So, 2013 seemed like a pretty good year for feminist discourse; after the release of Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke’s misogynist lyrics became the controversial topic of the summer, prompting commentators from all sides to weigh in on the song’s contributions to rape culture and our negative view of women. Some claimed the song’s lyrics were ‘kind of rapey’, citing Thicke’s repeated line ‘I know you want it‘ as an indicator of aggressive sexual behaviour, while others more sceptical on the issue insisted that the song was merely a depiction of a ‘flirtatious scenario in which a cocky guy (we all know the type) teases a girl who’s flirting back.’
In my opinion, when the guy boasts that he’ll ‘give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’ – as T.I. does in Blurred Lines – we are no longer in the flirting stage. However, there is probably nothing more I can say about this song that has not been said already (and months ago no-less.) As mentioned, journalists, tweeters and bloggers (like this one) produced many well-rounded critiques of the song – ensuring it received the negative attention it deserved. Yet, the song still became the UK’s best-selling single of 2013.
In any other year, this would be unsurprising. In fact, it was slightly surprising to me that Blurred Lines received so much press, at first, as our pop charts have been littered with misogynistic lyrics for decades. From the Rolling Stones to Eminem, many and more have encouraged negative attitudes towards women in their music. However, with all the public criticism Blurred Lines received, I must admit that this situation is slightly disheartening.
Even Beyoncé, who has recently gained some ‘feminist credentials,’ couldn’t resist indulging in the ‘music industry’s ultimate marketing tool.’ In her single Drunk in Love, Jay-Z contributes a verse which includes the lyrics ‘I’m Ike, Turner, turn up/ Baby no I don’t play/ now eat the cake, Anna Mae/ said, ‘eat the cake, Anna Mae!” – this is a reference to the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, What’s Love Got to Do With It, in which Ike Turner force-feeds his wife (who was born Anna Mae Bullock) in a fit of rage. The rapper also compares himself to convicted rapist Mike Tyson (‘beat the box up like Mike.’)
Perhaps these criticisms are too much. As we all know, ‘people would complain when water is wet if they had the chance.’ So, maybe, recent cries of rape culture are just a a step too far. Okay, so these songs may contain some (or a lot of) misogyny but that doesn’t mean the artists condone rape, does it? Last year, US rapper Rick Ross gave the following statement;
‘I would never use the term rape in my records. As far as my camp, hip-hop don’t condone that. The streets don’t condone that. Nobody condones that…I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that are on my timeline and all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding.’
This came after Ross’ verse on lesser-known artist Rocko’s U.O.E.N.O. received criticism as, in the song, the rapper appears to boast about his date rape conquests; ‘put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.’ ‘Molly’ is a colloquial reference to MDMA or Ecstasy.
I think it is quite clear, here, that the term ‘rape’ is not the issue. Ross has undoubtedly glorified rape, advocating the use of a spiked alcoholic drink in order to “take her home” and “enjoy that,” without even using the word. In Chris Brown’s Fine China, the singer dehumanises his subject by literally comparing her to a collectible object (fine china) but he, also, doesn’t explicitly say he supports the objectification of women. And similarly, while his song may suggest otherwise, Robin Thicke doesn’t condone the degradation of women (well, maybe.) Anyway, you get the point. This is rape culture.
Today, Laura Bates posted this Guardian article explaining rape culture and the damage it causes. She writes;
‘What do we mean when we say “rape culture”? You may have heard the term used recently. It describes a culture in which rape and sexual assault are common (in the UK over 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted every single year). It describes a culture in which dominant social norms belittle, dismiss, joke about or even seem to condone rape and sexual assault. It describes a culture in which the normalisation of rape and sexual assault are so great that often victims are blamed, either implicitly or explicitly, when these crimes are committed against them. A culture in which other factors such as media objectification make it easier to see women as dehumanised objects for male sexual purposes alone.’ *I have included links from the original article.
The artists I have mentioned in this article are, of course, not rapists. Nor, through their music, are they directly responsible for acts of sexual violence caused by other people. They do, however – through their music -serve to belittle, dismiss and normalise objectification, misogyny and even rape.
Now, I know sceptics may be reluctant to accept the multifaceted negative effects of a pop song, video or lyric on our society. However, research has shown that men who are exposed to songs that reference sex and violence are more likely to exhibit sexually aggressive behaviour. Also, it has been shown that sexualised women are considered to be less intelligent, and both men and women are likely to have less concern for the physical well-being of these women. In regards to sexualisation in music videos (which I haven’t really covered in this post), Michelle E. Kistler and Moon J. Lee found that college males who watched highly sexualised music videos (hip-hop on this occasion) ‘were more likely to accept the objectification of women as well as exhibit higher degrees of sexual violence.’ Females (also college students) in the study reacted contrastingly, becoming ‘more outwardly opposed and offended’ (by men’s objectification of women) after watching the videos. This study highlights the implications of such portrayals of sex and their role in effecting the definition of opposing gender roles – at least among young people. Finally and importantly, sexual objectification has been shown to have a ‘spillover effect.’ This means that while a woman may not present herself in a sexualised manner, she will likely still be perceived negatively just because other woman are depicted in this way.
I do not believe these studies should be ignored if we hope to put an end to gender inequality and rape culture. These songs may seem harmless and even enjoyable for some, however, in my opinion, we will struggle to deal with issues such as misogyny, victim-blaming, objectification and sexual violence as they continue to be accepted as the norm.
In closing, I would like to advocate the identification and evaluation of music that may promote, encourage and advance rape culture. I am not arguing in favour of censorship, however, I believe it is necessary to scrutinise these songs and their consequences in order to, firstly, better understand the negative aspects of our own culture, and eventually, achieve gender equality.
Also, much of my research this year (I study Musicology at Perth College/ the University of the Highlands and Islands) focuses on rape culture and portrayals of women in music. So, I am hoping that I will be able to discuss these issues on my blog and welcome comments, suggestions or ideas from anyone interested. Thanks for reading.