Blurring the Lines of Feminism: A Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines”

Dear capital-F Feminists, Please Stop the Slut-Shaming. Love, a lower-case-f feminist. 

The first time I heard the funky beats of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” emanating from my radio, I did what any normal, able-bodied human being would do…I boogied my ass off. But just days after the song’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts, scathing criticisms began to arise, citing sexual harassment, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming among many of the artists’ apparently blatant offenses. Because I could never QUITE make out the words behind Thicke’s panting falsetto, I decided to do my own research into the lyrics and see what was really causing the problem. What I found was shocking. I began reading the words fully expecting to arrive at the bottom not only incensed at their content, but also ashamed that I had ever bopped my head and shaken my buns to the beats.

What shocked me were not the lyrics. What shocked me was that I was not offended. In fact, the more I thought about it, I was becoming incensed at the “feminists” who were responding to it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the trigger-happy mob reaction that was really spreading slut-shaming ideas, not to mention criminalizing all male sexuality.

I think in order to understand why I don’t find the song offensive, we have to ask ourselves what it is really about. Everyone seems to think it’s about a guy slinging a helpless girl over his shoulder or dragging her home by her hair. Not so. It is, in essence, about a guy trying to steal a girl away from her boyfriend/current love interest for some hanky-panky. In this sense, the song is no more offensive than “You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift (although in this brief side note I would argue that the latter is actually MORE offensive. Look at her lyrics: “She wears high heels/I wear sneakers….She wears short skirts/I wear tee shirts.” Here, Ms. Nice-Girl-Next-Door is actually implying that the clothes she chooses makes her more down to earth, and therefore more worthy of Neighbor Boy’s love. Now THAT is Grade A slut-shaming, and I don’t see anyone batting an eye).

Now let’s look at these lyrics:

OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you

But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature

Just let me liberate you,

You don’t need no paper,That man is not your maker.

Kind of sounds like a women’s lib anthem if you ask me. I recently read an article on XO Jane that discusses the problems with women in relationships being seen as a man’s territory. And that is exactly what Robin Thicke’s character is saying! “That man is not your maker”—he’s saying her boyfriend doesn’t own her! Granted he has a vested interest in saying that, in that he wants her to stray from her relationship to be with him, but essentially he’s reminding her that she’s an independent person who can make her own decisions about her sexuality, regardless of whether she has a boyfriend.

The reason I was inspired to write this article was because the reactions I saw were becoming increasingly offensive and inaccurate. It began with the controversial feminist parody created by the Law Revue Girls, and the last straw was this article, which compares Thicke’s lyrics with things actual rapists have said to their victims. Quite frankly, 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 want to walk through each point they made and show how it’s a misinterpretation of the actual words and message.

In the article, the author compares Thicke saying “I know you want it” to the practice of victim blaming, which is to say, if a rape victim acted or dressed in a certain way, then he/she was clearly inviting the attack. Of course this is a repulsive notion, and one that is, sadly, ever-present in our society. But we have to remember, in the song, no one has forced any sexual contact on anyone else! There is a WORLD of difference between “I know you want it,” and “I know you wanted it.” If when Beyoncé or Rihanna say “I know you want it,” they’re seen as strong, empowered, independent sexual beings rightfully expressing their desires, why, the second a man says it, do we equate him to a rapist?

The article continues by saying that the line “you’re a good girl” brings up the virgin/whore dichotomy and (erroneously) analyzes that to mean that “a good girl wouldn’t show her reciprocal desire.” (My 11th grade English teacher would give this analysis a C-.)

The “good girl”/”bad girl” dichotomy is NOT equivalent to the virgin/whore dichotomy, and is in fact quite egalitarian when compared to the “good boy”/”bad boy” complement. Think of it this way. The “bad boy” image? That’s the turbulent James Dean untethered by the bonds of societal judgment, player with a pair of Levi’s and a leather jacket type. And a good boy? The steady-as-she-goes financially secure Jimmy Stewart, faithful to his wife and family with a closet full of sweaters type. If you think about it, the same applies for the female counterparts of those roles. The “bad” refers to sexual freedom and straying from the herd, and the “good” refers to commitment and playing by the rules. It’s a tongue-in-cheek a statement about an aesthetic that derives from our overarching societal norms, which is almost always used in a playful manner, and it is not confined to one gender. Saying “I like bad girls” does not mean “I like whores.” Saying “I like good girls” doesn’t mean “I like virgins.”

The next line is a little bit trickier:

“The way you grab me/ Must wanna get nasty.”

The problem with this is obvious. The sexual assault epidemic is largely caused by men (and sometimes women!) who misinterpret mutual interest as a carte blanche to the sexual menu, who don’t understand that explicit consent is still needed, and who furthermore cannot accept ‘no’ for an answer. However, 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! That’s how sexual attraction works! Is it not normal for a woman to think “He probably wants to sleep with me” if a man buys her a drink? Maybe he does. Or maybe he just wanted to have a conversation. But a woman who thinks that isn’t some kind of sexual deviant for making an assumption, unless, after he declines her advances, she forces herself upon him. The same works in reverse: When a woman “grabs” a man in a sexual way (as the song states), there’s a chance that she might “wanna get nasty.” And it’s OK for a guy to think this, so long as he respects the woman’s boundaries and obtains permission before proceeding. However, I think in this case using the word “must” may be in poor taste, because it does evoke the memories people have of someone over-analyzing certain gestures as an invitation to do what they please, and many of us have been there.

The following example is one of the most infuriating. The author states that the line “He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that” is offensive because women want a man who will treat them with a respect, and such contact is degrading. Who made you the bedroom police? Did it ever occur to you that there are a lot of women who like that? Who are in healthy relationships in which each partner has mutual respect for the other as a human being? It is none of your business to decide what the boundaries of respect are in a consensual relationship!

So how are these reactions slut-shaming? If you picture the scene, it seems that the male is making his initial offer to open a sexual relationship with a woman. 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. Of course our mind can run through a hundred scenarios in which a woman says no and a man pursues anyway, and this is wrong. But given that 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. There is no reason to believe that she doesn’t “want it”. In fact, people who are offended by this song clearly think it is SO UNBELIEVABLE that a woman might actually enjoy being treated like this, that they are in essence limiting the scope of what is considered acceptable sexual behavior for a woman. Slut-shaming and sexual confinement, that’s what the Feminists are up to these days.

Furthermore, I find the feminist parody of the song, “Defined Lines,” by the Law Revue Girls, to be pretty repulsive. Just to be clear—I do NOT think it should have ever been banned, as I don’t believe in censorship of any kind, but I disagree with the way they presented their ideas. This comes from the fact that while Thicke’s song never talks about actually hurting or forcing anything on a sexual partner, the Girls’ song EXPLICITY does. The lines “let me emasculate you” and “castrate” you are wholly immature and strip any credence from the discussion of sexual equality. The response to female subjugation is not to WEAKEN the male but to EMPOWER the female. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Not to mention, I almost blew a fuse when she forced the dildo into the male model’s mouth. Cause that’s how we need to respond to violent sexual crimes. With violent sexual crimes. Hey ladies, men get raped too! That is NOT funny; it’s foul, and tragic.

It’s also as if they didn’t even read the lyrics of the original song that they were making fun of. It’s a parody, right? So they’re supposed to be saying the opposite of what the song says, right? What about the line where the law ladies sing “Not fucking plastic.” I guess that’s supposed to be the opposite of a Robin Thicke line where he implies a woman is plastic. Wait, no, his is the same: “You’re far from plastic.” Gee, it almost sounds like he’s telling the woman she’s NOT an object! Another good one is when they croon “you can’t just grab me, that’s a sex crime.” Interestingly enough, in Thicke’s version, he doesn’t grab anyone. It’s actually the woman who grabs him. Not exactly a sex crime instituted by the male patriarchy now is it?

So let’s recap:

How many times do Robin Thicke’s lyrics and video actually support a feminist manifesto?

  1. “Just let me liberate you/you don’t need no papers/that man is not your maker”- he is stating that women are independent as sexual beings
  2. “You’re far from plastic” – he is claiming that this woman is not an object to be subjugated by any man
  3. “Go ahead, get at me” – he is inviting the woman to make the next move! This screams consensual
  4. Naked/scantily clad women playing with large toys in video show they are sexually liberated individuals. Never once do any of these women show any objection to being there, and they strut confidently the whole time. This is not subjugation.

Total: 4 times. Not bad, considering most of the lines are repeated several times.

And how many times do the so-called feminist reactions actually set back the clock on female equality and sexual safety?

  1. Implies that women never say yes to sexual advances
  2. Implies that a naked woman is automatically degraded (as in, a woman can’t choose to be naked/scantily clad as a form of sexual liberation, as in, slut-shaming)
  3. Implies that no woman would consensually agree to be spanked/ have her hair pulled
  4. Mimics an act of violent rape on a male as a joke

Total: 4 times. Oof, ladies, maybe you should take some lessons on how to treat a sexual partner from this guy.

(feedback and comments are welcome, but the second anyone posts anything hateful or leaves the realm of intelligent discussion I will delete it; ain’t nobody got time for that)

Edit: One year and hundreds of thousands of hits later, I’m still reading your thought-provoking comments! Some of you have swayed me on minor points, but I stand by my main argument. A few clarifications for any newcomers to the article or anyone still tracking the comments: 1) I did not mean to say that this song was ACTUALLY written for feminist purposes. I was just pointing out how surprisingly liberating some of the lyrics were given the criticisms. 2) I was never intending to defend Robin Thicke as a person. I honestly had no idea he who was before this song, and I honestly don’t give a crap. He seems like an ass. Great. Any statements made about the voice in this song are referring to the character being portrayed in the song, because songs aren’t always auto-biographical.

Happy to see that I’ve changed a few minds, helped a few others elucidate their opinions, and even driven others to lengthy rage-filled rants against me.

1,123 thoughts on “Blurring the Lines of Feminism: A Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines”

  1. Great article! Im all for women’s lib but some women seriously embarrasse me with their over the top thought process that provokes a victimisation. We all have our big girl panties on and can makes choices and be independent…just as much as we can appreciate men that see us as goddesses. Thanks for your objective realistic breakdown here of something that should be addressed. :)

  2. Hello- nice article. I like both the original and the parody. the good/bad paradigm is problematic when applied to either gender- I think from a wider perspective, Robin Thicke’s song participates in the unfortunate tropes that surround the pattern- ‘goodness’ is fetishised and ‘badness’ is slutshamed in the same way as in Grease (Sandy has to insincerely appropriate Betty Rizzo’s identity, but the girl who actually owns it is portrayed in a negative light). In one way, as you say, the song is recognising the fact that she has sexual agency, but it is also disrespecting that agency because the woman in question has already used that agency to be in a relationship with someone who is not the singer. He is disrespecting her explicit choice to be with someone not-him. The lyrics would indeed be less catchy if he was actually asking whether she is open to a bit of cheating or is in an open relationship rather than inferring from a ‘grab’ what she ‘must’ want it, but alas, I think you too are reading too much into it. It’s a clever song, which positions itself exactly where it’s title says. The line that is blurred doesn’t relate to consent, but are rather the lines between presentation/underlying truth, respect/disrespect, and desire.

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