opportunity to explore the role that Thicke’s song plays in the worldwide struggle against patriarchy.
Instead of an outright ban, the growing popularity of “Blurred Lines” should be an opportunity for faculty to engage with students about why Thicke’s song is problematic.
Right before the chorus, Thicke (speaking to a woman) says, “Okay now he was close, tried to domesticate you. But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you.” These lines can be construed to mean that a woman needs a man to become civilized. In this particular instance, the woman Thicke is speaking to is incapable of being tamed, so Thicke suggests that she should give into her innate desires and allow him to “liberate” her.
The idea that men are the ones who civilize women implies that men are the final arbiters who get to decide what is acceptable behavior and that women cannot control their own destinies.
Domestication, the process Thicke puts forth as necessary for women, involves behavior where women cannot be explicit about their sexual desires, although men can. Instead of challenging patriarchy, a system of society where men hold all the power, Thicke is reaffirming it.
In the music video, Thicke is accompanied by T.I. and Pharrell Williams, all of whom are fully dressed. This is contrasted heavily with the women who are dancing beside them, barely wearing anything.
The nudity symbolizes the lack of privacy women are afforded in aspects of their lives, from their thoughts to the breaths they take. All must be revealed to their masters. It also perpetuates the idea that women should not dress for the purpose of functionality, but in a way that entertains and pleases men.
The women remain silent throughout the music video as the three men do all of the talking and singing. Although this may appear to be harmless, it actually normalizes the submission of women. Their forced silence makes it appear as if they have no problem with having their lives dictated to them, suggesting that women who watch the music video also should not object to this type of treatment by men.
What’s more, the women in the video are adorned with jewelry whereas the men are wearing none. This feature, which would normally be seen as empowering, has been inverted to become oppressive to the women in Thicke’s video.
As the balance of power is skewed towards Thicke and his two male colleagues, the jewelry’s purpose is to correct the imbalance created by their uneven worth. The value of women is already assumed to be lower than that of men, so women need the added value of the jewelry to compensate.
Showing both the men and the women in the video without jewelry, in the paradigm that Thicke has created, would have insinuated that both sexes are equal.
The textual analysis of Thicke’s lyrics and the cultural analysis of his video, which underscored the sexism in his song, were only made possible by the privilege that this author has had in being marginally educated on feminism.
Quite frankly, this author’s knowledge of the subject happened by chance, as he came across influences who thought he should know.
It is unfortunate that society expects everyone to understand what sexism and feminism are without putting in resources and regulations into institutions of learning to make this expectation a reality.
Banning “Blurred Lines” at universities closes the opportunity for meaningful conversation by experts who can better articulate its inherent flaws.