By Noah Mansker
After Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” became a summer anthem and just as quickly met a wall of criticism for its endorsement of rape culture, I thought we wouldn’t have to talk about it anymore and the annoyingly catchy song would fade into obscurity like all one-hit-wonders before it.
But an article purporting to criticize the critiques of the song has quietly gone viral.
KC Schmidt’s “Blurring the Lines of Feminism: A Criticism of the Criticism of ‘Blurred Lines’” popped up in multiple places on my Facebook feed earlier this week. Many of my friends praised Schmidt for her critique of the feminist discourse around the song.
I was immediately skeptical when Schmidt, who claims to be “a lower-case-f feminist,” said she didn’t find Thicke’s lyrics offensive because their problems are so obvious to me. As I read on, I found I only disagreed with her points more.
I think criticism of widely held opinions is incredibly important, and Schmidt does make valid points about some responses, particularly captions from a photo essay comparing the song’s lyrics to the words of actual rapists, containing false notions of women’s sexuality.
But there are a couple major points with which I disagree.
First, the claim that “Blurred Lines” is a “women’s lib anthem” is nonsensical at best and dangerous at worst. In so classifying the song, the author cites the pre-chorus lyrics, where Thicke pleads the nameless, faceless object of his affection to let him “liberate” her from another man. She says Thicke’s is about woman’s sexual agency and refuting man’s ownership of a woman.
There are two gaping holes in this idea. First, this lyric is the only place another man, or “liberation,” for that matter, is mentioned; the rest of the song is Thicke uncomfortably pursuing a potential sexual partner. To call the song an anthem based on one repeated line doesn’t make sense. Second, simply put, a man cannot write a women’s liberation anthem. A man has not, is not and never will live a woman’s life in a misogynist, patriarchal, violent society. Therefore, he doesn’t know from what woman need to be liberated, nor can he determine the terms of women’s liberation. The latter was the state of the pre-feminist United States, to which I hope Schmidt and I can agree we don’t want to return.
I, as a man, know it is not my place to talk about women’s liberation, but I know it is my place to call out other men when their male privilege is showing. Robin Thicke, if you’re trying to write a “women’s lib anthem”, which I highly doubt you are, your male privilege is showing. Regardless of your intent with this song, your male privilege is showing.
Second, Schmidt argues the lines “The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty” are merely Thicke saying he has an idea his potential partner might want to have sex with him. She says there’s nothing wrong with a person showing sexual interest in another, whether it’s buying someone a drink or physically touching them. In her view, it’s not inappropriate for a woman to grab Thicke to show interest or for him to infer she wants sex.
This is true, but there is a clear difference between “might” and “must.” The former implies a chance; the latter indicates certainty. These blurred semantic lines are dangerous. The logical step to take with “might” is to clarify what the other person wants, while the next step for “must” is to go ahead and take what you want. “Might” leaves room for explicit consent, but “must” does not.
Additionally, I don’t think the photo essay Schmidt takes issue with is entirely useless as a criticism. The fact that actual rapists have spoken Thicke’s lyrics is a reflection of their social context, in which rapists are more often exonerated than punished and have their actions defended by legal and social institutions.
This is perhaps not a complete critique of Schmidt’s piece, and there is certainly more to be said about it. I commend Schmidt for taking on the often monolithic popular feminist discourse. But I don’t think we should let rape culture get away with its social, legal and psychological crimes, even if space doesn’t permit a full indictment.