In my previous blog, I talked about dating in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and the role consent plays in it. In my post before that, I talked about how the women have been depicted in media throughout the years. With this piece, I want to combine these two topics and show how widespread of a problem depiction of women in media and consent are using a song from a few years ago which gained a lot of negative attention due to its video and its lyrics: “Blurred Lines” by Pharrell, TI and Robin Thicke.
As you might have heard (I hadn’t up until November 2019), this song caught a lot of negative attention from public. Then I got curious and I watched the music video. It was one of those hip-hop or pop videos that are all about one thing: blurring lines when it comes to consent.
To be honest, I never paid attention to the lyrics, but then I saw an article where one of the songwriters and performers of this song Pharrell Williams apologised for the song. He said he initially did not understand the negative reaction from the public. In an interview from October 2019, however, he said he finally understood the mistake he had made by writing songs with sexist and objectifying lyrics. His exact words were: “And then I realized that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn't matter that that's not my behaviour. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women. And I was like, Got it. I get it. Cool. My mind opened up to what was actually being said in the song and how it could make someone feel. Even though it wasn't the majority, it didn't matter. I cared what they were feeling too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn't realized that. Didn't realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind.”
Will this insight change the way he writes lyrics? Only time and his new songs will tell. However, there are a few things he said that need to be discussed.
One notable statement is: “… it doesn't matter that that's not my behaviour. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women.” In one of my previous blog posts, I talked about the power of language in our lives. As I discussed there, the way we use our language affects our lives, and our culture and our behaviour affect our language in return; they feed on each other. The language, the lyrics of this song in our case, affects the way we behave. If you, as an artist, say that there are in fact “blurred lines” when it comes to relationships, then people who listen to you will think that it is OK to assume there are actually blurred lines when it comes to consent. This can and does cause a global shift in our behaviour by shaping our culture. The fact that he admitted to this is extremely important and powerful.
Williams also points out the other part of this vicious circle in his interview with “… I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn't realized that.” Even on a global level it is undeniable that rape culture is part of our society. The catcalling of women or being pushy despite rejection are two of many examples for rape culture. Society has normalised these behaviours as the false notion of “this is what the women want” and if don’t, then they are “bitchy”. It is so deeply buried in our culture that we sometimes do not even realise when make objectifying, sexist or even harassing statements. And despite aiming to be aware of this as much as I can, I, too, sometimes make remarks that are rooted in sexism. It is not easy to deprogram our brains from these normalised behaviours and thoughts but it is not impossible.
Pharrell’s statement is very crucial in addition to these two points I elaborated in detail. As he is someone from a music genre where objectifying women and blurring lines became the norm a long time ago, it is refreshing to see that one of these musicians accepting his faults and aiming to change. It is definitely not easy to change the long-rooted thoughts in your mind but it is important even for one person to take a step towards erasing this widespread culture.
What can we do, you might ask? Educate yourself. I would recommend reading more about gender inequality. That’s what I do to learn. I do not know everything about this topic and what else I might be saying or doing wrong but I try to learn by reading and talking to my friends on these matters, and then try to adjust my behaviour. It is ok not to know about things that you haven’t been taught or shown by the world you have been living in - it is never too late to learn. Give it a try and help us build an equal world.