Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” And Why Degrading Music Can Empower Some Women While Offending Others

July 31, 2013  |  

There are certainly lots of  “blurred lines” when it comes to calling out the controversy over Robin Thicke’s new song.

I’m speaking in particular of this column called, I Am A Woman, And I Am Empowered By Degrading Music, by Chelsea Fagan, which I read recently in the bastion of white, Williamsburg-hipster 20-something angst, known to most as The Thought Catalog:

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about the song “Blurred Lines,” and more specifically, how we should stop telling women what to be offended by — including songs like that. I (and other women I know) had been labeled “un-feminist” or expected to apologize for enjoying it, and I found the whole ordeal to be — if somewhat expected — extremely condescending. And while the response to that article was largely positive, I did receive several comments (both online and in real life) along the lines of, “But don’t you know that song is so degrading to women?” And the truth is, I didn’t. I had not noticed that that song — or the myriad other songs whose lyrics largely describe the sexual appeal of a woman and the sexual tension that is felt while dancing — was degrading. Because, at least to me, for something to be degrading requires a feeling of being actively degraded. These songs, beyond not upsetting me, actually make me feel quite positive as a whole. Perhaps they are degrading for some — and each person has that choice to make — but there is nothing about them that makes them universally negative for women.”

Fair point. Admittedly the whole hubris over “Blurred Lines” went largely over my head. Just to be certain I wasn’t missing much, I looked up the lyrics – all ten of them (seriously, I’m beginning to think Thicke has Tetris on Gameboy behind those piano keys when no one is looking because he certainly ain’t composing) – and nothing I heard was that much out of the norm. The norm, of course, being the usual heap of b**ches; f**king bad b**ches, F**k those b**ches and other ways artists express disdain for disobedient women. And if I am being honest, most music played on the radio today sounds like one long blurred line of misogynistic degradation.

Still, I’m inclined to give credence to Fagan’s other point about the empowering feeling, which can arise from being the object of someone else’s desire:

In fact, I find these songs more amusing than anything else. The points of incoherence to which our sexuality and femininity can drive musicians and artists is simply astounding, and the songs which portray men as completely stupefied by the booty shaking in front of them, seem to reflect more poorly on the men for whom they speak than anything else. To take the lyrics in this song, to own them completely and say to oneself as a woman, “Yes, were s*xy and appealing. You do wish you could be with us. And maybe, if you play your cards right and we decide we like you, we’ll let it happen” is an experience that I and I believe many other women find incredibly empowering. When I hear 2 Chainz musing about how much he loves them strippers, I can’t help but agree with his tastes. Seeing a woman completely in control of her body and her sexuality, dancing to songs that were meant to objectify her but only end up highlighting the power of her autonomy, is viscerally attractive.”

Personally speaking, I’m less offended by male sexual bravado, particularly talk about splitting “it” in two or “beating the -ussy up.” In the right context and circumstances, that kind of talk (for me and I imagine a few others) can be a turn-on. And like Fagan, I too have had a few cackles over certain “defamatory” lyrics to songs, which often is more of a bad reflection on the singer/rapper than the actual subject. I mean, lyrics, which reference women as “h*es” and the only proof offered of her illicit ways is a sexual experience she had with the man calling her that, probably speaks louder volumes of either his own twisted internal relationship with sex and what attracts him than the “h*e” in question. To that, I give a solid hi-five to Fagan. But I recently caught Thicke’s performance of the controversial song on The TODAY Show and I’m back to rolling my eyes again.

If you missed it, you can check it out on the TODAY Show’s Summer Concert Series page. You will note that in addition to videos from the performance, Thicke countered the controversy with an equally absurd claim of being a feminist himself. In fact, he says about “Blurred Lines,” “It’s saying that men and women are equals as animals and as power – you know, in power, and that we are supposed to just – it doesn’t matter if you are a good girl or a bad girl.” Yeah, I have no idea what Thicke is saying and I’m not quite sure he does either. Moreover, along with the video of his performance and interview, we also get treated to a nice story about all the “great Tweets, Vines and Instagrams from our fans and TODAY anchors” who support the song. And that’s when I realized Fagan’s rationale of the degrading, while sincere to her experience, was kind of bulls**t.

No way would a black singer or rapper, particularly one that is a thorn in the side of the white feminist community, be allowed to flaunt the bane of his controversy – whether it was warranted or not – on the TODAY Show. Last time I saw Kanye West with Matt Lauer, he was apologizing to Taylor Swift and George Bush Jr. – and white folks have yet to forgive him for either statement about those individuals. And a Summer Concert Series with Chris Brown, aka the favorite whipping boy of the white feminist community? I imagine that those “tweets, Vines and Instagrams from our fans and TODAY anchors” would look totally different. They certainly wouldn’t be playful streams of dancing, mostly white, babies and Al, Hoda, Kathy and Savannah excitedly screaming about an encore performance of “Blurred Lines.”

Now I am in no way excusing Brown or West or any other black rapper from their willful participation in misogyny. Seriously, screw those guys. But rather, I’m pointing out the subjective context in which we justify which woman it is – and is not – okay to subjugate. It doesn’t hurt either that Thicke, who caters primarily to R&B and is married to a black woman, is at least image-wise no threat to white womanhood. And Fagan, who I imagine is an educated young woman with options in life including writing, might have the privilege to both see and use exotic dancing as a form of liberation. But for the women, who had or still have to see it as a paycheck to help feed themselves and possibly their family, it might not feel so liberating. In fact, they might even feel enslaved to the economic power that the profession holds over them. And then there are those women, who just readily object to being called “b**ch” in any context. I’m not saying that Fagan should stop dancing and immediately start protesting over the plight of every nameless stripper, which some funny-looking dude named 2 Chainz decides to pen a tune about. But she shouldn’t so readily and flippantly dismiss folks’ rightful objection to the lyrics of degrading music because women like her don’t bear the brunt of that sort of exploitation.

Fagan’s column, while again sincere to her experience, is a reminder to me that the struggle to empower all women isn’t necessarily inclusive. By the way, the only thing that’s worse than the lyrics to “Blurred Lines” is the actual music video itself. A parade of topless women in n*de-colored bottoms dancing around a fully-dressed Thicke as well as Pharrell and T.I., who both contribute to the track. Although Diane Martel, director of the music video, might see it as some sort of triumph for the video vixens (actually she calls it “subtle ridiculing” because the girls look into the camera while they flash their bare chest), there is not one flabby, fat woman amongst them. It’s hard to claim empowerment when you “subtly” reinforce the very standards of oppression.

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  • Shawndrea Rachelle

    Omg, am I the only one who has SEEN the UNCUT video?!??!? How is that not degrading?

  • TxnStrong

    I am more offended that this song butchered “Got to Give it Up” more than anything.

  • Good Girl

    The song is catchy. Its good. People just need to be mad at something.

  • Enjuli Bullock

    Yea I like song….hey hey hey

  • Guest360

    I’m so dumbfounded by the commentary for this song. Of all the songs to overanalyze, THIS is the one people choose? Its meant to be a fun song and nothing to take too seriously. If you like it, fine. If not, that’s ok too. But to invoke who is and is not a feminist, white priviledge, equality between the sexes, etc. is a bit much for me for a song that’s not even that complex to be analyzed as much as it has!

  • Nicholas. X. W. Williams

    I really like this article lol, but I couldn’t write about how this song is objectifying women because I am a man.

    • hollyw

      Aaactually, it’s perhaps even more impactful when men express this lol.

  • Kam

    At some point people have to realize that what one finds offense in, another may find no offense at all. If you like the music listen to it, if not change the station and move on in life. But in all honesty if you sit back and read the lyrics of most love songs (R&B and pop) they can all at some point be thrown into the category of degrading towards women. Why is this song such a hot button issue?

  • York

    I’m still tripping off how folks are managing to get SO MUCH COMMENTARY off this song lol.

    Of all the songs to overanalyze…

  • folamix

    Personally, I love the beat and didn’t really start paying attention to the lyrics until folks started commenting on it.

  • JustB’nReal

    The answer is very simple: Every woman is different. That is why. The same reason some women find stripping empowering and others find it tasteless and degrading.

    • hollyw

      …except most women find stripping degrading. As well as many men.

      • JustB’nReal

        Most…not all…which is the point of my statement….

      • Ebony Tate Haebich

        thats a pretty big statement to make. I doubt you can back up that claim. At least with the people I am exposed to, the majority including women do not find it degrading.

        • hollyw

          Actually, it’s not, and I’m sure I could, if I thought it worth the energy, but I don’t feel the need to “back up” anything, currently. It doesn’t take rocket science to know the status quo. If the majority you know find stripping empowering, you either don’t know a lot of people, or most of them are strippers.

  • Mon Chéri

    I love this article…very profound way of expressing an opinion that many have gone the wrong way about addressing.

  • enoughsaid99

    First off this song was written by a black artist, and sung by Robin Thicke. I see nothing degrading about this song.

    • Paul Dronette

      who wrote this song?

      • keysor

        Pharrell

  • chanela

    oh, okay. men and women are equal, yet women are always the only ones naked while men are fully clothed (and i mean FULLY clothed). sounds equal to me. smh

    • guest

      Whose fault is that? Nobody forced those women to be naked. They made the CHOICE to be naked. Just because it isn’t a choice that you would make does not make things unequal.

      • lisa

        I completely agree,just because you don’t make the same decision as someone else, doesn’t mean your wrong.

        • chanela

          when did i say that it wasn’t a choice? of course it’s a choice. it’s just irritated to constantly see women butt naked in movies,tv, and magazines while men in the same place are fully clothed.

          i never said it wasn’t a choice.

          • Nicholas. X. W. Williams

            Well if you look at a lot of European movies, the men are more or just as equally naked as the women.

      • Nia

        While it is their choice, it also shows that we live in a male dominated society. If women were the ones running Hollywood or the music indrustry, the videos would reflect it. So the fact that you see so many half naked women in videos, advertising, movies, etc, shows that even in today’s society, men and women are still not equal.

  • LaLa

    OK, I really just like the song. While I am the FIRST usually to turn the station dial, not buy a song, boycott an artist I think is coming from a place of disrespect, I just don’t hear it in this song. And then from the little I know about Robin and some of his previous songs – there’s never been anything that’s gotten my hackles up. TI, Pharrell, maybe. Robin, no. So, I’m just gonna keep jamming to “Blurred Lines” until I get sick of hearing it on the radio. Which will be very soon, the way they are rotating it these days.