War on Women

The Overwrought 'Blurred Lines' Backlash

Just say no to Big Sister.


Robin Thicke
Melissa Rose

The feminist crusade against "the rape culture," whose aggressive zealotry has long eclipsed what positive contributions it may have made to tackling real problems, has now descended into outright silliness with a war on a hit song.  But it's silliness with a nasty authoritarian edge.

Earlier this month, University of North Carolina senior Liz Hawryluk took offense when a DJ at a local spot, Fitzgerald's Irish Pub, began playing Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"—a song feminists have blasted as pro-rape because of such lyrics as "I know you want it." Hawryluk marched into the DJ's box and demanded that the song be stopped; in response, she claims she was ejected from the pub (according to the management, she was merely asked to leave the DJ's area).  Unbowed, she went on the social media warpath and found numerous supporters who mobbed the pub's Facebook page.  A few days later, a spokeswoman for Fitzgerald's not only issued a public apology to Hawryluk but pledged that the popular song was forever banned from Fitzgerald's, along with the visiting DJ who had played it.

This is only the latest incident of "Blurred Lines" being targeted by campus censors.  Last year, after the R&B single topped the charts in 14 countries including the United States and broke the records for radio audiences, more than twenty student unions in England voted to ban it from their campuses.  In February, some Boston University students petitioned the school to cancel Thicke's March 5 concert and apologize for scheduling it in the first place, calling it "a dishonor to our feminist history." The administration remained unmoved, denying Thicke a historic chance to earn a "Banned in Boston" badge.

So what is this awful crime against womanhood? The male protagonist of "Blurred Lines" is addressing a woman with whom he's dancing in a disco; he thinks she's hot for him but won't let herself act on that attraction because she's a "good girl." (He also thinks her last boyfriend was "too square" for her.) As he invites her to release her inner animal, he repeatedly croons, "I know you want it." For some feminists, this makes "Blurred Lines" a "rape song": the man can go ahead and give the woman what he "knows she wants," dismissing her non-consent as a mere act with "blurred lines" between yes and no.

But this literal-minded reading is not supported by the tone of the song—seductive, not aggressive—or the rest of the lyrics. For instance: "Go ahead, get at me."  Or, from Thicke's co-performer, the rapper T.I.: "So I watch and wait for you to salute the truly pimpin'." It sounds like the protagonist is waiting for the woman to make her move—and it's not even clear if he "gets the girl" after all. (Toward the end Thicke sings, "No more pretending,/Hey, hey, hey,/Cause now you winning,/Hey, hey, hey,/Here's our beginning.") As Slate.com associate editor Jennifer Lai put it in a refreshing defense of the song: "Cocky, yes. But rapey? No." The phrase "blurred lines" refers to mixed messages which the male protagonist finds frustrating—but nowhere is it suggested that he therefore feels entitled to force himself sexually on the woman.

Some are also offended by the "Blurred Lines" video in which Thicke and two other men cavort fully clothed with scantily clad women; in the unrated version the women are topless most of the time, and one is seen prancing past giant letters that spell out, "Robin Thicke has a big…" well, rhymes-with-Thicke. But here's a fascinating twist: the video was directed by a woman, veteran music video director Diane Martel, who has described it as ironic and "playful," as making the men look "silly" and putting the female models "in the power position." In fact, the women often seem to be pursuing the men.

Thicke and his co-writer and co-performer Pharrell Williams have tried to portray "Blurred Lines" as practically a female-empowerment anthem. All right, maybe not. But calling it a rape anthem is even more absurd—and so is the frenzied backlash against the song (which feminist pop culture critic Geeta Dayal has wished "could be banished from our solar system, and perhaps the universe") and the singer, dubbed "Sexist of the Year" last week by a Canadian women's group.

A particularly inane but popular post compares "Blurred Lines" lyrics to words reportedly used by actual rapists. So if some rapists have said "I know you want it" to their victims, that makes it a line about rape? By that standard, we'll soon end up banning all language because almost every phrase has been used somewhere, by someone in a horrible context. (A website called for sharing personal stories, The Experience Project, features a post titled, "He said he loved me when he raped me.") And some of the comparisons are a stretch: does "The way you grab me,/Must wanna get nasty" really equal, "It wasn't rape. You were being such a tease"?

The backlash has had an uglier side as well: a few social media users have made posts fantasizing about Thicke's murder.

Here's the funny part: That "rapey" line, "I know you want it," also appears—as another sane critic, NPR's Ann Powers, has pointed out—in several recent songs by female singers. Among them is Beyoncé Knowles, probably the biggest feminist pop-culture icon right now.  (Earlier this year she contributed a piece to Maria Shriver's report on women, arguing that we still need to work to achieve equality for women, and has also been a part of Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign.) In Beyoncé's hugely successful 2005 song, "Check On It," the cocky female character not only declares, "If you got flaunt it, boy I know you want it," but also tells her love interest, "I can tell you wanna taste it, but I'm gonna make you chase it."

Burn the heretic! Not only does Beyoncé say that she "can tell" what the man wants (doesn't that mean she can force it on him against his will?), but she tells him she'll make him "chase it." The essence of the chase, of course, is saying no when you mean "keep trying" or "convince me"—which, quite a few feminists tell us, leads directly to rape culture  (because convincing and forcing is apparently the same thing).

And let's not even talk about Beyoncé's 2013 hit, "Drunk in Love," which celebrates drunk sex with such lyrics as, "We woke up in the kitchen saying, 'How the hell did this s*** happen?'" and "Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding up in that club." Isn't it the party line among the anti-rape culture crusaders that intoxicated sex equals rape? Didn't TV's "Dr. Phil" McGraw incur Robin Thicke levels of Internet hate last year for querying, "Is it okay to have sex with a drunk girl?" on Twitter?  So why is Beyoncé a feminist hero and Robin Thicke, Sexist of the Year?

I'm not nominating Thicke for Feminist of the Year. But I did go on Amazon.com and buy the "Blurred Lines" CD—and I'm not even much of an R&B fan. Why not do the same as a message to the would-be censors? Just say no to Big Sister.

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on Michael Bloomberg's Divine Mission to Take Away Our Freedom

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  1. But it’s silliness with a nasty authoritarian edge.

    I know you want it

  2. Sounds like they’re being a bit bossy to me.

      1. Swish

  3. As Slate.com associate editor Jennifer Lai put it in a refreshing defense of the song: “Cocky, yes. But rapey? No.”

    “Is it true that when a woman says ‘No’ she really means ‘Yes’?”

    1. As I’ve heard it told, “no” means “yes” and “yes” means “harder”

    2. But it’s not rape-rape.

  4. God forbid if they ever find about this early 2000’s gem.

  5. Sounds more like a consumer choice issue here. Similar to a business that does not want to serve certain people getting boycotted.

    The problem would be if some government busybodies decided to get into the act, and I’m not seeing that here.

    1. You’re perfectly free to be a nitpicking, grievance mongering asshole, nobody disputes that. Doesn’t insulate you from being called an idiot. And it’s more than a bit ironic when it happens at universities still ostensibly dedicated to free expression and the open discussion of ideas.

      1. (of course I don’t mean “you” in particular, rather the philosophical “you”)

      2. That is one of the biger reasons a university location for your business can be a really bad idea.

    2. Sure, but when a sector of society takes it upon itself to enforce groupthink PC, it’s bad for society and approaches de facto legislation of thought and expression, even though it’s not the government doing it.

      Oppressive social mores can be just as bad as oppressive government. The Left can be as totalitarian as the Right. Would we be just as “meh” if this were the Moral Majority doing this?

      1. …”and approaches de facto legislation of thought and expression, even though it’s not the government doing it.”

        The club could have said ‘stuff it’ and no physical harm would result.
        It is not a difference in degree, it is a functional difference.

  6. You bought that record? For money?

    1. That was my response too.

      1. Could have easily been from a torrent you know.

  7. Honestly, I’ve only had the experience that mainly women liked the song.
    It’s catchy but I haven’t heard of any dudes really going out of their way to listen to it.

    1. They made a song from that video?

  8. Fear not. Soon all people will be doubleplusgoodthinkers, and behavioral corrections like this won’t be necessary anymore.

  9. My understanding has always been “No” means “Yes” if you’re attractive and the girl likes you and is irritated that you’re not picking up the subtle (or in my case, extremely unsubtle) cues that she wants you to make a move on her. However, if you are lame or gross “No” means “No, and please to jump off a bridge”.

    The obvious solution is that only attractive males can be allowed to live.

  10. “University of Northern Carolina”

    Fire your proofreader! There is no such university. Try the University of North Carolina.

    1. Oh no, a typo!!!! So glad we have the spelling error police over at…..hey wait a minute, I thought you wrote for treason magazine.

    2. Given the preponderance of proggies there that may not be a bad typo.

  11. The best I have been able to decipher from the crazy is that the problem with so called “rape culture” is that all the hot guys are barking up someone else’s tree.

    Woe be the attractive popular male who points out publically that he prefers women without mustaches and body odor, who is also nice to him. That utter bastard.

  12. Liz is a major douche. If she didn’t like the song, she should have left. Instead, she ruined everyone else’s night, pooped all over the party, and caused a commotion. Fitzgerald’s should have never apologized to Liz. Instead of going on the offensive, they just empowered her to pull a stunt like this again.

    Hopefully every club, or bar she goes to plays the song in protest to her actions. You want to eff with people through social media!??? How’s it feel now!

    1. I actually know this girl, though not as a direct friend, but more like an acquaintance. Personally speaking, I really don’t care that she doesn’t like the message of the song, and I think it’s fine for her to spread her beliefs this way. The role that Fitzgerald’s plays in this whole thing, however, is far more complicated than it seems. Small businesses are incredibly sensitive to public opinion, and any objection they may have to what she did could have a major impact on their clientele.

      1. Had I been the buisiness owner, I would have ejected her in a parabolic arc, and I Would have used her online temper-tantrum as publicity.

        But i’m a grouch

    2. Fitzgerald’s should have never apologized to Liz. Instead of going on the offensive, they just empowered her to pull a stunt like this again.

      I think you meant “Instead of going on the defensive…” but yeah, I agree. Giving in to these uber PC assclowns is the exact wrong way to deal with this shit. If you cave, you’re just inviting more harpies to come and shit all over you.

      The right way to deal with it is to first politely point out that if a patron has a problem with a song that’s being played, they could simply leave instead of shitting on everyone else’s good time by making a scene. And then if that doesn’t work, then tell them to fuck off and go drink somewhere else.

      1. Loki|4.23.14 @ 11:33AM|#
        …”If you cave, you’re just inviting more harpies to come and shit all over you.”…

        I’d be just as happy depositing the harpies’ money in my bank account as I would that of others.
        I’m not defending the twit who threw a tantrum, but as a business owner, I’m interested in making money, not a point.
        “Fitzgerald’s Harpies’ Hangout” might well be a winner!

      2. Yes the defensive, thanks :0) V””V

      3. Had I been the owner I would have done some promo like “Rapier’s rapetastic rapefest with 5 cent wings” this thursday. Our prices won’t rape your wallet, you don’t to CONSENT with your significant other.

  13. As long as we have “problems” like this we know we are still a first world country.

    1. The only problem is that we DO have far greater and more impactful issues than this to worry about (mainly concerning the increasing disconnect between the interests of Washington and their cronies and its citizens), it’s just that for some reason, this is a popular topic of discussion in both the left and right wing circles, with both sides engaging in equally ridiculous and laughable forms of outrage about an overblown controversy.

      1. it’s just that for some reason, this is a popular topic of discussion in both the left and right wing circles

        Two words: CULTURE WARZ.

  14. There is nothing “authoritarian” about the group hissy fit, Ms. Young.

  15. If she (or her ilk) get this worked up over something like Blurred Lines, someone should give her a copy of the Scorpions’ Virgin Killer – with original cover – and watch her head explode. If it doesn’t do the trick entirely, tell her the next Scorpions albums was called Taken By Force – that should pretty much do it.

    1. I suggest Ween’s “You Fucked Up” or “Piss Up a Rope.”

  16. What a biatch.

  17. Personally, I prefer this eighties song about pressuring people into (perhaps unwanted) sexual activity.

    “Stay…there’s no alternative….”

  18. The real rape culture here is that Joe Shmoe has to get up early each morning to help pay taxes that go to the state university system to teach ejits like this chick to be perpetually offended.

  19. I’m not sure what the University of Northern Carolina is.

  20. Our gym coach played Blurred Lines as background noise recently. A married couple both complained and were pretty much ignored. The coach looked around vaguely and asked, “Is anyone offended?”. When no one else complained we continued with the workout and the couple shut-up. This is a white, upper middle-class people thing. If they listened to rap since – ever – they’d live in a perpetual state of outrage, but since it’s black people music they won’t say much about it.

  21. So how’s that whole “no punishment for the Culture War losers” thing working out?

    If I had a social media account of any kind, I would certainly use it to abuse Liz whats-her-name for this. That’s the only way this is going to stop: when the petty thugs of PC have more pain inflicted on them than they care to endure.

    Nice, tolerant, multi-cultural society your building here, PC goons. I wish you the joy of it.

  22. 2 Live Crew “Pioneers for Freedom”


    Nothing makes a roomful of communist feminists angry like playing this right after ‘Gangster of Love’ by the Geto Boys, and before “Batty Boy Bye Bye” by Buju Banton

    I will one day record my “SJW-Enraging Set List” for posterity. It has a number of great spoken word clips excerpted from the record, “Sex for Teens”


    To see what i mean, just press ‘play’ to side one and listen to the first 60 seconds.

    Side two has a great sequence where Dad explains that while homosexuals are damaged people who can possibly be reprogrammed, Bisexuals, however, are hopeless, self hating freaks who invariably end up committing suicide.

    I think the irony is that record was actually pretty “liberal acceptable” when it was recorded in the 1960s.

    Awesome, it is.

  23. Any Bar Patron: “Yo, Mr. DJ, I’ll give you $20 to end this awful song right now & play something good.”

    Every Broke College Bar DJ: “Deal.”

  24. Why are supposedly intelligent people wasting their time listening to, let alone, discussing moronic garbage like this.

    1. Reason is, IMO, as much a magazine about pop culture as it is about libertarian political perspectives. It helps that other so-called “serious” activist groups pay attention to, and over-dramatize, pop culture phenomenon and other drivel to show their commitment to the “team”.

    2. “Get off my lawn, you awful hip gyrating delinquents.”

      1. —dancing like James Brown all over your lawn——

        You know you like it. V””V

  25. So, would any of you like to go in on a nifty little project for Liz? I think it would be great to mail her a copy of the single every day for a year just so she is on the receiving end of her beloved “social justice” bullshit.

    So, Kickstarter?

    1. Why spend money on her? She would never play it, and just throw it away. You could just walk passed her with your boom box and play the song. I’d break out my pop’s boom box and join you. Imagine 100 people with boom boxes parading around her lol.

      Fitzgeralds should fire manager and rehire the dj, and also apologize to the dj. Then put it out there that stunts like Liz pulled will not be tolerated and will result in ejection from the bar. I would never patronize a place like that. If they grew a pair and did the aforementioned, then I would make a trip there. But for now both parties are sheisser heads.

  26. Awhile back I was listening to “she’ll have fun,fun,fun, til her daddy takes her t-bird away.” I’ve sang along with this song my entire life and just recently realized the guy singing the song is expressing joy that she lost her transportation and is now dependent on him and that they are going to have fun, fun, fun finally.

    I’m too old and tired to be outraged. Same with the blizzard rape threat in the song “let it snow”

  27. My baby won’t dance to nothing but Ernest Tubb anyway.

  28. *strident female knocks on DJ Booth
    “Um, excuse me ya? That little ditty you’re playing, ya, well issa bit nawty, ya? I’d like if you’re to stop playing it at once ya, and maybe play some non-sexist misogynistic songs. Do you have maybe some Linda Perry, ya? Excyooz me, mate but this song….it’s very, very sexist…

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