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)

1,083 thoughts on “Blurring the Lines of Feminism: A Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines”

  1. Pingback: Blurring the Lines of Feminism: A Criticism of the Criticism of “Blurred Lines” | Kind Empire

  2. Very nice article, KC! I think there’s a lot of disparity in the feminism community. I agree with what you’re saying in this article, I’ve pressed your article, and you’ve inspired me to publish my own article on my blog! Thank you so much!

  3. Why is no one bannnig “Call me, Maybe?” In that video a near naked man is relentlessly pursued by an hysterical woman who even feigns her own accident. She objectifies him into being a knight on horseback. Why was that accepted?

  4. Reblogged this on Kind Empire and commented:
    This is a great article about free thinking. It shows us that feminism and political ‘correctness’ are subjective. Perhaps we should rename the term political correctness, because it implies a single unanimous answer.

  5. Reblogged this on sex culture & curves and commented:
    Well here you go, another opinion on Robin Thicke’s song, a parody of which I posted earlier in time (and is mentioned in this article).
    it’s always good to have balanced views on things and I happen to agree with everyone. I think song lyrics and film clips are getting out of control with their sexual content and what I consider to be inappropriate content, and I say that because it’s no longer about the MUSIC and that’s a tragedy.

  6. Great article.

    Hey you, yes you! The ones with the collective moral outrage over this song?
    Do I have your attention? Ok, great. Well, thank you for your very vocal opinions and contributions to feminist discourse over this issue. May I request that you also spend some time on voicing the same level of discontentment with say sexual violence against women pretty much in every war zone across the world today (and there are lots…google search, key word “sexual violence against women”), or around modern day slavery (including sex trafficking and just plain old holding women in slavery and bondage)? Lets get people talking about that stuff!

    Now, I know these aren’t hot topics, and *probably* wont get us a lot of popularity in the weekly coffee shop get togethers and/or that self satisfaction that comes from having made an important point that everyone listens to, nods their heads to and does a round of tut tuts to, but I suppose its worth a try, right?

  7. Well done on your essay. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it more or less than the feisty discussion that it has provoked. Its a pleasure to read thoughtful discourse even though the subject of the discussion is about flatulent pop music.

  8. This is just about everything I’ve ever said about this song when people flip about it. Good to see I’m not the only feminist who doesn’t think it means hating men and all sexuality. People don’t seem to realize that assuming a woman is only confident in order to attract men are perpetuating the idea that men are the only reason we exist; for their entertainment and pleasure.

    Anywho, the only part I disagree with is what you said about Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me. I think you were doing a bit of your own reading too into the lyrics to become enraged over. Her “She wears short skirts” bit wasn’t meant, IMO, to slut-shame. She’s simply pointing out how different she is from the gf. The gf is a cheerleader and a “girly girl”, whereas Taylor is more of a tomboy, band geek, girl-next-door type. That’s all. And she’s trying to point out to the male in question that the girly type isn’t really his type. (She also does this in talking about how the gf doesn’t understand his humor, or like the same music). This idea is further pressed when she brings up his worn out jeans. The gf is seemingly concerned with fashion, whereas the male (and Taylor) are not.

    Otherwise, spot on! And thank you for not making me fight this fight alone :)

  9. Really enjoyed reading this! We spend much to much time being offended instead of just embracing humanity and sexuality etc!

  10. Thank you for writing this! I found out today that groups within my university are campaigning to ban this song on campus which I find absolutely ridiculous. I’ve never been that offended by the song if I’m being honest, and I think that a lot of the people who have claimed offence are just jumping on the bandwagon of a popular opinion.
    While I do think that Robin Thicke is a bell end and feel mildly annoyed that he thinks he has to power to “liberate” me, I do think the hysteria surrounding him is a bit much.

  11. aaah thank you for posting this! Thank god someone thinks this too. It’s all how about you read the lyrics, but at the end of the day I only dislike this song before it’s so totally overplayed!

  12. I’m amazed any serious criticism of “Blurred Lines” can be taken seriously when not once is the blatant ripping-off of Marvin Gaye’s classic, “Got to Give It Up” even mentioned. The Gaye estate is suing Thicke and his collaborators for their musical body snatching.

    Which is reason enough for me to not take this criticism all that seriously.

  13. I want to start by saying – finally! A real honest look. Your comments about the feminazi movement are accurate – women oppress each other more than men do in this country.

    I agree Thicke is exploring and opening up options for women and what a good girl is by helping them explore all of thier sexual options before deciding. That is what men are encouraged to do, why shouldn’t women? Here’s why: for women, it will negatively impact her personally and professionally. To present those options to her as if there are no consequences and her right is misleading and just not true. For him, he will have what he wants with no impact on his life. He cannot fathom what that will do to her. While he is trying to liberate her, she is paying for the rest of her life. Its free and encouraged for men, its a high price for women. That is not equality.

    I also do not think that everyone that ever thinks “you wanna” is intending to hurt anyone. In fact, many women are hurt by guys that never intended to hurt them. A woman can be raped by someone that did not intend to rape her. The idea that a woman is capable of saying no when she is scared, confused, embarrased, or drunk is an example of the guy never hearing no (thereby not forcing her), but the woman being severely traumatized by the experience. He often never even realizes that she us confused, scared, or embarrassed because she has been trained to hide it by feminatzis. She was raped does not mean that he is a rapist – trying to control, overpower, or get something she didnt want to give.

    Also, the idea that rape is a violent act is rarely true. The body will usually go limp with fear which can be interpreted as consent because no refusal or pushback has occurred. A woman being raped may also climax – the body is designed to respond to penetration… that does not mean she wanted that person to do that or that she is not psychologically damaged during that process.

    A woman can also rape a man without intending to hurt them, not realizing he has a huge social stigma if he says no and – not taking “no, I have a girlfriend” seriously and trying to turn him on is rape, even if he climaxed. He may not even see it that way, but the psychological response is – something happened to me that affects my life and I could/did not stop it.

    The sad part of the research of what rapists say (intentional rapists) is not because a song like this gives them the idea of how to rape. Rapists use these phrases so that they can blend in with the guy that really didn’t realize they were hurting their partner. He blends in with the ones that were “liberating” her.

    The difficulty with this specific song is that he is counting on ambiguity as an opportunity. That he can interpret what he wants in every move she makes. For example… the way she grabs him makes him think she wants to get nasty. His version of nasty. He doesnt ask her, he tells her – when you do that – it means this. Which is projecting and then he cover it with the blanket term “blurred lines” – like society is keeping her from his version of nasty. That is gas lighting. “I would not think like this if you didnt grab me” means she is responsible for his nasty thoughts.

    The last thing I want my college age son to think is when a girl touches him or even grabs him that its open season for every porn site he’s ever seen or that blurred lines is a game set up by the world you should push past for the sake of those “good girls that wanna.” I also don’t want him to think she doesnt know what she wants and its his job or that he can alleviate the personal and professional price she will pay.

    Is “Blurred Lines” confusing young people? Yes. Old people too. Madonna did that. Elvis did that. However neither Elvis nor Madonna ever used blurred lines as an excuse for projecting thier personal fetishes into other peoples actions. That is not healthy for Thicke or the good girl.

  14. I cannot begin to say how happy I am to see this presented in a logical way. I have been thinking of how to do this myself without getting a massive backlash of offended feminists. I loved this song, then we had a new girl start at work and straight away no-one was allowed to listen to the “rape song”. I pointed out the same four lines you have here and how they can actually be seen as empowering. She then showed me the law revue video to which I conceded Robin Thicke may have been able to present it in a better light, but it was also a good use of “Blurred Lines” between what society see’s as a woman. The Law Revue one was not blurred but simply overstepped a very definite line, and to make it worse, they were congratulated for it.

    I’m going to stop there so I don’t get too many people baying for my blood but needless to say now that the worker in question has left, men and women start smiling and start having a little boogy when the song comes on.

  15. wow, this really made me happy to read. someone who understands that women can be sexual beings and…..shockingly be a strong independant (not to mention respectable) women? genuinely a nice person? unfathomable right? not to mention instigate the sexual act. man, i’m so sick of hearing people saying women have to be an sexless angel or they’re a horrible slut. this is truely a breath of fresh air.

  16. Reminds me of when Britney was criticized for “Hit me baby one more time” as romanticing domestic violence when it was clear she meant “Hit this baby one more time”.

    I thought this was a song about trying to seduce a girl from a committed relationship. Robin says it is about his relationship about his wife. Well – has his interpretation and I have mine. Some think it is about rape. Ugh. Hope not but I can see that interpretation as well.

    Hope the parady song is well done.

  17. Me encanta estas criticas, propias de mentes enfermas y mierdas, gente inferior solo por ver siempre machismo en cualquier acto, PUTA AUTENTICA MIERDA, eso es el feminismo actual, los hombres y mujeres nrmales solo vemos un video simpatico.
    Iros al psiquiatra a curaros toda la mierda que teneis dentro.

  18. Those models will be saying in years to come ….”yes thats me, in the Robin Thicke video” “wasn’t I hot”!!!!……”and I was paid well for walking about with three blokes who all reeked of cheap aftershave”!!!……….no harm done!…..was he singing “lets rape them at gunpoint and then set them on fire”?????????? no he wasn’t so get over it.

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