Note: I was told to write a research paper analyzing a piece of “literature.” I chose Blurred Lines, and this is the result.
One of the first words that children learn is “no,” so why is it so difficult for countless grown men to understand it? Marge Piercy’s “Rape poem” says, “there is no difference between being raped/and being run over by a truck/except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.” The patriarchal societies in the modern world allow men to assume that women are their birthright, and this belief is encouraged by the male-dominated rap music industry. Performers such as Robin Thicke, Eminem, and Flo Rida have written popular songs celebrating the objectification, degradation, and sexual abuse of women and make off relatively unscathed due to their immunity guaranteed to them by the patriarchy.
Most modern societies are patriarchal in nature, meaning that men have unofficial but significant advantages, which result in imbalances of power in areas such as wealth, job status, and social expectations. These imbalances often lead to women having substantially less influence than their own lives than men do. The arguments over abortions in the Texas state senate in the summer of 2013 could be taken as an example. The debate concerns the bodies of women but is being argued primarily by men, illustrating the imbalance of power that a patriarchy brings.
One of the most dangerous results of a patriarchal society is the presence of a rape culture. This term refers to “practices which excuse, normalize, or even promote rape or sexual violence,” especially against women (Roberts 1). Rape culture includes both “institutional sexism” in the government and misogyny in pop culture. Institutional sexism and rape culture are heavily entwined. An example is police officers not investigating rape cases due to actions by the women (i.e. the way that she was dressed, where she was walking, her intoxication level, etc.) or a belief that the victims are exaggerating or overreacting.
Pop culture is another area where rape culture is clear and evident. Popular music, especially that written by men, often refers to women as “hoes,” “bitches,” and “sluts.” Performers such as Eminem, Flo Rida, and Robin Thicke rap and sing about how they would like to sleep with the females in their songs, yet they objectify and insult the objects of their lust. The song “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke, is full of references to non-consensual sex and other characteristics of rape culture, and is a prime example of how popular the objectification of women and the trivialization of rape has become. The lyrics of “Blurred Lines,” as well as the lyrics of other songs by equally popular artists, encourage a misogynistic attitude by promoting messages straight from the mouths of rapists and those who make excuses for them.
One line from the chorus of “Blurred Lines” that has been reported to have been said by rapists to their victims is especially disturbing. “I know you want it,” Thicke sings repeatedly during the chorus (Blurred 1). And in Thicke’s song “Sex Therapy,” he says, “you don’t have to say anything.” Performers other than Thicke have repeated this sentiment as well. In “Superman,” Eminem raps, “you know you want me baby/you know I want you too.” This belief (that all women secretly want to be raped) is called the “rape wish” (Gavey 19). Another phrasing of the same sentiment is “she was asking for it,” or “you were asking for it” which has been said by countless rapists (Project Unbreakable). These women do not have to ask with their words, however; the men who believe in the “rape wish” could take any expression or action from their victims to indicate that they can go ahead with their sexual pursuit.
The belief in the “rape wish” can be so strong that rapists can believe that even when a woman specifically does not consent, that she wants sex anyway. According to a judge in 1996 New Zealand, “if every man stopped the first time a woman said ‘No,’ the world would be a much less exciting place to live.” (Gavey 23) The confidence that these men have that women want them overrides the clear refusal given. For example, in Thicke’s song “When I Get You Alone” he sings “all these illusions just take us too long.” The key word in that line is “illusions,” implying that the woman who is the object of the song is lying about not wanting Thicke.
Another feature of rape culture is the objectification of women, especially in language used by more people than just rapists. In English, there are 220 words for a female who is sexually promiscuous with only 20 for a man who sleeps around just as much, creating an illusion that women are sexual objects (Benedict 1). In one rap by Flo Rida, he uses the metaphor of a “hoe” about the female subject of his story (Still Missin). “I shoulda kept that hoe in the kitchen,” he raps, and then later specifies, “I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the hoe you find in the dictionary.” In rap music “hoe” means “a prostitute, whore, hooker, tramp, slut” (UrbanDictionary 1). In “Still Missin”, Flo Rida is literally turning the woman that he had a relationship with into an object used to do work around the garden.
Language in “Blurred Lines” also includes degradation of women; Thicke sings “you’re an animal baby, it’s in your nature” (Blurred 1). Describing a woman as an “animal” turns them into something that is irrational and groveling; something that cannot control itself, so must be controlled by men, and is grateful for that. Another example of Thicke demeaning women through music is when he sings “lay right here, girl, /don’t be scared of me” in his song “Sex Therapy.” Rape is about power, not sexual desire, so this line is revealing because it shows that Thicke does not want a mutual sex partner, he wants an object that he can use to satisfy himself, just like a rapist.
Rape culture, besides simply objectifying and degrading women, also creates an impossible paradox for them, in that they are expected to be both pure and sexually experienced. For example, in “Blurred Lines” Thicke calls the object of his lust an “animal,” suggesting that she has a sexual lifestyle, but then later calls her a “good girl.” This type of inconsistency is associated with the “virgin/whore dichotomy,” in which a woman is forced to “perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires” (Koehler 2). Language describing rape victims in newspapers is often used to make woman sound younger or to label them as sexual temptresses (Benedict 2). Now, while this is harmless when it is a fantasy between two consenting adults, when a rapist is repeating this ideology to his victim, it is a problem.
In rape trials, the defense will often try to make a case suggesting that the victim was somehow at fault for what the defendant did to her. Maybe the woman was drunk, or in a wrong neighborhood, she could have flirted with her rapist, worn something too revealing, or danced too provocatively. These “excuses” are examples of slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and are used to pin the reason for the rape on but the rapist. For example, the subject of Thicke’s “When I Get You Alone” is a confident woman who is considered attractive, but who refuses to treat him like he is special. He sings, “Because you walk pretty/because you talk pretty/’cause you make me sick.” Thicke is attracted to the subject of the song, yet hates her because she does not fawn over him, instead using her body to get what she wants. Thicke also blames the victim in “Blurred Lines,” singing “the way you grab me/must wanna get nasty.” In these lines, he is saying that because she dances in a certain way, and flirts with him, she must want to have sex with him. And due to his belief in the rape wish, forcing sex upon her despite her refusal is justified.
All three performers also brag about having slept with women who were under the influence of alcohol and drugs, despite that their intoxication means that they were not in their right mind and therefore could not give legitimate consent. Eminem asks, “you high baby?” in the beginning of “Superman,” and Flo Rida says “I got just what we need, Hennessy and some weed” in his song “Freaky Deaky.” In “Blurred Lines,” Thicke says “talk about getting blasted,” with blasted meaning intensely intoxicated on alcohol, drugs, or a combination thereof. If people are unable to drive when they’re under the influence of either of those substances, they shouldn’t be allowed to give sexual consent to strangers.
Susan Griffin once said “rape is not an isolated act that can be rooted out from patriarchy without ending patriarchy itself.” Rape culture is the same, it is an integral byproduct of the patriarchy. Both rape and patriarchal societies are about power, rape being power over the victim and the patriarchy being power over women. The misogynistic music of Robin Thicke, Eminem, and Flo Rida illustrates different aspects of rape culture, but they are only successful due to the society that buys into the message of the music. Once society stops assisting in their delusion, becoming more aware of the messages behind “Blurred Lines” and other songs like it, rape culture and the patriarchy will lose their efficacy and we will be closer to an equal society.
Benedict, Helen. “The Language of Rape.” Transforming A Rape Culture. Ed. Emilie Buchwald, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993. 101-05. Print.
Eminem, perf. Superman. 2006. Digital file.
Flo Rida, perf. Freaky Deaky. 2008. Digital file.
– – -, perf. Still Missin’. 2008. Digital file.
Gavey, Nicola. Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape. N.p.: n.p., 2005. Print.
Koehler, Sezin. “From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.” The Society Pages. N.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2013. <http://www.thesocietypages.org>.
Project Unbreakable. John M Parks & Associates, n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2013. <http://project-unbreakable.org>.
Roberts, Soraya. “When Rape Culture Meets Pop Culture.” Toronto Star 28 May 2013: n. pag. Print.
Roth, Martha. “Transforming the Rape Culture that Lives in My Skull.” Transforming A Rape Culture. Ed. Martha Roth, Emilie Buchwald, and Pamela R. Fletcher. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993. 405-16. Print.
Thicke, Robin, perf. Blurred Lines. 2013. Digital file.
– – -, perf. Sex Therapy. 2009. Digital file.
– – -, perf. When I Get You Alone. 2002. Digital file.
Zerbisias, Antonia. “Are Media Creating a Culture of Rape?” Toronto Star 26 Sept. 2010: n. pag. Print.
I am a woman. I am not a man, but I am equal to one.
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