Opinion: Is ‘Blurred Lines’ a rapist anthem?

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Miley Cyrus’ MTV Video Music Awards performance last month succeeded in not only shocking viewers and angering parents nationwide but also drew additional attention to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” However, the summer hit’s heightening popularity has also shed light on a disturbing parallel, published in an online article for The Society Pages, a multidisciplinary social-science project headquartered at the University of Minnesota.

The article compared lyrics from “Blurred Lines” to photos from a 2011 photography project by Grace Brown, who asked her subjects — all victims of sexual assault — to hold up a poster with a quote from their attackers. The project’s use of showing the victim’s face or body language in addition to the actual words spoken by their attackers make the project particularly emotional, and the more photos I saw, the more upset I became, as quotes such as “I know you want it” and “good girl” flooded my computer screen.

The phrase “I know you want it” is something “many sexual assault survivors report their rapists saying to justify their actions.” The article says, “Calling an adult a ‘good girl’ in this context resonates with the virgin/whore dichotomy. The implication in ‘Blurred Lines’ is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest.”

Pop songs that objectify women and suggest that pleasuring men is our only desire are nothing new. But it’s not often that a song like “Blurred Lines,” which not only encourages questioning a person’s refusal to consent to sex but is also a trigger for a significant number of sexual assault victims, becomes popular enough to be performed on a live music award show. And maybe, while the rest of us were distracted by Miley’s erratic dance number, all they could hear were the lyrics that matched what their rapists told them.

Once the shared quotes like “I know you want it” and “good girl” were made apparent in both Brown’s photo project and “Blurred Lines,” other lines from the song were questioned as well, such as “Do it like it hurt, do it like it hurt, what, you don’t like work?” which compared to a quote from one woman’s rapist. (“It’s supposed to hurt.”) Both of these ideas fuel the idea that “women are supposed to enjoy pain during sex or that pain is part of sex … the woman’s desires play no part in this scenario — except insofar as he projects whatever he pleases onto her.”

Just because the song is, as the article puts it, a “rape anthem,” doesn’t mean we should censor entertainment or interfere with anyone’s artistic expression. The idea that women are aroused by non consensual sex is rampant in rape culture and is fueled by “the rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome.” This issue is something we must address as a collective society — especially us 20-somethings — and make a conscious effort to leave it in the past and replace it with reality: There’s nothing sexier than consent.